Homestead-Miami Speedway loses court battle over cancelation of Cuban music festival

A conflict over Cuban music and freedom of speech that erupted when the Homestead-Miami Speedway canceled a Cuban music festival two years ago was settled in court earlier this week. A jury ordered Speedway officials to pay $531,371 in damages to the festival’s promoter, MIA Resorts, saying the venue’s managers had deliberately defamed MIA by saying the promoter lied about presenting Cuban acts.

The event had been slated for April 9, 2011, and included popular Cuban performers from the island and living in Miami. MIA enlisted the help of Fuego Entertainment, owned by Hugo Cancio, a longtime, well-known presenter of Cuban music in Miami. In February 2011, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Lynda Bell did an interview on Spanish-language station Radio Caracol (1260 AM), in which she said she “would do everything in my power to stop” an event she believed would offend the Cuban exile community. Bell, who did not testify at the trial, told Caracol that she had called Speedway officials about the event and they had promised her it would be canceled.

Speedway officials canceled the festival a few days later.

The speedway sued MIA Resorts for breach of contract and fraud, saying no one there ever spoke to Bell and that MIA Resorts had represented the event as a Mexican, not a Cuban, music festival. MIA countersued, asserting the speedway so damaged the company’s reputation that it went out of business in the summer of 2012.

During the trial, MIA’s attorneys presented emails and other correspondence in which speedway officials signed off on flyers and other publicity materials, including a billboard on the Palmetto Expressway, for a “Cuban Music Festival.”

“On behalf of MIA Resorts Inc. and its owner, Mr. Luis Arias, we feel vindicated by the jury’s verdict and believe that justice has been done,” said Paul Ranis, the Greenberg Traurig attorney representing the promoter.

Speedway officials denied speaking to Bell. “We are not for or against the festival,” Alfonso Perez, the venue’s attorney, told El Nuevo Herald during the trial. “The fact is that Homestead-Miami Speedway cannot get in the middle of a controversy.”

The controversy took place during a period when Cuban concerts in Miami had become more frequent,. Around the same time, a Cuban exile group successfully lobbied Miami, Hialeah and other municipalities to impose restrictive new rules on presenters of Cuban music.

Those rules do not appear to have significantly affected groups putting on Cuban music shows. Recently, X Alfonso, a rocker from the island, performed at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium. From March 9 to April 6, Fundarte and the Miami Light Project will present Global Cuba Fest, with acts from the island including Haitian-Cuban group The Creole Choir of Cuba and vocalist Ivette Cepeda.

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