Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Los Van Van: Symbols of Repression, Symbols of Freedom / Miami New Times

The last time Los Van Van played in Miami over a decade ago I participated in the public debate and had two essays published in the FIU Beacon and the Miami New Times. Here is the New Times piece the title was theirs not mine.

Los Van Van: Symbols of Repression, Symbols of Freedom

by Special Letters Section Miami New Times

10/28/99, John Suarez, coordinator, Free Cuba Foundation, Miami

Pedro Luis Ferrer, Bobby Jimenez , and Bibiana Borroto are names that may not be familiar to you. They are Cuban artists who were blacklisted because they were not sufficiently revolutionary for the Castro regime. Blacklisting in Cuba is worse than anything found during the McCarthy era in the United States. It has a more Stalinist edge. Not only are you unable to work, but your name is erased from your old albums. You become a nonperson.

Even more tragic is that friends of those blacklisted turn their backs on them. The famous Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez has never spoken up for singer and author Pedro Luis Ferrer, his blacklisted ex-friend. Another famous folk singer, Pablo Milanes, turned his back on Bobby Jimenez, a man who had been like a brother to him. The irony is that Jimenez was neither a revolutionary nor a counterrevolutionary. In Cuba, in order to play you must be, at least in name, a "revolutionary." More ironic still, both Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez spent some time in prison for their counterrevolutionary views before being "rehabilitated." Even heredity can crush a musical career in Cuba. Bibiana Borroto's career as a classical guitarist was stymied because her father was a political prisoner.

Fidel Castro sacrificed freedom in Cuba to advance his own agenda. If we even remotely use the same means as Castro, then we will be led to the same end. In short we are helping Castro when we attack freedom in the name of freedom. The Castro regime has being doing just that for 40 years. We, the Cuban exile, are part of the Cuban nation, and we must be a beacon of freedom and tolerance for those who have lived in the darkness and oppression of Castro's tyranny for these past four decades.

Los Van Van's members are serfs of Fidel Castro whether they believe in his communist regime or not. They have only three choices: exile, banishment from music, or hewing to the party line. To demand that artists follow a particular political line is an affront to both democratic principles and basic human rights. Let us who live in freedom embrace with our values and principles those who do not.

The true test of respect for freedom of expression and thought can be found in our reaction to those things with which we strongly disagree. Twenty years ago in Skokie, Illinois, Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust endured American Nazis marching through their community, with police protection no less. Recently in Washington, D.C., skinheads and members of the Ku Klux Klan were able to obtain a permit and receive police protection from the city government, without being charged for it. The City of Miami's attempt to stop the Los Van Van concert via clumsy attempts at censorship, prior restraint, and charging the promoter for security and insurance was just plain wrong.

Finally, to all of you who sit by quietly while others issue bomb threats: Have you ever thought that it is in the Castro regime's best interest to generate violent conflicts and bombings here in Miami in order to continue its campaign of smearing Cuban exiles and proclaiming us terrorists? The Castro spies arrested last year had a history of encouraging violence and calling into radio stations with outrageous threats. Violence should be condemned, not tolerated. We have a moral obligation to criticize in a civil manner what we think is wrong, but we also have a moral obligation to protect from violations of civil and political rights those with whom we disagree.

In my opinion, if we are to protest, it should not be against the artists, who are victims in this situation, but rather against the tyranny in Havana that has turned artists (as well as the majority of the Cuban people on the island) into vassals of the regime, working for the feudal lord and master Fidel Castro.

Secondarily, we should protest against politicians here in Miami who seek to profit politically from the suffering of Cuban exiles by playing cheap politics with basic human rights -- rights that end up being trashed in the process. Not only do these politicians (and their own scandals) give a black eye to democracy, they compound their sin by violating the fundamental Constitutional principles they are sworn to uphold when they take office. Perhaps in the age of Clinton oaths and lies, upholding the U.S. Constitution no longer means much. But it should.

Our struggle against Fidel Castro is a struggle for the future of the Cuban nation. Do we want a Cuba in which the freedom to speak, work, and pray are controlled by the state? Or do we want these freedoms to be the foundation of a free and prosperous nation? Whether the state is a totalitarian dictatorship, as in Cuba today, or a representative democracy like the City of Miami, neither the tyrant nor the democratic majority can nor should have the ability to silence unpopular minorities from freely associating and freely expressing themselves.

The names of Pedro Luis Ferrer, Bobby Jimenez, Bibiana Borroto, and the many other artists in Cuba whose careers were cut short, or who were blacklisted for refusing to bow to Fidel Castro, should never be forgotten. They should be honored in the most tangible way possible: by buying their music.

Leave the artists to their art and demand that the Castro regime do the same. Politicizing the arts has been the playground of totalitarians since the French Revolution. Basta ya!

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