Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What's wrong with Paulito FG?

I've been incredibly busy lately and haven't had the time to post as much as I've been wanting to (and maybe I'll be posting just once a week from now on). So, without further delay, let's jump right in.

There's been a big story reported in the local Spanish-language media which has not been equally covered in English. It's the story of musician Paulito FG and his promoter Hugo Cancio, both of whom have recently been the target of harassment in Miami by Cuban exile militants. This story began back in November and continues today because its development reveals how the local Spanish media acts as an inquisitorial device for exile militancy. While it is becoming more apparent that new Cuban immigrants in Miami do not share a militant political ideology against the Cuban government, the local Spanish media, which for a long time represented voices of Cuban exile militants, now finds itself in conflict with new voices for Cuban reconciliation. Let's review the facts.

This all started on November 13, 2008, when Cuban musician Paulito FG appeared for an interview on a local Spanish-language talk show called "Entre Nos" ("between you and me"). The host, Patricia Arbulu, asked Paulito FG the question: "At some time, has a leader, in this case in Cuba, Fidel Castro, do you feel he has decieved you?" Paulito FG answered:

"Look, its not a question that maybe I can answer with certainty because ..."

Arbulu: "Do you fear what will happen with your children and wife on the island?"

Paulito FG: "No, no. I'm not afraid of absolutely nothing [sic]. What I can tell you, with certainty, is that believing in Fidel, to a certain point, has been for me, let's say, fortunate. We have been, for a long time, people who have believed in 'El Comandante' and have lived peacefully and honorably, fulfilling our artistic dreams."

[Video of interview available here and El Nuevo Herald article here.]

The day after the interview, the local Spanish media was in shock and prepared to get Paulito FG to change his mind or apologize for this comment. Why? Because to say anything positive, or something that can be percieved as positive, about Fidel Castro or the Cuban government in Miami is not fully tolerated. This has to do with how Cuba exile militants have split the debate over Cuba in two: the good and the evil. Militants, for decades, have successfully presented the Cuban government as pure evil, with totally evil intentions and without a single good idea that can be attributed. Thus, to say anything otherwise is immoral and likewise evil. Plus, to not be a militant, or dissident inside Cuba, is to be immoral, confused or an agent of evil, likely to infect others like a plague. The implications of such an ideology, which has been exploited for several political ends, is not compatible with a civil society that attempts to welcome diverse points of view.

Anyway, Paulito FG is a successful Cuban musician who gained his popularity in Cuba and across the globe. The fact that he never became a militant against the Cuban government is enough to offend the Spanish-language media in Miami, especially Cuban exile militant groups. (This also implies that Cuban militants have a very poor view of the majority of Cubans living and working inside Cuba. They are constantly wondering why Cubans don't revolt against their government. Some militants, like Ninoska Perez-Castellon, have even suggested that some Cubans must suffer from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.)

Well, in November, fans of Paulito FG went to La Covacha nightclub (in West Miami) to see him perform. Groups like Vigilia Mambisa were there to protest, and confronted some of the club attendees. Reports indicate that a spitting match had occurred there, as well as the exchange of several insults. [Video here.]

In the next few days, Ninoska Perez Castellon reviewed this incident on her show "Ultima Palabra," along with members of Vigilia Mambisa, where they continued to insult the club attendees. Perez Castellon said [referring to news reports]: "In the three minutes of news that I saw, what occurred there I think was brought directly from the select 'jineterismo' from the Malecon that fell that night; in their behavior, in their responses. I have never seen worst [social] element before." Other guests on the show agreed, and also referred to the club attendees as "chusma" or riff-raff. Furthermore, militants like Vicente Diaz on the show said that Paulito FG and his musical promoters are "operatives" of the Cuban government with a mission to provoke hostilities in Miami.

Soon, Hugo Cancio took over the promotion of Paulito FG, attempting to bring a larger concert to Miami, and was soon targeted by Cuban militants as an agent of the Cuban government. Hugo Cancio hoped to organize a large concert in Hialeah by February, but Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina said that Cancio did not meet specific requirements to do so. Cancio responded saying he was being discriminated against because of the Mayor's personal intervention. Julio Robaina was hailed in local Spanish-language radio. Robaina also made sure to let people know that he thought the concert would be aimed to provoke the Cuban exile community. [Video]

But, Hugo Cancio is determined to promote Paulito FG and any other Cuban musician to play in Miami. His hope is that a reconciliation between Cubans in exile and from the island can occur through music. On January 8, El Nuevo Herald published a letter by Cancio were he made his ambitions clear.

