SalsaPower, the largest Salsa website on the Internet


Los Van Van in Miami - the controversy surrounding the concert

Los Van Van - The Controversy

Los Van Van - La contraversia

Los Van Van en Miami - concierto con contraversia

By/Por:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Translation by/Traducción por:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



By now you have all heard about the controversy surrounding the concert by Los Van Van in Miami.  First the concert was announced, then the City cancelled it arbitrarily, stating that they were "the official communist band of Fidel Castro. Then the promoter, Debbie Ohanian, and the ACLU threatened to sue the City. Then the City backed down and said if the Treasury Dept. provided a letter that stated the promoters and the band were complying with the regulations that allow cultural interchange in exemption to the embargo against Cuba, that they would allow the concert to take place.

In the meantime, the original date for the concert, Oct. 9th, 1999, was given to one of the vociferous minority of Cuban exile groups, and the concert had to be rescheduled for  Monday, October 11th. Then the James L. Knight Center continued to place obstacles in the path of our right to hear the concert, so then the concert was moved to the Miami Arena and rescheduled again to the original date of October 9th.  We were all there, dancing our little tootsies off, in spite of the protestors and film crews outside.

    Even though the dictatorial folks from Little Havana and Hialeah did everything they could think of to prevent this concert from happening, we salsa fanatics had been waiting for a long time to see Los Van Van in concert in Miami. They have toured all over the United States and never had any problems. It is only here in Miami, where the Cuban Exile Community thinks they can make up their own laws, that they run into such tremendous controversy.

 Below are some thoughts that you, our readers have sent me ...and some juicy excerpts from publications!

I would like to add one thing, however, and that is that we are getting very tired of the inflamatory attitudes of the local politicians, especially Mr. Tomas Regalado and Mr. Joe Carollo,  who seem to be doing everything in their power to blow this out of proportion.

Let me set the record straight:

The concert was PEACEFUL.

Everyone DANCED.

We had a GREAT TIME.

The problem was ONLY with the exile community OUTSIDE.

Would someone please tell them to get OVER it? Let it go!  Life is too short to live it filled with hatred and rancor.

 If this was a bad marriage, any counselor would tell you to sit down and talk it out.  OK, do you want to fix this almost 40 year old problem?  Then sit down and talk.

Go ahead.  Call me a Dialoguera (someone who promotes dialogue between Cubans and exiled Cubans).  I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.  If you don't talk, and try and see both sides of the issues, you will go on forever being adversaries.    But please...

Take your politics and keep it out of my music.

Supongo que ya todos ustedes han escuchado algo sobre la controversia que rodeaba el concierto de Los Van Van en Miami. Primero anunciaron que iba a haber el concierto, entonces la ciudad lo canceló arbitrariamente, afirmando que eran "la banda oficial comunista de Fidel Castro. Entonces la ACLU y la promotora, Debbie Ohanian, amenazaron con demandar a la ciudad. Entonces la ciudad dió marcha atrás y dijo que si el Departamento del Tesoro proporcionaba una carta que indicaba que los promotores y la banda estaban cumpliendo con las regulaciones que permiten el intercambio cultural en exención del embargo contra Cuba, que permitirían que llevará a cabo el concierto.

Entretanto, la fecha original para el concierto, 09 de octubre de 1999, fue dado a un grupo de la minoría vociferante del exilio cubano y el concierto tuvo que ser reprogramado para el lunes, 11 de octubre. El James L. Knight Center continuó colocando obstáculos en el camino de nuestro derecho a escuchar el concierto, así que entonces el concierto fue movido a la Arena de Miami y reprogramado nuevamente a la fecha del 9 de octubre. Estábamos todos allí, bailando hasta más no poder, a pesar de los manifestantes y los equipos de cine fuera de la Arena.

