By Anthony Boadle | Reuters
A Cuban dance company billed to perform at Las Vegas’s legendary Stardust Casino this month has defied Cuban authorities and applied for U.S. visas, in a rare case of overt disobedience in communist-run Cuba.
Fifty-three dancers, musicians and singers with the Havana Night company went to the U.S. Interest Section for visa application interviews even though Cuban officials told them they should not travel to the United States for the five-week show.
The National Union of Writers and Artists, or UNEAC, which holds their passports, had summoned the company to a meeting the same morning, but the dancers stayed away—something unheard of in Cuba.
“The dream of any singer is to perform in Las Vegas. It is a dream that can come true,” said 18-year-old Osmany, who sings in the music and dance extravaganza. He declined to give his last name.
The German-English-owned company has performed in 16 countries to some two million people since it was formed seven years ago, but the performers live in Cuba.
Promoter Margaret Baroncelli said on Friday billboards for “Havana Night Club - The Show” are already up in Las Vegas for the company’s first U.S. appearance.
But the trip has become caught up in the four-decade-old hostility between Cuba and the United States. The Bush administration recently toughened sanctions aimed at ousting President Fidel Castro, whose government says that Washington plans to invade the Caribbean island.
Baroncelli said Cuban officials visited company members’ homes to pressure them not to apply for U.S. travel permits, warning that the trip was contrary to Cuba’s interests.
UNEAC international relations director Jorge Gonzalez denied pressure had been brought to bear on the performers and said the U.S government had already denied the visas.
That occurred last year, when the U.S. State Department turned down the company’s first request for visas. By then the show had been cancelled after Roy, along with his partner Siegfried, one of the associate producers of the Cuban show, was mauled by a tiger.
Company manager Ariel Machado hoped Cuban authorities would reconsider and allow the company to travel. “I wish people dedicated to politics would stick to politics and allow those dedicated to culture work freely,” he said.