"Reality shows that today there are more things that unite us than those that separate us. Today more of us emigrate [from Cuba] for economic and social reasons than political ones; today more of us advocate for the lifting of the embargo and restrictions on travel, the sending of remittances, dialogue; today there are more of us who finally understand that the rigid attitude that has consumed an entire generation is not correct. And that hate, spite and arrogance need to end here and in Cuba."


"Do you suppose we can fight hate with hate, hostility with hostility, and incomprehension with incomprehension? Let us [Cubans] look at our national identity; our love for Cuba and its people should be unconditional. It is essential we no longer live in the past and forgive."


"I feel that when we stop judging and pointing the finger, when we stop asking ourselves what happened and how, then we can begin to heal our wounds. After all, in one form or another, we have all had in our hands the brush that has drawn our history. I have a new brush in my hand to begin drawing a new history. Is it not about time?"

The ideology of the militant does not accept the idea of a "new" history. Cuban exile militancy is based on the history of its heroes who sacrificed themselves, and loyalty those who continue to suffer a similar burden (voluntary or not). Militants, old and young, are bound by duty to wholeheartedly reject the Cuban government, and any attempts for a reconciliation that does not include defeat against their enemy. By siding with Paulito FG, Hugo Cancio is an enemy (despite his aims to rebuild Cuba and support a free economy).

Last week, before Paulito FG was scheduled to perform at Dolce in South Beach, Hugo Cancio appeared on "A Mano Limpia" to debate Marcell Felipe, director of the Cuban Liberty Council (CLC). Felipe, of course, was not there to debate Cancio's ideas of reconciliation, but instead attacked Cancio.

Felipe: "Let me interrupt here because I think you are going into territory that corresponds to you in reference to the work and situation that you find yourself in." (Felipe is also a lawyer)

Cancio: "And what is that role?"

Felipe: "The role of representing the Cuban government. Let speak plainly. Take off your mask please."

[Video of debate, comments at 8:44. Marcell Felipe and the CLC are also behind the legal defense of Chris Simmons, another person who has engaged in personal attacks in the Spanish media.]

Before performing at South Beach, Paulito FG was questioned by the Spanish-language media (Telemundo51 and America TeVe) about why he made his controversial comments in November. One should wonder why the local news would be so interested in this one opinion by Paulito FG. But, this is not journalism becuase the real aim of the interviews is to change Paulito's mind about the Cuban government, and maybe get him to apologize. This is the media serving the objectives of the Cuban political leadership which happens to be militant.

So, Vigilia Mambisa AGAIN was there to protest Paulito FG's latest show at Miami Beach last week, and they got full coverage. Apparently, its acceptable that wherever Paulito FG shows up he can be protested, or like Vicente Diaz said on "Ultima Palabra," they have to right to "repudiate" Paulito FG. That's pretty much clear. Cuban exile militants feel they have the right to be intolerant of and repudiate certain opinions. They feel that this is democratic. It is not.

Some actions by Cuban exile militants are in direct conflict with people's civil rights. A civil society welcomes and respects diverse opinions, it nurtures civil debate and discussion. It does not act to "repudiate" opinion. Neither should we repudiate opinion if it happens to offend us. There is certainly much pain and suffering in the Cuban exile community, and great injustices committed by the Cuban government, but a civil society should not force anyone to pick a side. Everyone should be entitled to speak as they wish, and pick their own sides in peace. This is freedom.

I'll end this post with a letter from one of the most famous Cuban exile musicians: Gloria Estefan. She made these comments in 1997, referring to a different incident, but they are very relevant.

"As an American, I am frightened to see one of our most basic liberties being trampled on in the march for political gain. As a Cuban American, I am embarrassed that non-Cubans might think that we are all narrow of mind. I cannot imagine how we could explain to the people of Cuba, who have suffered so much oppression, that the very freedoms that they so desperately desire and deserve are being annihilated in their name.

"We who love the cultural and ethnic diversity of Greater Miami must try to close the rifts being created by political muscle between our communities. We must reach out to each other and breed tolerance. At the very least, we should defend each other's right to voice an opinion without fear of reprisal, whatever that opinion might be. It is one of the founding and most basic premises of this country, and it is the reason why my father brought me here at age 2. He wanted me to be raised 'in freedom.' He defended this freedom and paid with his life. I feel that it is my duty to keep safe those things that he fought so hard to offer me.

"I understand the hardships that we from Cuba have experienced as a nation, but for this same reason we must defend everyone's freedom, even if it means personal pain. We cannot allow intolerance to grow. We want a Miami that is beautiful and free for everyone who lives here."

[Here's an interesting story from the BBC (from last year) interviewing Cuban rap artists. One artist says: "Fidel is an idol for me. The problem is not Fidel; the problem is the bosses under him." How would Miami welcome this artist?]

[Photo above of poster for the planned Paulito FG concert in Hialeah, which was later cancelled.]