Aunque la gente dictatorial de la pequeña Habana y Hialeah hizo todo lo que podrían para evitar que ocurriera este concierto, nosotros, los fanáticos de la salsa, habíamos estado esperando mucho tiempo para ver a Los Van Van en concierto en Miami. En su gira por los Estados Unidos han tocado en muchas ciudades y nunca tuvieron ningún problema. Es sólo aquí en Miami, donde la comunidad de exiliados cubanos piensa que pueden hacer sus propias leyes, que corren con tan tremenda controversia.

A continuación se presentan algunas reflexiones que ustedes, nuestros lectores me han enviado.. .y algunos extractos jugosos de publicaciones!

Sin embargo, me gustaría añadir una cosa, y eso es que estamos cansados de las actitudes inflamatorias de los políticos locales, especialmente el Sr. Tomás Regalado y el Sr. Joe Carollo, quien parecen estar haciendo todo lo posible para inflar esta fuera de proporción.

Permítanme aclarar algunas cosas:

El concierto fue PACÍFICO.

Todo el mundo BAILABA.

Tuvimos un GRAN TIEMPO.

El problema era SÓLO con la comunidad de exiliados AFUERA.

¿Alguien por favor dígales que debieran SUPERARLO? ¡Suéltalo! La vida es demasiado corta para vivirla lleno de odios y rencores.

Si esto fuera un mal matrimonio, cualquier abogado diría que deberían sentarse a hablar. OK, ¿quieren arreglar este problema que viene arrastrándose por 40 años? Entonces siéntense y pónganse a hablar.

Dale. Dime que soy una Dialoguera. No veo absolutamente nada de malo con eso. Si no hablan e intentan ver ambos lados de los asuntos, seguirán siendo para siempre  adversarios. Pero por favor...

Tome su política y aléjala de mi música.

Readers Respond (not translated) / Los Lectores Responden (no traducido)

Keep on keeping on que va bien...It's about time that people wake up to the reality that what once was is no longer. After 40 years of practicing the opposite of what they preach it's coming home to roost. If the exile community were to just wake up to the reality that Castro, Fidel, not Jacira, is with us till death do us part and just ignore the groups making their way to the USA maybe, just maybe, there wouldn't be so many folks running around with "la titimania". So let's grow up and learn to get along with each other so that when he's gone we can start to pick up the pieces. Otherwise the Cuba they once knew may never accept them ever again...

George Rivera

I'm sorry I am just getting back to your page since last month. This would have been even more of a scream the day after you wrote it!  I went to the concert too. It was rather amusing to have old women screaming these curses at me. I was particularly amused by the traidadora one, since I am not even a Cuban! How can I be a traitor to something I am not a member of? The protestors made a lot of assumptions about the people they saw going inside that night.

I flew in from the Bahamas for the weekend just to attend this concert, and it was well worth the money spent. I am waiting for the next one, because I will be there shaking it just as I suppose you will.

Keep up the good work! Salsa is more important than politics when you want to dance.


Dear Jacira,

Though I am not of Cuban descent, nor do I even have the slightest bit of Latin blood in me, I am from South Florida, and I do find all of these goings on to be very interesting when you really begin to look at it from all directions.

After dating a Cuban female for a year or so, and getting to know her family in various Christmas Eve parties, I have heard many different views from many different people. But one that stuck with me was from a 20 year old friend who arrived in late 70's in the famous exodus from Cuba. Her family left because they said they were not allowed to do freely what they should be able to do. They wanted the simple freedoms of being able vote for someone, to work for themselves and to watch on television what they chose. Her brother was jailed for writing anti-Castro articles in an underground newspaper. Her father was harassed up until the day he left for his many anti-Castro actions. All of them are vehemently against Castro and any forms of Communism around the world. Recently while talking with her father and asking him about this very incident, that of the Los Van Van appearance, I heard something which I never expected hear from him. He said he wished all those "damn activists would stop acting like hypocrites." This, he said, is that land where "you can do as you please. Where you can sing what you wish, and write your true feelings." And I for one agree with him. Stopping this band from playing is an obvious violation of that little thing called freedom of expression. Do this same anti-Castro groups stand out and picket and write when there is a KKK meeting in a downtown metropolis? They feel as though stopping this one band is going to make things easier to hold out Castro. But have they ever though that it might brings things along faster? People longing for a return to their homeland have spirits rekindled and a drive added that wasn't there before. Last time I fell in love with something again I went out and got it.

