US civil liberties group files lawsuit over Cuba book ban

Campaign News | Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Miami education board faces court over decision to ban book about Cuba from local schools

MIAMI 21 June - The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Miami's public school system on Wednesday, saying its ban on a children's book about travel to Cuba was unconstitutional.

The Miami-Dade County School Board voted to order the removal of the book, "Vamos a Cuba" and its English-language version "A Visit to Cuba," from school libraries last week after a parent complained that it painted an overly favorable picture of life in the Communist-ruled island nation.

The ban has triggered what ACLU officials described at a news conference on Wednesday as the first major legal battle over book censorship by a U.S. public school system since 1982.

Outlining the group's lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said the book ban violated the First Amendment and openly defied a U.S. law prohibiting censorship.

He also suggested that "Vamos a Cuba" had only stirred controversy because of pressure from Miami's politically powerful Cuban exile community.

The complaint against the book, filed in April, came from a self-described former political prisoner in Cuba.

"It's another unfortunate self-inflicted black eye on this community. We can appreciate that the book might be found to be offensive by some parents, but censorship is a cure that is worse than the disease," Simon said.

"The fight for freedom in Cuba cannot be a fight against the First Amendment in Miami," he added.

The book is part of a series of books that covers a total of 20 countries in English and four in Spanish.

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Miami school bans book about Cuba

Miami, 15 June: Educational authorities in Miami have banned a book about Cuba from the city's schools.

The book sparked protests from some in the Cuban emigre community, but its removal could lead to a legal battle.

The Miami Dade School board voted six to three in favour of removing the 32-page geography book 'A Visit to Cuba' from public school libraries.

It follows months of campaigning by Cuban emigres to have it removed.

They say it portrays an idealised view of life in Cuba - and fails to reflect what they describe as the "harsh conditions" Cubans have lived under since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.

It first came to the attention of Cuban emigre leaders after a young Cuban American student brought the book home and showed it to her father - a Cuban dissident who had served time in prison on the island.

He demanded the book's withdrawal, saying it was biased and full of lies. Amomg his objections was a picture of smiling Cuban schoolchildren.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union has already reacted to the move by describing it as a flagrant act of censorship which violates the US Constitution.

They say they are going to launch a legal appeal against the ban to force the school board to put the book back in school libraries.

Like so many of these issues relating to Cuban politics in Miami, the vote was divided along ethnic lines - with Hispanic board members voting in favour of the ban and all others against.

But not all Cubans in Miami support the ban.

Some who spoke in favour of it remaining on the shelves accused conservative Cuban emigres of becoming a mirror image of the alleged totalitarian system in Cuba they claim to oppose.

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Book about Cuba proves too much for a Miami school

MIAMI, 5 April - A children's book about traveling to Cuba has been removed from a Miami-Dade County school library after a parent complained about the book's depiction of life there, officials said.

The Spanish-language book, "Vamos a Cuba" or "A Visit to Cuba" in English by Alta Schreier, contains images of smiling children wearing school uniforms and a carnival celebrating the Cuban revolution of 1959, said Joseph Garcia, a spokesman for the school district.

"This parent doesn't feel the book is a fair and accurate representation of life in Cuba," Garcia said.

Juan Amador wrote in his complaint about the book, "I find the material to be untruthful. It is a Cuba that does not exist," according to a report aired in Miami.

Published in 2001, the book is part of a series of travel books for children describing Australia, the United Kingdom and other countries.

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, questioned the removal of a book from a school library shelf based on one parent's complaint.

"If the parent who has made the complaint doesn't want their child to look at this book, that is their right, but I don't think that should give them the right to withhold information from every child attending every elementary school in Miami-Dade County," Simon said. "That is the power the superintendent has given this parent."

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