Saturday, November 25, 2006

F**k the Old and the New Miami

At least Jose Varela gave us some scary comic relief on Buy Nothing Day, when he stormed into the Miami Herald and declared himself to be the new publisher. The relationship between the Miami Herald and its sister Spanish-language pub, El Nuevo Herald, has been tangled up in the arcane and violent politics between different groups of anti-Castro Cubans. The English-language paper broke a story showing that several reporters at the Spanish-language edition had received U.S. government money for writing anti-Castro stories. At any other paper in the country, that would have been cause for shutting Nuevo Herald down and pushing for a Pulitzer for the ones that revealed the government ties. Not in Miami. In the first weeks following the story, the publisher backed the editors that were under the pay of the U.S. government, and forced out reformers. But on Friday, Varela's rambling comments suggested the winds were blowing in a new direction, with moderating reforms at work at both the English and Spanish Herald editions. This doesn't sit well with the fifth of the Miami population that works for or actively supports either the CIA or various violent anti-Castro groups.

My own exasperation with this story stems from the new image that the Miami area, particularly South Beach, retains among young rich playtime celebrities who like to purchase bazillion-dollar condos. Of course hip-hop artists and sports stars never pay attention to local politics. And of course, with an urban area that is heavily Hispanic and close to Cuba, you have to expect passionate politics of this sort. But Miami has been out of bounds for at least 20 or 30 years. Its police have developed a reputation for routinely beating anyone vaguely "leftist," most recently in the shocking actions Police Chief John Timoney took at the Nov. 2003 Free Trade of the Americas Act protests in downtown Miami. The police are never taken to task for this, because several successive mayors and city councils of Miami support the violent fascism they learned at the feet of the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans.

I was asked to speak at a liberal-funders conference in Miami in late 2004, and I asked several organizers why they didn't boycott a town like this. Most seemed blissfully unaware of the kind of city Miami was (not surprising, giving funding institutions' general unfamilarity with reality, but that's another story). Maybe the fight between the two Heralds and the wacky actions of Jose Varela will lead to some much needed fresh air and public debate in a very smarmy and repressive city. But until that time, the rest of the country ought to boycott the entire Miami metro area, and let local civic leaders know why!

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