Let this band play. Let someone fall back in love with their homeland. Stop being a hypocrite and let someone express their freedoms around the world. That is what you are fighting for, remember?


John F. Weaver

Saludos a todos!

After much soul searching about whether or not to go to Los Van Van concert on Saturday, I finally got the nerve to go....and was I ever happy I did! It was an AWESOME concert!!!! I was extremely pleased with the show, it was definitely worth the repercussions from the demonstrators. Of course, I made sure NOT to come out in any of the cameras, I was just there to enjoy the music not to make any type of statement! Although it was a major pain in the derrier to have the demonstrators, it was also a nice reminder of the liberty and freedom of expression that we have in this country because En Cuba No Pasa Eso!!! Kudos to Debbie for pulling this off and for giving those of us that went a wonderful evening. I hope that those of you that didn't go this time, decide to go in December!



-- Jorge Abello, Telemundo  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Estimada Salsera,

I am completely in agreement with your spreading the word about the freedom we all have a right to. It's about time that people started separating politics from the music and dance. It's a shame that these groups are welcome in other parts of the states and so restricted here. Cheers for Debbie breaking the barrier! Having Cuban groups in Miami is one of the few forms we can enjoy the beautiful culture of Cuba. If people were smart they would also realize that the embargo only hurts Cubans, not Fidel.

I have also been telling everyone how great it is to finally have musicians from Cuba here. Keep up the great work!


Luz Pinto

I am so disillusioned about BVSC (Buena Vista Social Club) cancellation, but do understand.  Today I hate Miami.

-- Diane Honer-Padró 

...and an interesting article in the Cuban press on October 12...


Los Van Van en Miami...Otro triunfo de la cultura cubana

De nada sirvieron las amenazas ni intimidaciones, ni la campaña adversa orquestada por los círculos más reaccionarios de Miami, ni incluso las ofensas y groserías que soportaron los participantes a la entrada del Coliseo Arenas, de Miami. El concierto de la orquesta cubana Los Van Van "sacudió" por más de dos horas y media al estadio, y puso a bailar a más de dos mil espectadores, quienes los recibieron con aplausos cerrados, "una ovación de valor y dignidad por parte de su gente que tanto arriesgó por escucharlos", al decir de un participante.

Títulos tan conocidos como Candela, El negro está cocinando, Azúcar..., sonaron estruendosamente y calmaron las tensiones del auditorio, en ese lugar donde se han presentado otras figuras de reconocida talla internacional.

Un gigantesco despliegue policial que incluía a fuerzas antimotines y el servicio táctico del FBI, al estilo de Hollywood, se concentró en las afueras del estadio donde se registraba y rastreaba a los que iban a participar, y adentro, un numeroso cuerpo de seguridad creaba más tensiones.

Entre los participantes que desafiaron las barreras impuestas por los "histéricos" protestantes, que incluso llegaron a lanzar huevos y botellas, hubo muchos comentarios, según revelaron los cables "Vine porque me gusta la música, no veo por qué mezclar esto con la política", "¡Es arte y una expresión del alma!", "¡Son unos músicos espectaculares!", "Si vienen de nuevo volveré a verlos"...

