Thursday, January 28, 2010

Los Van Van Return (Part 2)

Yesterday, Emilio Izquierdo Jr. appeared on Radio Mambi to inform listeners about the planned protest for Sunday (Jan. 31) at the James L. Knight Center. Cuba's "Rolling Stones of Salsa," Los Van Van, are scheduled to perform that evening as they had intended a decade ago. Host Ninoska Perez-Castellon made sure to write down all the important information for the protest against the band Izquierdo described as "the most representative" music group of the Cuban government.

According to Izquierdo, who describes himself as a spokesperson for UMAP News, there will be four locations throughout Miami that will be the departure points for caravans heading to the Knight Center, with some locations providing bus transportation. As expected, the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana is among the departure locations. The protest at the Knight Center is expected to start around 5pm. Izquierdo suggests the theme of the protest be "GOD, DEMOCRACY, AND FREEDOM FOR CUBA." And, according to a letter published yesterday by Libre Magazine, Izquierdo also suggests...

"The Cuban exile community of Miami should hold Juan Formell [leader of Los Van Van] and his delinquents prisoner inside the James L. Knight [Center], like the Castro-Chavista accomplice Manuel Zelaya [found] himself inside the Brasilian embassy in Honduras."

If you're beginning to think that this protest is starting to sound like an act of repudiation, which is ironically an act condemned by the Cuban exile community when it targets dissidents inside Cuba, then prepare to be shocked. What is being planned for Sunday is, in my opinion, an act of repudiation, as it was in 1999.


In my previous post I described the actions of the City of Miami to stop the 1999 concert of Los Van Van. The city's discriminatory actions eventually ended when they had to pay over $90,000 in a lawsuit for violating the free speech rights of the concert promoter. What I didn't describe was the reasons behind the actions of the city officials.

When the Knight Center canceled the originally scheduled concert of Los Van Van in 1999, Cuban exile militancy had prevailed. And city officials shared their sentiments. "I am so relieved," said then-City Commissioner Joe Sanchez (loser of last year's mayoral contest). "The city does not need any more controversy," he declared. Then-commissioner Tomas Regalado (now Mayor of the City of Miami) believed the concert was "a challenge to the capital of the exile community," and then-Mayor Joe Carollo described Los Van Van as "the official Communist band of Fidel Castro."* Both Regalado and Carollo at the time made sure to let Miami know how they felt as they appeared on Spanish-language radio, such as Radio Mambi.

All the comments above have resurfaced within the Cuban exile community as the concert by Los Van Van approaches. From Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart calling the leader of Los Van Van the "musical ambassador" of the Cuban government, to Ninoska Perez-Castellon saying that the concert is a "provocation" and an attempt to "penetrate" the Cuban exile community. Encouraged by these leaders of the Cuban exile community, much more radical voices on the radio have also appeared calling Los Van Van "ratas" (rats) or "agents" of the Cuban government. Others have directed their insults towards the fans of Los Van Van calling them "chusma" or riff raff. It's the same kind of language used by Radio Mambi callers more than a decade ago.


When fans of Los Van Van arrived to the Miami Arena that evening of October 9, 1999, they faced a growing crowd of protesters. At its peak, police reported the crowd size around 4,000. Militant Cuban exile groups, like Unidad Cubana, Vigilia Mambisa and the F4 Comandos, were among the protesters. Days before the protest, Miguel Saavedra, leader of Vigilia Mambisa told the Miami Herald that he planned to videotape the concert attendees.

"Miguel Saavedra ... said his group would film those attending but would not publish the pictures. The videos would be kept until the collapse of the Castro government so the successor government could identify concertgoers who were Castro sympathizers."

Entering the Miami Arena to see Los Van Van, some fans met shouting protesters. Without provoking anyone, Mario Garcia was welcomed with a shout: "Communist, male prostitute, gigolo and whore." He was not bothered though, and responded: "I have as much right to listen to Los Van Van as they have to demonstrate." Unfortunately, others met with spitting or being the target of a thrown object. Joseph Adler, artistic director of GableStage at the Biltmore Hotel, while leaving the concert was attacked by rocks and eggs. After the concert was over, city riot police escorted concert attendees as they navigated back into the streets. [Video available here]

As the return concert approaches this Sunday, militant Cuban exiles are using desperate efforts to once again denigrate the members of Los Van Van. And, as expected, lies and rumors are spreading.

*[Miami Herald, September 11, 1999, "Concert canceled for Cuban dance band" by Tyler Bridges.]

[Raw footage of the Los Van Van protest from 1999, courtesy of Telemundo51]

[Photo: Protester at Miami Arena, October 9, 1999, courtesy of Villa Granadillo blog.]

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