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Saturday, October 9, 1999 Published at 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK

World: Americas

Cuban concert sparks outrage

Los Van Van: Branded the official band of Fidel Castro

By Malcolm Brabant in Miami

Noisy protests are expected in Miami when Cuba's most popular dance band, Los Van Van, finishes its American tour with a concert in the south Florida city.

A million Cuban exiles from Fidel Castro's regime live in Miami, many of whom vigorously oppose the concert. Yet the US Government approved the band's tour as part of an attempt to improve relations between the two countries.

[ image: Older Cubans believe the band represents dictatorship]
Older Cubans believe the band represents dictatorship
Even though Los Van Van have toured America before, this is their first appearance in Miami.

Promoters thought the improving climate between Havana and Washington would eliminate any trouble but they were wrong.

Malcolm Brabant: "Promoters thought improving ties between Havana and Washington would eliminate trouble"
The city council, which is run by Cuban exiles, placed many obstacles before them, calling the musicians the official communist band of Fidel Castro.

Meanwhile, Spanish language radio has provided another vehicle for protest.

Incriminating evidence

Talk show host and Ninosko Peres, who is also a spokeswoman for the anti-Castro, Cuban American National Foundation, accuses Los Van Van of playing for Castro while opponents were being sent to concentration camps.

[ image: Castro has ruled Cuba for 40 years]
Castro has ruled Cuba for 40 years
"They represent dictatorship. They represent oppression. They represent the same thing that happened in South Africa under Apartheid."

Many older Cuban Americans in Havana's Little Miami district support that argument.

They are disappointed that the Florida branch of the American civil liberties union invoked America's constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech to secure a venue for the concert.

But many more moderate Cuban exiles are expected to stay away from the concert for fear that their businesses and personal lives could be threatened.

Opponents of Los Van Van have said they will videotape concert goers, the implication being it will be used as incriminating evidence in the future.

Growing divisions

The concert has been organised by nightclub owner Debbie O'Hanion, who is capitalising on America's growing interest in Latin music, particularly Cuban salsa.

[ image: Latin music is hugely popular in America]
Latin music is hugely popular in America
Her Latin dance classes are frequently sold out and prove that Los Van Van should get an enthusiastic hearing from Miami's younger generation at least.

"I think the concept of people-to-people contact is great, " commented Ms O'Hanion.

"If this can help break down some barriers and maybe make people here aware of something that's going on on the island, something positive, the fact that Cuban music is so huge around the world - I think that's wonderful."

The Los Van Van concert has again highlighted the growing divisions within the Cuban exile community.

In general, young Cubans appear to approve of closer ties with Havana while their parents and grandparents do not.

Cuban community leaders have appealed for peaceful protests.

But in the past, venues that have hosted Cuban bands have been firebombed. So neither the police, nor the promoters can let down their guard.

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