Y es que mucha gente que quería participar estaba asustada, porque desde las ondas de algunas emisoras contrarrevolucionarias, comentaristas de la tendencia anexionista habían pedido que se filmara a todo el que entrara al concierto para dejar "constancia de los traidores". De ahí que muchas personas entraran con máscaras o velos, y hasta envueltas con banderas cubanas para que no pudieran verles la cara. Otros, desafiando a los manifestantes, mostraban con orgullo las entradas. La promotora del espectáculo, Debbie Ohanian, fue difamada por el alcalde de la ciudad, Joe Carollo, y por sus voceros en las estaciones de radio, mientras que se supo que grupos de extrema derecha trataron, sin éxito, de cancelar el concierto.

Según trascendió, Ohanian invitó nuevamente a la orquesta, cuya actuación "demostró que en Miami hay un público deseoso de disfrutar de su música", dijo.

Un policía agredido, un periodista herido, siete arrestados y un cúmulo de publicidad que acusa el carácter revanchista de los elementos ultraderechistas, deja como saldo este nuevo intento por desacreditar a la cultura cubana, orquestado por las organizaciones contrarrevolucionarias que persisten en su actitud anexionista.

Los Van Van actuaron también en Miami, después de un recorrido por más de 25 ciudades de los Estados Unidos, adonde llevaron el mensaje musical y cálido de su irreductible pueblo.

The article below was published BEFORE the controversial Miami concert in a magazine called
Salsa 120% - the most prestigious salsa magazine in JAPAN!
September, 1999

The Cubanization of Miami
by Jacira Castro

Many people think that Miami was "Cubanized" back in the early 1960’s with the flood of the Anti-Castro Cubans who emigrated to Miami following the Revolution. Although it is true that they had a tremendous cultural and economic influence on the South Florida area, it is also true that as a result of their rabid anti-Castro stance, they effectively kept Cuban culture, as it is defined post-revolution, out of the Miami area. As an example of their categorical denouncement of the current cultural, and mostly musical expressions being voiced by contemporary Cuban artists, we need only look back a couple of years to the fire-bombing of a club that was to present Cuban artists, the protests that greeted Gonzalo Rubalcaba or the placards that greeted the Cuban musicians who played at MIDEM last year. Need I mention the advertisers who withdrew their commercial support of a particular Miami salsa radio station when they DARED play recent music from Los Van Van? This kind of nonsense has been going on for years, but had intensified since the warming of the relations between Washington and Havana began a few years ago.

What is very interesting to see in the last year or so, and ONLY in the last year or so, is the quiet acceptance of Cuban artists playing at different venues in the Miami area. Perhaps it was after the Buena Vista Social Club launched itself into the American mainstream with their landmark concert at Carnegie Hall in New York, or the hugely enthusiastic crowds that greet Cuban artists on the West Coast or up in the North East. It is only here in Miami that the vociferous minority of the Cuban exile community managed to keep the richly varied Cuban musicians from "strutting their stuff"…until recently.

I don’t know to what this can be attributed. Perhaps it is the children of the Cuban exiles, who are now mostly Young Urban Cuban Americans (YUCA’s), who now desire to explore their rich cultural heritage. Perhaps it is because of their parent’s categorical denial to access this heritage that, like any child, they want to explore it even more, but as a result, what we are seeing in Miami is a booming Cuban music scene. It has only been in the last year or so that clubs have opened, such as Starfish in Miami Beach, and are playing a majority of Cuban music, and even bring in Cuban groups on tour for live concerts. 

In the last couple of weeks we've had NG La Banda and Bamboleo, and shortly Manolín, el Médico de la Salsa, as well as LOS VAN VAN will be here! These concerts are rarely, if ever, advertised in the standard newspapers, but rather it is by word-of-mouth that they let people know. The one exception is my Local Events page on the SalsaPower website, where I will post upcoming concerts of Cuban artists.

I can only say that it is about TIME that the Miami music scene stopped loaning itself to the political agenda of the exile community. Music should not be mixed with politics, in my opinion, even though, sadly enough, it often is.

Jacira Castro, President



Esta página fue actualizada / this page was updated on 19-Nov-2013