Friday, May 1, 2009

The Intolerance of Ileana (Part 1)

Boy, where do I start with this one? (Sighs in frustration.) Apparently, Florida [District-18] Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has a problem with a book. It seems that she has not read the book, and is not interested in reading it. But, she's confident that it is a bad book, and is now complaining to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton about it, and gathering signatures on Capitol Hill to make sure the book is not associated in any way with the U.S. government.

The book sounds terrifying huh?

Well, the book in question has been getting excellent reviews, including by Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning, and ruthless book critic. To some, Katutani is considered "the most powerful book critic in America," and last week she gave praise to Michael Casey's new book "Che's Afterlife." She described Casey's new book as "fascinating... bracing and keenly observed."

Some of you may be baffled, but regular readers of Mambi Watch, and residents of Miami, may have already noticed the problem: someone uttered the word "Che" and all reason has already gone out the window. Here's what happened.

Last week, the International Book Fair of Buenos Aires, perhaps the largest book fair in South America, opened its doors to the public. The fair is huge, with hundreds of booths and over a thousand presenters. Given that Buenos Aires also happens to be a city that loves books, its clear why the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, since 2007, has been participating in the fair, providing various workshops, presentations and lectures. Last year, the Embassy invited famed author Tom Wolfe to speak at their booth. And, this year the Embassy was again able to invite several authors and writers to give presentations at their booth.

Among them was Michael Casey, who happens to live in Buenos Aires writing occasionally for the Wall Street Journal, working as the bureau chief for Dow Jones, and has now authored a book. His invitation was only natural, as was the invitation of novelist Donagan Merritt, who also happens to live in Buenos Aires. But, the main attractions at the U.S. Embassy booth were the Pulitzer Prize winners, Annie Proulx and Junot Diaz.

Anyway, after the first day's presentations at the booth last week, reporter Vinod Sreeharsha wrote a "special" report for the Miami Herald. The first sentence goes like this:

The U.S. charm offensive in Latin America took a small but provocative step forward on Friday when the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires sponsored two readings of a new book that explains the enduring iconic power of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara."

The sentence alone is controversial and inaccurate. How is it that Casey's presentation alone a "charm offensive" by the U.S. government? Do the other book presentations (by Proulx and Diaz) at the Embassy booth also seperate "charm offensives" in Latin America? And what makes this one "provocative"?

Sreeharsha doesn't directly answer these questions, but instead leaves the reader misinformed at the start before getting into the details. But, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had probably read enough by then to begin writing her letter to the U.S. Secretary of State.

[Part 2]

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