Monday, November 16, 2009

Vamos a Cuba! Well, Perhaps Not

You would think that in a "free" society, we would no longer have to worry about our government "protecting" us by banning books or restricting the free movement of its citizens.

You'd be wrong.

Today, McClatchy and the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from the Florida ACLU hoping to reverse a lower court's decision in February that upheld Miami-Dade officials' 2006 removal of the "objectionable" children's book, "Vamos a Cuba" (and its English language counterpart "A Visit to Cuba"), from the city's libraries.

The original ban of the book, intended for children ages 5 to 8, was first reversed by a federal judge in Miami who ruled that the board should add books of different perspectives instead of removing offending titles. However, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta reinstated the ban, arguing that the school board wouldn't be infringing freedom of speech rights by removing the book because it presents an "inaccurate" view of life in Cuba. Board members originally voted to remove the book after a parent who spent time as a political prisoner in Cuba complained.

My question is what is a court doing deciding what view of Cuba is "accurate"? Talk about judicial activism!

A free society is strengthened by a multiplicity of competing views (marketplace of ideas, anyone?). It is weakened when these views are stifled and one "official" view is enshrined by the courts or the government. Anyone who has ever been to Cuba can attest to what happens when the banning of "inaccurate" books becomes standard operating procedure. Maybe Miami needs a branch of the Cuban Independent Library Movement. In fact, I bought a copy of "Vamos a Cuba," on Amazon during the brouhaha back in 2006. I hearby declare that I will personally bring it with me on my next visita a Miami and donate it to the Miami-Dade public library system.

What's next? I myself published a "grown-up" version of "Vamos a Cuba." If my book, shown at the right, "Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook," is any good it will certainly offend and provoke those with strong views about Cuba. But now, I'm waiting for the knock at the door after the first complaint from one of my student's parents who deem my book to be "misleading" or "inaccurate."

If you don't like the children's book or my book, yell and scream about it - that's your right, perhaps even your duty in a free society. Better yet, write your own #%&*$ book. That's what we do in the land of the free and home of the brave. But don't you touch my book.

Reinaldo Arenas, the famous Cuban writer, political prisoner, and all-around political and sexual provocateur (a man who knew a thing or two about banned books), once wryly commented (I'm paraphrasing), "There's an important difference between capitalist and communist societies. Both systems like to kick you in the pants. However, when capitalism kicks you, you have the right to scream and yell about it. When communism kicks you, however, you not only can't yell and scream, but you had better applaud and loudly too!"

Then there are the restrictions on the free travel of American citizens to Cuba. Kudos to Obama for revoking the inhumane every-three-years Bush era restrictions on the travel of Cuban-Americans to their homeland to visit relatives. This week a Congressional hearing is set that will give us a good idea of whether the Democrats (and some renegade Republicans) have the courage to extend that same right to all Americans. (Pre-hearing commentary and coverage available here, here, and here).

If they are going to be consistent, the very same pundits and politicians who expressed understandable outrage over the Cuban government's denial of an exit permit to blogger Yoani Sanchez to travel to New York back in October to collect a journalism prize from Columbia University (see Phil Peters' commentary), had better step up to the plate and the mic to defend Americans' right to travel to Cuba as well. Or, are restrictions on travel only sinister and condemnable when practiced by our political opponents?


  1. As an American by nurture, if not by birth, I worry for my country. I saw how communism in Cuba censored everything,denying you the right to speak your own mind. I now see those very practices tolerated here (in Miami)in the name of accuracy, freedom, cultural sensitivity etc. Pure Doublespeak. Whatever happened to the days when parents pointed out falsehoods, versus truths, to their children? How about the days when censorship applied only to language that posed a clear danger to others. Apparently, not anymore. Like England, we seem to be accomodating foreign medieval practices in the name of cultural relativism or could it be complacency? As I warn in my book, "Up Dog Street," in addition to censorship, we may soon have Juntas,neighborhood watch committees or maybe Sharia courts to supplament our judicial system (as in London). Lack of resolve in defending our precious freedoms can spell the end of our Western democracies,as well as the allowing of tyrannies, like that of the Castros,to endure. IOPtaciana

  2. The Reinaldo Arenas epigram is not original with him. "There is an old saying of the Cold War, first told me Carlos Franqui, one of the early revolutionaries who joined Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra, to organize and direct Radio Rebelde: 'In Communism and Capitalism, they kick you in the ass,' he said. "But the difference is, under Communism, you have to smile and say, Thank you; whereas under Capitalism, at least you can scream.'" (From the Thomas Colchie introduction to the 2001 Penguin edition of "Before Night Falls")

    I've read one book by Carlos Franqui: "Family Portait with Fidel: a Memoir." It's well worth reading his account of the early years of the revolutionary government as it gradually stifled artistic expression at the "Lunes" periodical of which Franqui was an editor.

    P.S. Ted, you have misspellings of "innuendo" and "especially" in your otherwise excellent "Rule to blog by."