Should Cuban Artists Get To Perform in South Florida?

Jun 24, 2019

It used to be that Cuban artists from the island who performed in Miami had to be ready for backlash from anti-Castro exile groups.

In 1999, for example, Miami officials tried to prevent the Cuban dance band Los Van Van from performing in the city. When the band eventually got to perform, they were met with thousands of demonstrators. They were against Los Van Van and considered the group loyal to the communist government.

Since then, Cuban artists have found Miami more welcoming, especially after former President Obama normalized relations with Cuba in 2014.

But the issue has cropped up again recently since President Trump has been rolling back the normalization efforts of the previous administration. The city of Hialeah canceled several Cuban artists, reportedly including reggaeton star Jacob Forever, from performing at an Independence Day concert.

Univision reported this week that Hialeah city commission had approved $30,000 in its budget for Jacob Forever’s performance.

Meanwhile, the city of Miami also passed a resolution that asks Congress to allow local and state governments to ban contracting with some Cuban artists and performers.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke with WLRN's Danny Rivero and WLRN's Americas editor Tim Padgett about the local response to ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Cuba.

WLRN: This effort to pull support from a Cuban artist who is due to play here in South Florida, from a musician that has done some things that have been seen as supportive of the communist regime back on the island either directly or indirectly, is not new. We've had this debate for a good number of decades here.

TIM PADGETT: I first wrote about this back in 2000. The Miami city commission was trying to pass a similar ordinance. At that time, a familiar target, the Cuban salsa band known as Los Van Van. That was also during the Elián González episode here. It was sort of a gesture on the part of the Cuban exile community here to reassert its authority vis-a-vis Cuba. So this is not something new at all.

Los Van Van celebrated their 50th anniversary here in Miami. Despite the fact that the debate is more than two decades old, the music continues.

PADGETT: They're celebrating at private clubs [like Miami's Studio 60]. That shows you how things have changed in that regard though because 20 years ago even private clubs would have been intimidated against inviting a band like that because of the backlash they would have gotten from politicians.

What about the political clout of the exile community extended over the 60 plus years of the communist revolution?

DANNY RIVERO: The reality of who the Cuban community is here has shifted over time, with newer arrivals kind of going alongside people who have been here for decades at a time. There's a difference of opinions. And there's also just frankly a difference in people's connection to the island and the culture from the island.

As a Cuban American myself, Cuban music is one of the country's biggest exports as a culture. That has always been the case even with the embargo. And for the first time I'm seeing this in my adult life: Municipalities are making policy about this.