The city of Hialeah, Florida, canceled acts on Monday of a scheduled Independence Day concert featuring Cuban artists after the exile community protested against allowing artists who support the Castro regime to profit from performing in the United States.
Hialeah’s move followed the passing of a resolution by the city of Miami last week “urging the United States Congress to enact legislation that would permit states and local governments to prohibit the contracting with performers and artists who do business with or are funded by Cuba.”
The American government allows “cultural exchanges” with Cuba, one of the exceptions to the longstanding embargo on the communist island. Cuba’s much stricter embargo on the United States does not allow American artists to perform there, however, unless they explicitly submit to the demands of the Castro regime or help it generate profit.
The Cuban embargo on American artists is particularly stifling of ethnically Cuban Americans, whose citizenship in the United States the Castro regime does not legally recognize. Many such artists reject allowing pro-regime artists to make money in the United States and return home to praise the Castro regime and have stated they would not collaborate with pro-regime artists.
“I have always said that my true heroes are the political prisoners who did suffer and have sacrificed everything for the cause,” Mayor Carlos Hernández said in a press statement canceling the concert. “Even the most minimal suggestion from them is enough to make any kind of change.”
“We understand that the history exile community deserves to continue receiving all the respect and support of the city of Hialeah. That is what our decision to change the invites for our 4th of July celebration is based on,” the statement read.
It remains unclear at press time if Hialeah will schedule artists to replace the Cubans or if it will cancel the event entirely.
Members of the Cuban exile community reacted to the announcement of performances by Cuban reggaetón artists Jacob Forever, El Micha, and la Señorita Dayana with outrage given their cozy relationship with the communist regime, which allows them to enrich themselves in the United States and bring that money back to Cuba. Cuban-Americans had scheduled a tentative protest against the concert in front of Hialeah City Hall for June 25.
Jacob Forever, a former member of the Grammy award-winning group Gente de Zona, has outraged Cuban-Americans in the past by wearing a shirt with the image of communist mass murderer Ernesto “Che” Guevara and refusing to comment on the widespread human rights abuses on the island. The members of Gente de Zona itself has faced controversy after performing for dictator Raúl Castro’s grandson and heaping praise on Fidel Castro following his death, receiving the key to the city of Miami but subsequently having it rescinded over their support for communism.
El Micha referred to Fidel Castro as his “idol” in a 2011 interview, adding, “that’s the only idol there is.”
La Señorita Dayana has not publicly praised the regime in Florida, but walked out of a television show after another panelist criticized the Castro regime’s response to the destruction following Hurricane Irma.
The Cuban Democratic Directorate (Directorio) confirmed that it had advised Hialeah officials against the concert.
“They asked us our opinion and we gave it: we believe that it is a false cultural exchange because the artists who disagree with the regime are not allowed to enter the island,” Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat, president of Directorio, told the Miami Herald. “The regime uses and pressures the artists it lets leave the island so that they become their political instruments, [to] maintain control over the recently emigrated Cuban population. This is a matter of controlling Cubans who are leaving the country using culture.”
The Hialeah controversy is the latest win for a growing movement to keep Cuban artists from exploiting the U.S. market while abetting the communist regime’s human rights abuses. Last week, Miami Mayor Francis Suárez led the passage of a city resolution urging federal action to keep these artists out. The resolution pushes for Washington to grant states the right to ban Cuban performers “until freedom of expression is restored for all Cubans, and not just a few favored artists.”
“This resolution asks the federal government to end cultural exchanges and give us the power necessary for us, as a local government, to prevent artists from the island from using public resources,” Suárez said. “We are very proud to have the suort of so many important people, artists, and community activists backing this effort.”
Miami announced the measure with the support of multiple Cuban-American artists who have rejected collaborations with pro-regime politicians.
“Art installations in the city of Miami should not lend themselves to those artists for them to come here and mock us, making money and returning to Cuba to use those funds against their own people,” Suárez added.
Jacob Forever and the other artists no longer performing in Hialeah join a long list of regime-approved artists like singer Haila Mompié, who openly boasts about singing for Fidel Castro but performs in Miami, and reggaetón artist Yomil, who physically assaulted Cuban-American cultural commentator Alexander Otaola last year after the latter repeatedly criticized him for supporting the Castro regime.
“The issue is not the punch,” Otaola said after the assault, “The problem is that these people, these pseudo-artists, come to Miami, are in Miami, leave Miami, make money in Miami, and do not respect the rules and laws of the United States.”
He went on to call the assault a homophobic “hate crime” (Otaola is gay) and “an attack against the free press … by stooges of the Cuban regime against people who live in freedom.”
Among the artists supporting the Miami city measure is salsa legend Willy Chirino, who said in a recent interview that he would never collaborate with performers who do not stand up for the human rights of their own people.
“One cannot be Cuban and apolitical,” Chirino told the Diario Las Americas in May. “I have no other choice but to have strong political convictions, as all Cubans from here [the U.S.] and there should. And it is lamentable that most who live on the island don’t speak up.”
Chirino noted that the Cuban government for decades censored the music of some of the island’s most legendary performers, like Celia Cruz, because they chose exile over communism.
“I would be very disappointed to do a duet with a Cuban from over there, one of those who tries to swim in both seas – who are very talented, by the way, I am not discrediting them – and for me to sing with them and then see them on stage … in Cuba or saying hi to [Cuban “President” Miguel] Díaz-Canel at a concert,” Chirino told the newspaper.