Fidel Castro's secret weapon

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Oct 11 12:58:49 MDT 1999

Los Van Van is taking the United States by storm. Performing to sold-out
audiences everywhere they go, they exemplify the best of new Cuban
interpretations of traditional conjunto music. I have been a huge fan for
15 years at least and am thrilled to discover that a new CD is now
available with their greatest hits, including "Sandungueira" and "Havana,
no aguanta mas". Titled "La Colección Cubana", it is available from

Back in the early 1980s I struck up a friendship with a programmer named
Gabriel Manfugas, who came to the United States as an infant with his
father, a career soldier in Batista's army. We never allowed political
differences to get in the way of other enthusiasms, especially playing
squash and listening to music on high-end stereos. Oddly enough, I
introduced him to traditional Cuban music from my vast collection that he
had never been exposed to before. He bought Benny Moré albums after hearing
them at my apartment first. His father got a big kick out of them as well,
because Moré was the most popular musician in the Cuba of his youth. His
style is similar to that heard in "Buena Vista Social Club."

Gradually, like many young Cubans, Gabriel began to soften politically. It
had something to do with my persistent urging to read different things. It
also had a lot to do with his anthropology professors at CCNY, who were
Marxist to one degree or another. One day, in the middle of a school term,
he announced to me, "Proyect, I can't fucking believe it. All that stuff
you've been telling me for years I'm hearing from my professors now." Of
course, when a professor says it, it has to be true. Except on PEN-L, that is.

The thing that really turned him around, however, was Los Van Van. Since he
knew that they were popular in Castro's Cuba, they had to be singing a
bunch of bullshit about how wonderful communism was and how happy they were
to pick sugar cane. When I put on "Havana, no aguanta mas", he could hardly
believe his ears. This song, roughly translated as "Havana, I can't take it
anymore" is about the daily frustrations of life in Havana. How you can't
get a bus. How hard it was to find a place to live, etc., etc. He listened
to the words and started laughing. "I can't believe this song. This is a
Cuban group and all they are doing is griping about the country." I
explained to him that, yes they were griping, but they were also committed
to making the country a more just society. From that moment on, his
attitudes began to shift noticably.


The Washington Post, October 10, 1999, Sunday, Final Edition

Cuban Band Draws Fla. Protest; Thousands of Castro Foes in Miami Denounce
Concert on U.S. Soil

A performance by one of Cuba's hottest bands drew an estimated 4,000 to
7,500 anti-Castro protesters to Miami Arena tonight, with many waving
flags, shouting slogans and denouncing the show.

After more than two hours of Afro-Cuban dance music by the popular group
Los Van Van, the estimated 3,000 to 5,000 ticket holders were escorted past
jeering, refuse-throwing protesters angered that musicians popular in the
Communist nation were allowed to perform in the heart of the Cuban exile

Police in riot gear kept the two sides from each other, and no clashes were
reported after the concert.

After being warmly welcomed elsewhere during a tour of the United States,
Los Van Van got the cold shoulder in the heart of the Cuban exile community.

Demonstrators carried signs reading "Castro: 40 years of dictatorship and
40 years of slavery" and "Van: Get out of Miami."

"We have nothing against the music they play," said protester Luis
Eseandal. "This is about the Cuban government and Fidel Castro."

Before the concert, a disturbance broke out between police and protesters
that lasted just a few minutes when about a dozen demonstrators hopped
steel barricades and tried to run to the arena's entrance.

Police used pepper spray to control the group, and several protesters were
led away in handcuffs as supporters shouted.

"I'm here because I like the music," said one ticket-holder, Adriana Lopez,
a native of Colombia who lives in Miami. "I don't see why we have to get
into politics over this."

Some members of Miami's Cuban American community denounced Los Van Van as
emissaries of Cuba's communist President Fidel Castro, and the concert was
first canceled, then rescheduled.

"They're not telling the truth," said protester Mirta Oliva-Rios. "This
group is a representative of Fidel Castro."

Miami Mayor Joe Carollo and city Commissioner Tomas Regalado, both
Cuban-born, last month vented their objections to the concert on
Spanish-language radio, and the dispute generated thousands of calls to
city hall.

The American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue after the show's
cancellation at another city-owned venue.

Veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba showed an
anti-Castro film tonight a few blocks away, at the James L. Knight Center,
the original site of the Los Van Van show, then made their way to the arena
to protest.

The Cuban exile group Democracy Movement issued a statement objecting to
the "insincerity" of allowing Los Van Van to perform.

Juan Formell, who founded Los Van Van 30 years ago, rejected the label
applied by opponents who call the group the "official" band of the Cuban

"We don't do politics. We make music," Formell said.

Cultural exchange exemptions under the U.S. trade embargo allow Cuban bands
to perform in the United States if they do not profit from the concerts.

 Copyright© 1999, LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights

Louis Proyect

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