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8298: Miami-Dade changes tune for Haitian-Cuban musical group (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Miami-Dade changes tune for Haitian-Cuban musical group
By Madeline Baró Diaz
Posted June 13 2001
MIAMI· A Cuban musical group visiting South Florida has been showered with
honors typically reserved for performers who defect from the communist
island: an honorary key to Miami-Dade County and a commemorative silver
plate from the city of Miami.
The official gifts bestowed upon Grupo Vocal Desandann, Cuban performers of
Haitian descent, came less than a year after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling
squelched a county law that banned Cuban performers from county-owned
buildings and withheld public money from groups that sponsored them.
Beth Boone, a promoter who sponsored the group and fought the county's
ordinance, saluted Miami Mayor Joe Carollo and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas
for graciously acknowledging "the presence of Cuban artists, Cuban
nationals, in our county. It's history."
Or, perhaps, an accident.
On Tuesday, Carollo spokesman Luigi Crespo repeatedly referred to Grupo
Vocal Desandann as "a Haitian group" and said it had been presented to city
officials as a Haitian group. Boone, artistic and executive director of the
Miami Light Project, said they made it clear that the group is from Cuba.
Although most of the group's songs are Haitian songs sung in Creole, the
musicians are mostly second- and third-generation Cubans who live on the
The request to honor Grupo Vocal Desandann was made by the Miami Light
Project, Crespo said. The silver plate is one of several protocol items the
city hands out.
If a request were made to honor another Cuba-based group, it would go
through similar channels for approval, Crespo said. He said that whether any
other Cuba-based group is honored in the future would depend on the
"It would have to depend on each group, their talent and their
contributions," he said. "We don't give the key to the city to everyone who
But Penelas, who once said "tax dollars should not directly nor indirectly
support a totalitarian government that violates basic human rights on a
daily basis," was quiet on Tuesday. A Penelas spokesman promised a response
from the mayor's office, then did not return repeated phone messages.
The public honors were presented during the group's recent stop in South
Florida. On Sunday night, Emiline Alexis, the county's liaison to the
Haitian community, presented the honorary key to the vocal ensemble during
its performance at Barry University. An aide to County Commissioner Barbara
Carey-Shuler also gave the group awards. The silver plate was presented
during a welcome dinner at the Libreri Mapou bookstore on Thursday.
Organizers of the musicians' Miami performances considered the commendations
a victory, the culmination of a weekend in which Grupo Vocal Desandann was a
hit with both Haitian and Cuban audiences.
Since the end of the Cuba ordinance, the stances of some local officials and
Cuban-American leaders seem to have softened toward the idea of Cuban
performers in Miami-Dade. Penelas and Carollo were among those supporting
Miami's bid for the second annual Latin Grammy Awards show, which will
likely include Cuban acts and is expected to draw a throng of protesters.
Jan Mapou, who worked with the Miami Light Project to bring Grupo Vocal
Desandann to Miami, praised Penelas for taking an interest in the Haitian
community. Mapou said he was thrilled when Alexis told him his request for
recognition was approved.
"Maybe by lifting the ordinance everybody's eyes were opened, and suddenly
they realized that they were doing something wrong," Mapou said. "Maybe
that's the reason why they greeted these guys so beautifully."
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