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Posted November 16, 2004 by publisher in Cuba Human Rights

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KEN RITTER | Associated Press Writer

Forty-three members of a Cuban dance troupe performing at a Las Vegas casino asked for asylum in the United States on Monday in the one of the biggest mass defections of entertainers from the communist country.

Members of the cast said they took the step because they feared they would be forced to quit performing if they returned to Havana. They said Cuban authorities did not want them to perform in the United States in the first place.

“This is a brave and bold action by my young artists,” Nicole “N.D” Durr, the German creator of the Havana Night Club show, said of the dancers, singers, musicians and stagehands. “It’s done with sorrow, leaving family behind, but with resolve.”

Arriving by bus to submit asylum paperwork at the federal courthouse in Las Vegas, the performers responded in unison when Durr asked in Spanish if they were frightened by the action they were taking.

“No!” they said.

There was no immediate reaction from Fidel Castro’s communist government.

For more than 40 years, Cuban refugees have routinely been given asylum in the United States. Applicants usually receive a response in less than two months.

Seven other cast members now in Germany had applied earlier and were granted U.S. asylum Monday, said Pamela Falk, a City University of New York professor advising the troupe. They were expected to arrive in Las Vegas on Tuesday, she said. At least two cast members have decided to return to Cuba, and one was wavering, Falk said.

Group members slowly entered the country months ago and performed in Las Vegas from Aug. 21 to Sept. 6, with a short encore engagement last month. The troupe’s show was due to reopen Monday at the Stardust Resort and Casino and run until Jan. 11.

In July, promoters complained that Cuban officials were not backing the group’s first planned trip to the United States, although the troupe had made 16 other trips to countries such as Japan and Germany.

Cuban authorities said they did not support the effort because they did not believe the United States would grant visas—especially since it rejected a similar request in February. However, the United States did grant the visas.

But Durr said that when the show’s members decided to come to Las Vegas, the Cuban government threatened to make life unpleasant upon their return.

Durr also said she was thrown out of Cuba and told she could never return, and said that was part of the reason the cast members decided to leave Cuba.

“We’ve been together for more than six years,” she said. “We are like a family.”

Ariel Machado, the troupe’s production head, said the performers were concerned about family and friends remaining in Cuba.

“We’re not really worried for us,” Machado said. “The difficulty is for the people we leave behind. ... It’s a struggle that we were born into.”

Joe Garcia, an official with the Cuban American National Foundation, an anti-Castro group in Miami, said: “Cuba had sort of warned these guys. They basically broke up the group.”

In 1993, about 34 Cuban athletes defected to Puerto Rico during a tournament, 16 members of a traveling dance troupe remained in Spain, and 10 members of a Havana university choir performing in Venezuela stayed behind. That same year, Cuban singer Albita Rodriguez and her band defected to the United States.

Perhaps the best-known Cuban defector in the late 1990s was baseball pitcher Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, who defected in 1997. He established residency in Costa Rica and signed with the New York Yankees in 1998.

In 2003, five dancers with the National Ballet of Cuba slipped away during a U.S. tour and asked for asylum.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on November 16, 2004 by Jesus Perez

    I took the plunge 43 years ago and many times, over the years, I have questioned the validity of that decision. In all the years between then and now hundreds of thousands of Cubans have made the same decision. Last year for the first time I went back to Cuba and for the first time in 43 years I felt that I was HOME.
    I do not blame these good people for doing what they have done and I understand the frustation and sadness that accompanies a move like this. I hope they understand (unlikely) that they will never be whole again. One makes choices and one tries to make the best of them, but there is a price to pay when one leaves part of one’ soul behind.
    I wish them all success and happiness.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on November 17, 2004 by Dana Garrett with 252 total posts

    Jesus, I hope you don’t mind my asking: if you had it to do over again (knowing what you know now), would you still make the same decision to leave? 

  3. Follow up post #3 added on November 18, 2004 by waldo Parravicini

    I came to attend college in the USA, got married and stayed. My plans were to spent 1/2 of the time here and 1/2 in Cuba. Then Washington’ unilateral embargo and travel ban on Cuba hit us. Aganist my will, mind and heart I was not free to go back to Cuba and see my family. It was nasty, unfair, inhumane, very dissapointing, unamerican and sucked. It made me loose a lot of the idealism, great image, respect and wonder I brought with me. America was not all the perfect, democratic, humane, wise and free I had dreamed of. I could travel almost anywhere I wished, including China and the Soviet Union, but not to my part of the family left behind. Hypocricy and double standard, I could had never thought it would happens in the fairiest, richest and most powerful nation on earth. Later on during my many years at work I further discovered favoritism, unequal treatment, back stabbing and discrimination. I still would love to live 1/2 here and 1/2 there, but the politicians in Washington after so many years, so many generations and so many changes still are stuck on obsolete Cold war thinking, and our family is still hurting and divided.
    Good luck to the new immigrants, America is a beautiful country, most of its people are fine, noble, peaceful and friendly. Food and material thing would be good and plentiful providing you have the money, but…

  4. Follow up post #4 added on November 18, 2004 by Jesus Perez

    Hi Dana, I do not mind your question at all. It is said that hindsight is 20/20, don’t believe it. After all these years and having asked myself that question for a million times, the answer is agonizingly elusive. My life in the U.S. has been good and I have been blessed with two fabulous daughters that are the reason a draw a breath. But to answer your question, no,if I had to do it over again I would not leave Cuba. Too much of me stayed back when I left.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on November 19, 2004 by Gregory

    From conversations with many of my Cuban friends who have made the jump to live in the Capitalist world, a good number have commented that whereas they gain in material comfort in the United States, they often suffer diminish the spiritual side in the dog eat dog consumerist world of developed capitalist society. They miss the strong sense of friendship, neighboorhood camaradery, living the moment and the laid back attitude to prevades in Cuba, especially outside of Havana. At the time of reflection at the end of one’ life, the brand new car, video player, and ten brands of corn flakes reveal their true lack of meaning and value. More important, a thoughtful person asks themself what were they part of, how did they contribute to a better world for their children and fellow human beings. Is being another consumer automaton in the United States conducive to this?

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