The phone calls and voice mails came first; dozens of them to our offices in New York, mostly from Miami. Some praised Cigar Aficionado's special issue on Cuba; some angrily criticized it. Then, the letters poured in. Again, some were in favor, some were against. It's the kind of debate we expected, and, in many ways, hoped for. The question we asked on the cover, "Is It Time to End the Embargo?", begs that kind of debate.
But then, something happened that altered the landscape. Officials at Miami International Airport, acting on their own authority, decided they didn't like the tone of the Cuba issue, and banned its sale in the airport's 18 newsstands. They made no attempt at any other justification--no fear of reprisals, no pressure from anti-Castro groups based in Miami--just that they thought it was in "bad taste." One official, Mayra Bustamente, the assistant director of Miami-Dade's aviation department, tried to suggest to The Miami Herald that "it wasn't really a First Amendment issue."
We disagree. So did the American Civil Liberties Union, local newspaper columnists and hundreds of other people across south Florida. After four days, the mayor of Miami, Alex Penelas, ordered the magazines returned to the newsstands, even though he said he disliked the magazine's coverage of Cuba.
In the end, the First Amendment won. The right to freedom of speech serves as one of the linchpins of American democracy, right along with equal rights under the law and protections against self-incrimination.
The irony in the airport authority's action was that it mirrored what Cuba had done to the April issue of Cigar Aficionado, which featured Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez on the cover. El Duque had fled Cuba in 1997 and, today, pitches for the New York Yankees. In Cuba, Hernandez is considered by the government to be a traitor for fleeing his homeland. Therefore, no sales of the magazine, which normally sells more copies in Cuba than any other English-language publication, were allowed. Interestingly enough, Jesus Montañe, one of Fidel Castro's closest advisers and the overseer of all communications in Cuba, allowed the Cuba issue into the country shortly before his death in early May.
Our position remains the same as it was when we set out to publish the special issue. We believe that the time has come to reexamine all aspects of America's Cuba policy. It was originally created in the heat of the Cold War in the early 1960s, and maintained throughout our fight for global supremacy with the Soviet Union. Those days are gone, along with the Soviet Union. After nearly 40 years of failure, it is not outrageous to suggest that a different approach should be tried.
Ironically, when an embargo was proposed against Yugoslavia, the United States and NATO could agree on nothing more than a voluntary ban on oil shipments, even as the allies are waging an air war against that country. That shows the hypocrisy of the American policy towards Cuba. The United States has never been at war with Cuba, yet the embargo is in its 38th year.
If Americans have an ultimate ideal, it should be that every country in the world, Cuba included, be free. Until that happens, it is vital that Americans, each and every one of us, insist upon our basic constitutional rights. Those rights must be protected and always observed. Let freedom ring.
Marvin R. Shanken
Editor & Publisher