Latin Grammys should be scorned

September 11, 2001|By Scott Holleran

LOS ANGELES - The Latin Grammys are coming to Los Angeles today under a very dark cloud.

When organizers recently moved the annual awards from Miami to LA, claiming protesters might harm attendees, they managed to achieve complete intellectual consistency. The Latin Grammys - which will feature Cuban artists who embrace Fidel Castro's communist regime - sanction tyranny and openly reject freedom of speech.

Cuban exiles had planned to protest Cuban artists attending the ceremony because the artists support Mr. Castro's totalitarian rule. The Cuban American National Foundation's protest plans included people dressed in black standing in silence with tape over their mouths and a black banner saying, "Freedom for Cuba."

Such demonstrations strike fear in the hearts and minds of the Latin Grammy organizers.

"No one had any desire for a confrontation," Juan PM-irez Franco, president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, told reporters. "What we wanted to do, as was our right, was to protest peacefully against these musicians, who are no less than ambassadors for Castro's tyranny."

Mr. Franco is right. The notion that those who fled communist Cuba pose a danger to those who support one of the world's most brutal regimes underscores the twisted logic of the event's organizers. The Latin Grammys' philosophy: The artist who champions Cuba's communist state - which tortures, imprisons and executes artists - is welcome, but those who denounce Mr. Castro's regime - most of whom lived under communism - are not welcome.

The last time communists came to Los Angeles with such a fuss was Sept. 19, 1959, when Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson snubbed Nikita "We will bury you" Khrushchev during the Soviet premier's visit to America. There were no crowds along the travel route, and Khrushchev's limousine was met with jeers, not waves. The world's communist leader was refused admittance to Disneyland.

Today's Hollywood, where streams of celebrities visit Cuba and endorse Mr. Castro's regime, is run by those who are more likely to regard Cuba as an isle of happy worker peasants dancing to salsa music.

Hollywood should face the truth about Cuba. According to The Black Book of Communism, published by Harvard University, there are no rights in Cuba. There is neither freedom of speech nor freedom of the press, and for the artist there is the constant threat of being placed in a concentration camp.

Like in any dictatorship, in Cuba the artist is the first victim of state oppression. Cuba's regard for humanity is poignantly portrayed in last year's Oscar-nominated Before Night Falls, the story of gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas who escaped Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.

The artist is by no means Cuba's only victim. Upon escaping Cuba, recent defector Noris Pena Martinez said: "I felt like a slave in the Cuban state." It's no wonder that suicide ranks among the leading causes of death in Cuba, according to the United Nations.

How pathetic, in this unreported context, that Michael Greene, president and CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and the Latin Recording Academy, denounced Miami's protesters by saying: "Having to run that gantlet [of exiles] is demeaning at best and dangerous at worst."

Dangerous to whom? To artists who explicitly embrace one of the bloodiest regimes left on earth? Apparently, Mr. Greene is unprepared to contemplate the depth of depravity and danger posed by the communist state. Imagine how demeaning it is to have your torturers paraded before you - with the blessing of an artistic association in what's supposed to be the land of the free. No flood of propaganda via Cuba's artists will provide Cubans with what they urgently need most: individual rights.

By featuring performers who approve of Cuba's wicked methods and refusing to face free speech against Cuba, the Latin Grammys as an artists' organization is unmasked as a colossal fraud. The Latin Grammys deserve the scorn of Los Angeles, Miami and everywhere people are free.

Scott Holleran is a free-lance writer who lives in Burbank, Calif.

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