In a move to end a "one way cultural exchange" with Cuba, the Miami city commission unanimously passed a resolution last Thursday asking Congress to allow states and local governments to ban contracting with Cuban artists and performers who do business with or are funded by the Cuban government.
The commission seeks legislation that would prevent Cuban artists from performing in city-owned venues as a reciprocal response to Cuba’s policy of prohibiting American artists or Cuban expatriate artists from performing on the island.
“Freedom of expression applies to all, not just to some,” said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. “Until that right is restored for all Cubans, and not just a few select artists, we must not allow this practice to continue.”
The mayor and fellow Cuban-American commissioners Manolo Reyes and Joe Carollo stated that they sponsored the resolution to denounce the lack of democracy on the island.
The consensus of the commission is that the city must cease allowing Cuban artists they allege to be apologists of the regime to come and make money by performing in Miami and then go back to the island and continue supporting the same government that forbids other artists from going there.
“It is a mockery what these Cuban artists are doing when they come here,” said Reyes, who claimed that he had received information from an undisclosed source that Cuban artists ridiculed the United States and Cuban exiles when they returned home from playing in Miami.
The hearing for the resolution included video testimonies from Cuban artists that have left the island to come live in Miami, such salsa acts Willy Chirino and Los Tres de La Habana, who felt the resolution was fair because they were no longer allowed to perform in their home country.
“The regime has not allowed artists who are for democracy or for freedom to speak in Cuba, or to sing in Cuba,” said Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat of the Assembly of Cuban Resistance, a coalition of Cuban exiles against the regime.
Yet, during normalized relations between Cuba and the U.S in the Obama administration, American artist Usher performed a successful concert in Havana, as well as Diplo and British band Rolling Stones at different times in 2016.
Gutiérrez Boronat denounced the government for its new censorship law, known as decree 349, that was enacted on the island last year and represses the freedom of expression of Cuban artists.
Michael J. Bustamante, an Assistant Professor of Latin American History at Florida International University specializes in Cuba and Cuban America and is among those who see measures like these as overly punitive rather than constructive.
“Restricting free expression in order to promote the ideals of free expression is a gross contradiction,” said Bustamante. “I think it’d be far better for city leaders to practice the democratic values they preach leading by example.”
Bustamante said that cutting off contact with Cuba, strengthening sanctions and preventing the flow of dollars to the island has had no evidence of being effective in over 50 years. These include measures from the Trump administration, such as banning cruise and person-to-person travel between the countries this month.
“The idea of denying Cuban artists, just by virtue of the fact that they live in Cuba and therefore somehow are accused of being linked to the government, from the right to perform in public facilities in Miami, is an archaic attitude,” he said. “It portrays a lack of understanding of how complicated contemporary Cuban society is today.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Michael J. Bustamante was an Associate Professor of Latin American History. We regret the error.