MIAMI — The American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday the cancellation of a South Florida music festival featuring artists from Cuba may have violated the event organizers' constitutional right to free speech.
Organizers made official Wednesday a February decision that the Fuego Cuban Music Worlds Festival scheduled for Saturday was canceled. They have filed a civil suit in Miami-Dade County Court against the Homestead Miami International Speedway, where the event was to take place.
The ACLU is questioning the involvement of local officials in the concert's cancellation.
Exiles are mixed in their views of Cuban artists, who receive support from their island's Communist government and are generally only allowed to travel if they remain in its good graces. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell said she would do everything in her power to stop the event.
"We have assurances that this concert dealing with the Cuban artists from Cuba is not going to take place," she said during a Feb. 7 interview with Radio Caracol in Miami. "We understand free speech and will defend free speech but not when public facilities and public funds are being utilized."
Bell did not immediately return a call seeking comment from the Associated Press.
ACLU Miami president John de Leon said Bell's comments show a lack of understanding of the Constitution. "That's exactly the arena in which the first amendment operates: in public arenas, public venues and when public dollars are involved."
"Commissioner Bell has the right to protest the presentation — criticize, condemn the concert but not participate in her official capacity with shutting it down," he added. "In the name of freedom in Cuba you cannot undermine freedom in the United States."
The concert was to take place one week before the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion, the failed attack by Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro's fledgling government that left a bitter taste in the Cuban-American community. Some considered the concert so close to the anniversary in bad taste.
Meanwhile, the Miami Beach City Council scheduled a vote for the day of the concert on whether to restrict such cultural exchanges with Cuba.
Still, much has changed in Miami since 2001 when Latin Grammy organizers moved their awards ceremony to Los Angeles, fearing mass protests over the participation of Cuban artists from the island.
Los Van Van and Charanga Habanera, as well as Cuban artists living in Miami such as Isaac Delgado and Manolin, were among the artists scheduled to play at this concert.
Festival organizer Hugo Cancio said he chose Homestead to avoid provoking the Cuban-American community. Homestead, about 25 miles south of Miami's Little Havana, has a strong Mexican, not Cuban, immigrant presence.