Cubans and Cuban-Americans on social media are pressuring American politicians to rescind, or at least launch an investigation into, the immigration status of superstar dance-pop group Gente de Zona, whose members perform freely in Cuba and have openly praised dictator Fidel Castro.
Gente de Zona, whose music blends the urban reggaetón genre with traditional salsa and other Latin dance music, has sold millions of records and launched a booming music career from their native Havana, which violently represses musicians who do not bend their knees to the communist regime. They regularly perform in the United States, including on televised awards shows, then return to Cuba with the money they made in America. The current uproar against the group in the Cuban-American community is in part a response to the Castro regime giving them a stage to perform in front of hundreds of thousands of people last week.
Under the hashtag #nogreencardgdz, Cubans and Cuban Americans are taking to Twitter to pressure Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and local politicians to review how group members Alexander Delgado and Randy Malcom are legally allowed to live and work in the country. Multiple petitions have also surfaced on Change.org asking the U.S. government to block the band from entering the country.
“Gente De Zona works on behalf of the dictatorship in Cuba and serves their interest. This is a request to open an investigation to possibly have their permanent resident card removed due to their link to the Cuban Government,” one of the petitions reads.
The campaign has snowballed since being launched by Cuban cultural commentator Alexander Otaola, who broadcasts a nightly YouTube program on culture and politics. Otaola has taken to routinely exposing Cuban artists and celebrities for their silence in the face of extreme human rights abuses on the island and demanding they use their platforms, like he does, to elevate the voices of persecuted dissidents.
Otaola noted that Gente de Zona’s concert last weekend in Havana, which attracted an estimated 350,000 people, was particularly offensive in light of violent attacks on dissidents organized to prevent a planned protest Sunday in honor of Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity (La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre).
Cuban state police arrested over 100 pro-democracy protesters between Friday and Sunday, severely beating many members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the island’s largest dissident group. Alleged police officers, many plain-clothed, raided the homes of dissidents while beating them to steal their milk, cooking oil, and other basic needs that Cuba is suffering from extreme shortages of due to government mismanagement.
“This was their way of giving Cuba the bread and circuses it is used to,” Otaola said of the Gente de Zona concert, noting that the group had on repeated occasions lent its support to the Castro regime. “You cant live in Miami, you can’t enjoy in Miami all the freedoms and privileges the Cuban people do not enjoy, or have, or dream of having, because people like you support your repressors … and not have consequences.”
Otaola noted that Gente de Zona had just been announced as a guest to an upcoming music festival hosted by iHeartRadio and that he was “speaking to senators’ offices, to various politicians… so that they at least investigate the issue of residency for this group.” He added that, should a probe find that the group “lied to obtain benefits from our immigration system,” the Cuban-American community must demand their deportation and cancellation of their green cards.
María Elvira Salazar, a Cuban-American television host and 2018 candidate for Congress who has since announced she will run again, joined Otaola’s call (Otaola named her personally, asking if she would join the campaign).
“One cannot be with the exile community and the regime at the same time. In other words, with God and with the devil,” Salazar wrote on Facebook and Twitter. “With full conviction, I join the campaign to retire permanent residence to the duo Gente de Zona.”
1/2:No se puede estar con el exilio y el régimen a la misma vez. En otras palabras, con Dios y con el Diablo. Con plena convicción, me uno a la campaña para que le retiren la residencia permanente al dúo Gente de Zona.#nogreencardgdz pic.twitter.com/RexnglZaNE
— Maria Elvira Salazar 🇺🇸 (@MaElviraSalazar) September 11, 2019
The band’s members have not yet responded to the campaign, nor has the Cuban communist regime, though the regime’s routine violations of Twitter rules resulted in it being silenced on the platform for 24 hours this week.
Gente de Zona first began infuriating the Cuban-American community in the aftermath of the death of Fidel Castro, when, during a concert, member Alexander Delgado said, “As artists and spokesmen for Cuban music, some are happy and others are sad, but, well, it is truly a loss.” Less than a year later, the band shared a moment dancing with Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, dictator Raúl’s grandson, on stage, resulting in them losing the key to the city of Miami.
In July, the city of Hialeah, Florida – a bright red conservative stronghold largely populated by working-class Cuban exiles – disinvited a former member of Gente de Zona, Jacob Forever, from a July 4 celebration due to his friendly ties to the Castro regime.
The campaign against Gente de Zona comes off the tail of a heated radio interview by the Pichy Boys, a morning zoo radio duo, of Cuban reggaetón artist Lenier Mesa in August. Mesa walked out of the studio after the interviews, Alexander González and Maikel Rodríguez, asked him about the widespread repression in communist Cuba.
González and Rodríguez have also challenged fellow radio host Enrique Santos, who announced Gente de Zona’s upcoming iHeartRadio gig, to similarly confront the duo about human rights abuses by the Castro regime. González lamented in his open remarks to Santos that he has tried to reach out, but “they don’t answer the phone when I call” since the duo has become more vocally anti-communist. Gente de Zona did record a promo for the Pichy Boys years ago, but appear not to have had contact with them publicly for some time, overlapping with the growing calls for freedom the radio team has made in the past year.
Gente de Zona have won Latin Grammys, Latin American Music Awards, and several Spanish-language awards for their music, particularly their 2016 breakout Album Visualízate. The album single “La Gozadera” received three Platinum certifications in Spain.