Friday, January 14, 2011

In Defense of the Cuban Five [Updated Links]

It was the little billboard that couldn't. It survived only a day until enough people threatened to boycott the owners arguing that it was an offense to the community. Suddenly it was gone. I myself was surprised that this billboard was actually up in Miami, knowing well that this city, when it comes to news about Cuba, lives in an almost impenetrable bubble. You can't deny it. The very mention of the Cuban Five in Miami evokes comparisons to the worst criminals, like Hitler or Al-Qaeda. The result of course is a city that dares not confront such taboo subjects, and its citizens, without much choice, acquiesce to a propaganda message repeated in the local media.

But, Mambi Watch believes people have the right to choose their political causes, and be given the right to defend their causes in public and in the media. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Cuban Five, this right is hardly observed.


The story of the billboard, dubbed the "Billboard of Discord" by America TeVe show "A Mano Limpia," is simple to summarize: A local Miami group called Alianza Martiana (Marti Alliance) rented space on a billboard to promote the cause of the Cuban Five. They paid a month's rent to Clear Channel Outdoors and the company placed the ad on a billboard near the Alianza Martiana offices on Tuesday. By Wednesday afternoon it was gone because members of Vigilia Mambisa threatened to boycott the property owners where the billboard is located. The property owners, fearing a boycott from several other Cuban exile organizations called Clear Channel Outdoors and asked for the ad's removal. According to reports, the removal was negotiated just a few hours after the complaint. An official from Clear Channel responded publicly that "it was determined the material does not fit with our norms [of processing], and has been removed." The property owners fully supported the decision.

But, the billboard incident is just the tip of the iceberg. A review of how this story was reported in the media reveals how difficult it is in general to promote the cause of the Cuban Five, while the cause AGAINST the Cuban Five is constantly promoted.

Locally, none of the English-language news stations gave the billboard story any attention, which is typical. Local news in English concerning Cuba is far less frequent than in Spanish media, as if they avoid it. Univision23 and AmericaTeVe, on the other hand, kept audiences well updated on the "Billboard of Discord." But, neither one presented the cause of the Cuba Five, meaning they didn't even mention the main reasons why their supporters believe they should be free. In other words, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to silence the cause of the Cuban Five. But, in every report there was time given to speakers opposed to the Cuba Five, be it someone calling them assassins or convicted criminals. Not very balanced.


Speaking on behalf of Alianza Martiana was Max Lesnik who was given time on both Univision23 and AmericaTeVe to explain why his organization placed the Cuban Five ad (and to respond to its removal), but not to elaborate on the cause to free the Cuba Five. On Wednesday, Lesnik appeared on AmericaTeVe's 8pm talk program "A Mano Limpia" to speak at length about the billboard incident. The program began with an interview with Miguel Saavedra, leader of Vigilia Mambisa, to explain how he negotiated the removal of the Cuban Five ad. Lesnik then appeared on the show alongside an opponent of the Cuban Five, but the discussion focused on the ad's offense to the community (because the Cuban Five are undoubtedly assassins), and soon framed as Miami-vs-Cuba (asking Lesnik to help place a billboard in Cuba favoring a cause by Cuban exiles). The details over the cause supporting the Cuban Five were ignored.

Max Lesnik then appeared Thursday on the radio on WQBA (1140AM) with Bernadette Pardo. In this interview, again Lesnick had to explain the reasons behind the ad, but within the first few minutes the interview took a predictable turn: the Cuban Five were compared to Osama bin Laden. Obviously, the discussion is framed as an issue of respect towards the community, and not about the cause of the Cuban Five. The details of the case were never discussed.


So, do the Cuban Five ever get a break? Not in Miami. Last September, several American actors and artists sent a letter to President Obama requesting a review of the case of the Cuban Five. Soon, the letter was also signed by non-American artists and actors, such as Colombian singer Juanes. The local Spanish media jumped at the chance to attack Juanes.

The letter campaign was ill-described as a "political campaign of the Cuban government" by AmericaTeVe reporter Juan Manuel Cao. The news reporting was an obvious attempt to cast doubt on Juanes' honest intentions concerning his Peace concert in Cuba the previous year, while reporter Gina Romero wonders why Juanes hasn't signed a letter in favor of Cuban political prisoners. (Not surprisingly Capitol Hill Cubans had the same concern.)

The AmericaTeVe program "A Mano Limpia" followed the same attack on Juanes with a full program, including Gina Romero and other opponents of the Cuban Five. And, never a mention of the details over the cause of the Cuban Five.

Finally, when Amnesty International (AI) came out in support of the Cuban Five with a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the same thing happened. Aside from the usual silence from the local media, America TeVe program "A Mano Limpia" came out ready to challenge the AI letter. Host Oscar Haza gathered three local attorneys to argue against the Cuban Five and the AI letter which Haza described as part of a "fierce international campaign" by the Cuban government.


If any honest person takes the time to review the case of the Cuban Five, just like Amnesty International did, they may reach the conclusion that this MIGHT be a case of injustice. Or perhaps not. But, they should be given that chance to decide for themselves.

The cause of the Cuban Five has not been given fair treatment in Miami (or no treatment at all), and therefore people have not been given the opportunity to form an opinion over the case. In addition, some in Miami feel that even discussing the subject of the Cuban Five is an attack against the community. This is nothing but paranoia.

The case of the Cuban Five is a legitimate political cause that has been supported by many people internationally, and deserves to be defended. Even if you do not totally agree with it (like myself because I oppose espionage on principle), it does have the right to be heard. Especially in the media which is responsible for giving everyone with a cause a voice.

Media Sources Reviewed:
- Univision23 news reports
- America Teve news report 1 and 2
- Radio Mambi news report
- El Nuevo Herald report
- Cafe Fuerte report

Additional Resources supporting the Cuban Five:
- Amnesty International's "The Case of the Cuban Five" (October 2010)
- National Committee to Free the Cuban Five
- International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five
- Sting of the Wasp: The Cuban Five Connection

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