Sunday, January 31, 2010

Los Van Van Return (Part 3) [Updated]

This afternoon, local Spanish radio station "La Poderosa" (WWFE 670AM) was in close contact with Miguel Saavedra, leader of Vigilia Mambisa, by phone. In these last few days, WWFE, like Radio Mambi, has given plenty of air time to Saavedra and others planning to attended today's protest of Los Van Van in downtown Miami. Saavedra reported lots of excitement as people prepared the caravan leaving from Little Havana. Yesterday, Saavedra was invited on Radio Mambi's "Mesa Redonda" (with Armando Perez-Roura) for a full hour informing listeners about the several departure locations around Miami heading towards the James L. Knight center. As I write, the protest has already begun.

Lots of rumors and misinformation have spread since Los Van Van first appeared in Miami in 1999. All of them have been essentially used to defame and denigrate the Cuban band, who happen to be immensely popular in Cuba. But, to recognize their incredible success seems to be taboo in Miami.


Many detractors of Los Van Van accuse the band of "provocation" by their presence in Miami. This argument assumes that Los Van Van represent the Cuban government, and since the City of Miami inhabits many of the victims of the Cuban government, it would be an outrage to welcome them because it would "provoke" the trauma of Cuban exiles.

This argument falls apart simply because Los Van Van (the band) do not represent the Cuban government. If they did, then their lyrics (for example) would immediately resemble the appearances of Cuban government policy or ideology. But, once one reviews their lyrics, it becomes clear that Los Van Van talk about what most other songwriters talk about: love, relationships, the larger meanings of life, etc. Whatever personal political opinions any group members might have are absent.

Also, many Cuban exile militants misrepresent the popularity of Los Van Van by suggesting that only Cuban riff-raff listen to them. These remarks not only highlight the contempt that some Cubans have for other Cubans in Miami, but also tend to highlight the cultural differences between Cubans by their wave of arrival to the U.S. (such as those that listen to Timba, and those that refuse to).

Finally, one of the reasons Los Van Van eventually came to Miami in 1999 was because of their radio popularity noticed a couple years before, and not simply to provoke.


This is probably the next most mentioned allegation against Los Van Van: their name is in honor (or recognition) of a Cuban government program that pressured Cubans to cut sugar cane in 1970 with a propaganda campaign that went: "Y de que van, van. Los diez millones van!" (Those that go, go. The ten million must go!)

According to Juan Formell, leader and founder of Los Van Van: "Our name had nothing to do with that. It was just a coincidence, a phrase that was fashionable then. Nothing more. And there’s nothing else, no other story. 'Van van' in Spanish means it will happen, it will go."

The coincidence with their name and the sugar harvest program is unfortunate because it is an event that is recalled by some in exile as forced labor. But, Formell's explanation about the band name makes more sense because it is consistent with their many years of making apolitical music.


Cuban exile militants certainly don't rest went it comes to attacking their perceived enemies. One recent lie that spread recently about Los Van Van said that band leader Juan Formell signed a 2003 letter supporting the Cuban government crackdown of dissidents that year, and the execution of three males. This letter was never signed by Formell (as he declared in a television interview last year), but the lie was repeated many times this month by Ninoska Perez-Castellon on Radio Mambi (who corrected her error this past Friday), and by other militants such as Iliana Curra, an activist linked to the Cuban Liberty Council.

One recent rumor targets Juan Formell's son, who is also a member of Los Van Van. According to this allegation, Samuel Formell was convicted of a heinous crime back in the 1980s and received an 18-year sentence, but was soon set free after the intervention of the Cuban government.

The rumor originates from an article written by a Cuban dissident named Juan Gonzalez Febles. The article mentions many details, but strangely does not provide any dates, such as what year the crime occurred, or when Formell was supposedly released. The article has spread throughout the internet, among the usual anti-Castro blogs, to a mention in a recent El Nuevo Herald article, and to a post in the Miami New Times blog. According to Jorge Casuso of the Miami New Times, this alleged crime occurred in 1984 based on anonymous sources "who were closely and personally acquainted with Formell and the victim's family."

It should be noted that rumors usually begin by supposedly "close" acquaintances, especially in Miami.

[Update: CBS4 has first video of tonight's protest]
[Update2: Video of protest and concert from Zayramo]
[Update3: Some photos by El Nuevo Herald]

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