Thursday, July 21, 2011

Freedom of expression, getting out of hand

Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has written the Secretary of State to complain about activity by U.S. diplomats in Cuba that “potentially violates U.S. law.”

It has to do with a photography contest run by the public affairs office of the U.S. Interests Section. The contest is open to Cubans age 18 and over and resident on the island, and it’s called “Memories of Summer.”

Entries are being uploaded to the USINT Facebook page. Winners will be announced late August and finalists’ work will go on exhibit in September.

In other words, it’s a garden variety cultural affairs project where U.S. diplomats engage a foreign society in a non-political activity. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s committee produces bills that fund thousands of projects of this type each year.

Since it’s a “Memories of Summer” photo contest, some entries involve beaches and Cubans having fun and Cubans on vacation. This “essentially promotes tourism to Cuba and therefore undermines and potentially violates U.S. law,” the Congresswoman says.

How? Which law?

Good question.

U.S. law prohibits tourism to Cuba, and U.S. economic sanctions seek to harm the Cuban economy. So photos of tourist sites in Cuba, we are to reckon, “undermine” that objective. (Except that there is nothing illegal about citizens of any country opposing a U.S. foreign policy objective, and nothing illegal about U.S. diplomats providing forums where foreign nationals express their views.)

In this case the speech is in the form of photos taken by Cubans and submitted by Cubans. Some involve tourist areas, perhaps even those frequented by foreign tourists, because the prohibitions on Cubans using those facilities were removed in 2008. Today, Cubans can be found in hotels and resorts all across the island – sometimes by themselves, sometimes with their relatives, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s constituents.

Not only does “tourism apartheid” no longer exist, but hotels and resorts offer cut-rate all-inclusive packages in the low season. Some advertise in Cuba because the domestic market is important to them; see this item in Granma about Sol-Melia advertising around the island last summer.

The photos are what you would expect of a summer photo contest; they are not political. Submissions came from photographer/blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo (above) and many others.

Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is now calling for contest entries from abroad that illustrate the government’s “heinous crimes.” It’s not clear how this will work, since the contest is open only to Cubans resident in Cuba.

The Congresswoman did not ask that vacation photos be censored. But her message to Cubans is clear enough: If they aren’t expressing a certain political message even in a summer photo contest, she wants the United States to have nothing to do with them.

The contest represents American openness to freedom of expression. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is calling for conformity of thought, as if Cubans haven’t had enough of that for the past 50 years.


Anonymous said...

If there's been such 'conformity of thought' from Cuba it has been in large part due to the need for solidarity in the face of American siege. Ros-Lehtinen's demands for conformity is based on her hope the siege destroys the Revolution. There is nothing of value she brings, and represents the worst element of the hard right. But don't bring any equivalency to her position and what the Cuban government has had to face.

nico said...

Ha, I camped at that campismo, but for real! it was closed so i just camped outside one of the huts! niiice makes me wanna go back