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8409: This Week in Haiti 19:14 6/20/2001 (fwd)
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
June 20 - 26, 2001
Vol. 19, No. 14
GRUPO VOCAL DESANDANN BREAKS MIAMI'S CULTURAL BLOCKADE
by Kim Ives
The beloved Cuban-Haitian vocal group Desandann finally toured
Miami earlier this month, thanks to the efforts of a feisty
coalition of arts activists who took Miami officials to court and
overturned a regulation effectively banning Cuban groups.
Since the early days of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Miami has
been the seat of Cuban counter-revolution. The "gusanos" (worms),
as the counter-revolutionaries are called in Cuba, have waged a
terror campaign against many Cuban artists who have performed, or
attempted to perform, in Miami. For example, in 1996,
intimidating mobs attacked concert-goers entering a recital by
renowned Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. A few months earlier,
musician Chucho Valdez had to cancel a concert due to bomb
threats. In 1998, terrorists fire-bombed a club where Manolin
"Medico de la Salsa" was scheduled to play. Last fall, 5000
"gusanos" rioted, throwing rocks and bottles, when the Cuban
musical group Los Vanvan performed.
So frenzied were the Cuban counter-revolutionaries that in 1996
they had Miami-Dade County enact an ordinance to deny county
funding to any organization doing business with Cubans, with
Cuban businesses, or even with people doing business with Cubans
or Cuban businesses.
So when Beth Boone wanted to bring Desandann from Camaguey, Cuba
to Miami, she had a problem. The Miami Light Project, the non-
profit cultural organization of which she is executive director,
receives about 10% of its annual budget from Miami-Dade, today
amounting to $80,000. To receive the support, the Light Project,
like any other fund-seeker in the county, had to swear in writing
that it would respect the ordinance against doing business with
"I wanted to bring Desandann to Miami when it was making its
first U.S. tour in 1997, but we had to explore if we would be
penalized by the county," Boone explained. "We found ourselves in
a situation where the county was forcing us to sign an affidavit
in order to receive our grant money, and yet it was in conflict
with our constitution and with Federal foreign policy."
It was comparable to a McCarthyite "loyalty oath," Boone said,
which was in conflict with the Miami Light Project's constitution
because "as the artistic director of this organization, nobody
gets to tell me what I can program." And in conflict with U.S.
Federal foreign policy because, even though Washington has
maintained an embargo against Cuba for the past 40 years,
exchanges of art, culture, education, and religion are exempt.
Boone says the "moment of truth" came in 1999 when a local film
festival had a $50,000 grant revoked because they showed a film
made in Cuba, and a critical one at that. "That put them in
conflict with the affidavit," Boone said. "The arts community
kind of freaked out."
But the county only tightened its controls, faxing out to groups
a notice that they would be ineligible for funding unless they
signed the affidavit first.
"So I said forget it," Boone explained. "They were strong-arming
us. We took it to the board, and it unanimously decided to sue
the county in federal court."
The Light Project got together with two other groups, Gable Stage
and Teatro La Ma Teadora, as well as two commercial music
promoters who wanted to use county facilities, Debbie O'Haniann
and Hugo Cancio. They consulted the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU), which had also been itching to take a crack at the
They challenged it on several grounds. 1) That local governments
cannot conduct foreign policy 2) That the ordinance was redundant
given the Federal embargo already in place on Cuba 3) That the
Federal embargo excludes cultural exchanges and most importantly
4) it infringed on the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom
The suit was filed in Federal court in April 2000, but only two
months later was settled when a Federal judge in Massachusetts
ruled that a Boston ordinance, which barred dealings with Myanmar
(formerly Burma), was unconstitutional since local governments
cannot determine foreign policy. The judge in the Miami case
The court victory rendered the county's ordinance unenforceable,
and Boone immediately set about planning Desandann's Miami tour.
The result was a series of magnificent concerts. When the group
of five-male, five-female vocalists arrived at the Miami
International Airport on June 6, they held an impromptu concert
in the terminal, crooning songs in Creole, Spanish, and English.
Over the next five days, the singers, all Cubans of Haitian
ancestry, performed for Miami's Haitian community at Libreri
Mapou, the Notre Dame d'Haïti Church, and on the airwaves of WLQY
and WLRN. They also played for a mostly Cuban crowd at a
congregational church in Coral Gables. Mixed audiences also
hailed the singers at the DASH High School in the Miami Design
District and the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. The grand finale
was in the giant auditorium at Barry University, located in the
heart of Little Haiti. Over 1000 people - Haitians, Cubans, and
North Americans - filled the hall to cheer the chorale as it
rendered traditional folk songs like "Dodo Pitit Mwen," political
anthems like "Haïti Libéré," and more recent compositions from
groups like Boukan Ginen and RAM.
