ACLU Eyes Cuban Concert Cancellation

The American Civil Liberties Union has called for an investigation into whether the cancellation of a Cuban music festival in south Florida violated organizers’ right to free speech.

The Fuego Cuban Music Festival was originally scheduled to take place at the Homestead-Miami Speedway April 9.

However, when Homestead-Miami learned in February that promoter Mia Resorts was planning to bring in Cuban nationals for the festival, the venue filed suit to stop the show.

“There is a real and present danger of civil disobedience regarding musicians and other performers who are Cuban nationals,” Homestead’s complaint stated. “The force majeure provision excuses HMS … from performing its obligations.”

Mia Resorts filed a countersuit at the time, accusing the speedway of conducting a “scorched earth campaign” against the concert that cost the company “millions of dollars.”

But by April, organizers had pulled the plug on the event in the face of increased pressure from not just the venue, but also local
officials including Miami Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell, who voiced her displeasure with the concert over the airwaves.

“We have assurances that this concert dealing with Cuban artists from Cuba is not going to take place,” Bell said in an interview with Miami’s Radio Caracol 1260. “We understand free speech and will defend free speech but not when public facilities and public funds are being utilized.”

The ACLU has countered that the cancellation shows a lack of understanding of the Constitution and the First Amendment and that Bell may have overstepped in her role to pull the plug on the event.

“It’s really simple – music is speech,” ACLU Miami President John de Leon said in a statement. “When government officials try to block speech because they don’t like who is speaking, it’s certainly wrong and potentially illegal.”

Concert organizer Hugo Cancio explained the event, which was to feature artists including Los Van Van and Charanga Habanera, would have been the first entirely Cuban music festival outside of Cuba. The cancellation could have a “chilling impact” on “speech and the free and open exchange of art and ideas,” he said.

De Leon agreed.

“Whether real or not, even the appearance of government pressure and censorship of speech is deeply troubling,” de Leon said. “And there’s no question there’s at least an appearance that the government is deciding what kind of speech is allowed and what is not.”