ACLU Says Increased Security Fees at Grammy Winning Cuban Band Concert are Unfair

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
March 22, 2000 12:00 am

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MIAMI — The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Miami Beach concert promoter against the City of Miami saying that unusually high security fees were unfairly charged to Cuban band Los Van Van because the band might prompt anti-Castro Cuban protests.

Acting on behalf of Debbie Ohanian, owner of Starfish, a South Beach Latin dance club, the ACLU says that the unusually high police fees are unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments which prohibit governments from arbitrarily charging fees to meet expense incidents and maintain public order.

The suit seeks to recover over $39,000 in police security fees that were charged when Ohanian put on the October 9, 1999, Los Van Van concert at the Miami Arena. Ohanian agreed to pay under protest and now seeks to recover any fees that were charged solely because the Cuban group’s concert prompted political opposition.

The lawsuit also alleges that City of Miami officials, including Mayor Joe Carollo, Commissioner Tomas Regalado, and Commissioner Joe Sanchez, publicly opposed the Los Van Van concert, fueling the politically-based public controversy.

Court papers say that Carollo called the group “the official band of Fidel Castro,” prompting political protests in the media in advance of the concert. He reportedly referred to Debra Ohanian, the Los Van Van promoter, as “Havana Debbie,” and claimed that her efforts to bring Los Van Van to Miami sought to make “Uncle Fidel” happy.

Los Van Van, recipient of the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Salsa Band, is a Cuban band that has performed Afro-Cuban rhythms for 30 years, both in the United States and worldwide.

ACLU cooperating attorneys Bruce Rogow and Beverly Pohl filed the case. The suit is Ohanian v. City of Miami, NO. 00-1114-Lenard-Magistrate Turnoff.

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