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Miami Reacts To Latin Grammys Exit

Miami is licking its wounds after organizers of next month's Latin Grammy music awards decided to move the event from south Florida to Los Angeles. Security concerns were cited for Monday's decision, as Cuban exile groups had been granted permission to demonstrate near the arena where the show was to have been held. Many in Miami are stunned, angered and pointing fingers.

The Latin Grammys will feature Cuban artists who work within the island-nation's communist system and, therefore, are viewed as lackeys of Cuban President Fidel Castro by much of south Florida's exile community. More than 100 exile groups successfully petitioned city leaders to demonstrate on the corner directly opposite the American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami.

That was apparently too close for Latin Grammy organizers. Michael Greene, who heads the Latin Recording Academy, said the arrangement would have forced artists and guests to pass directly in front of protesters to enter the arena.

"I can't guarantee the security of our people," he said. "And we have people coming from all over the world. Having to run that gauntlet [passing close to the protesters] is demeaning at best and dangerous at worst."

Not so, according to Randall Marshall of the American Civil Liberties Union, which backed exiles in their quest to get as close to the arena as possible. "The only reason for leaving Miami is concern for the television image of that event," he said. "It appears that the Latin Grammys organizers only wanted a sanitized TV view for the world [to see]."

That view is echoed by Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, whose city stands to lose an estimated $35 million in economic activity now that the Latin Grammys will be held elsewhere. Mr. Carollo says he promised Michael Greene that Miami's police force would ensure a safe environment for the show - to no avail.

"We have assured him total security for his event," said the mayor. "That was not the issue."

Whether justified or not, many in Miami view the decision to move the Latin Grammys as a public relations disaster for the city in general, and the Cuban exile community in particular. Even among exiles, there are those who say their community is too fixated on a narrow political agenda and blind to the damage its image suffers as a result of its own tactics.

Ramon Saul Sanchez heads "Democracy Movement" - one of the few exile groups that did not plan to protest the Latin Grammys. "Our position was that, being a civil rights organization, we advocate for the rights of those who are repressed in Cuba, not against the artists who come out of Cuba," he said.

Mr. Sanchez says both exiles and the show's organizers are to blame for the fiasco in Miami.

"We must all learn - the Cubans who were going to demonstrate and the Americans who took the Grammys away from here - we all have to do our share to make sure that we do not become intolerant," he said. "To make sure that freedom is expressed without any limitations. It was wrong for the Cuban-Americans to focus their protest against the artists coming out of Cuba instead of focusing on Fidel Castro's repression. But it was also wrong for Mr. Greene to object to people demonstrating."

Mr. Sanchez says, if anyone is laughing, it is probably Fidel Castro. He says, for years, Mr. Castro has branded exiles as dangerous extremists. Now, Mr. Sanchez says, the Cuban leader can point to the decision to move the Latin Grammys as vindication of that view.