Backed by drums and often wading into the audience, the singers
also performed Cuban songs, as well as an old-time spiritual and
a song by Nat King Cole in English.
"Cuba is a great mosaic of people," Emilia Diaz Chavez,
Desandann's director explained to the audience. "Haitian,
Chinese, Arab, and many other heritages contribute to make Cuban
culture and music as rich as it is."
Most of the group's members are consummate professionals who have
studied music theory and singing. This expertise was apparent in
their precise, complex harmonies and skillful melding of
different rhythms such as meringue and rasin. Their dancing was
as accomplished as their singing, and often marked by joyous
In the end, Miami-Dade County felt compelled to present the group
with an honorary key while the city of Miami awarded them a
silver plate.(However, Miami Mayor Joe Carollo said that the
plate had been presented to Desandann as "a Haitian group," the
Miami Herald reported).
But the awards of Miami officialdom paled next to the warm
accolades the group received from audiences everywhere it went.
They even drew sustained applause from the harried travelers at
Miami International when they held another impromptu concert at
the airport on their way back to Cuba.
"It was ridiculous that a group like Desandann couldn't come to
Miami, the U.S. city where Haitian and Cuban culture are the most
relevant," Boone said. "They were a little apprehensive when they
arrived, but what an outpouring of love and warmth they have
RAOUL PECK'S "LUMUMBA":
A TALE OF HUMAN SUFFERING, SACRIFICE, AND HYPOCRISY
by Elombe Brath
"Lumumba," the new feature film by Haitian director Raoul Peck,
is a film that must be seen. It is a brilliant and majestic work
which documents the extraordinary contributions and self-
sacrifice that the 1960's Congolese leader Patrice Emery Lumumba
made in attempting to safeguard the territorial integrity and
tremendous wealth of the Congo against the greed and power plays
of the United States of America and its allies.
Peck deals with a particularly nefarious part of U.S. history,
which is still ongoing. "Lumumba" shows how the U.S. and its
allies undermine democracy in African states, destabilize
fledgling governments, and, after bringing down a government,
help to create a mythical consensus that the people of the
targeted African country were not yet ready for self-rule. Covert
operations by Western "counter-intelligence" agencies stealthily
undermine African governments and make them appear to be
ungovernable, thus fostering the myth that once European
colonialists left, Africans automatically slide back to atavism,
stagnating until the "good white father" returns to rescue them
through recolonization. It is of vital importance that people,
particularly the black community, see "Lumumba" so that they
become conscious of the real motivations of U.S. foreign policies
and how the machinations to reach their objectives are
What happened after the independence of the Democratic Republic
of the Congo on June 30, 1961 is a classic case of such foreign
intrigue. This subversion of the dreams and aspirations of the
Congolese people still haunts the second Democratic Republic of
Congo today. In my view, it is no coincidence that the DRC's late
president, Laurent Kabila, was assassinated one day short of the
40th anniversary of the assassination of his mentor Patrice
Lumumba. In time we will likely see that the forces behind the
brutal murder of Patrice Lumumba, along with that of two of his
closest aides, are the same as those which engineered Laurent
Kabila's assassination five months ago. My premise is reinforced
by Peck's revelatory new film.
Having been involved over the last 40 years with African
liberation struggles in general and the Congo in particular, I
can attest that Mr. Peck has directed a great and honest film. It
reveals how Western nations concocted a communist bogeyman to
justify their covert actions on behalf of Western capitalist
Peck depicts how Lumumba and his Congolese National Movement
(MNC), democratically elected in a "free and fair" election, were
undermined by a conspiracy between the former Belgian colonial
rulers and their longtime financial partner, the U.S. This
alliance arranged the assassinations of Lumumba and his cadre and
imposed a puppet to protect their vested economic interests: Col.
Joseph Desire Mobutu, the moody, envious, self-serving
opportunist who was co-opted -- and contracted -- by the U.S. to
betray the Congo's national independence.
Mobutu's brutal reign was maintained by financial and material
assistance from eleven U.S. Administrations As a result,
according to several press reports, Mobutu would become second
only to the Shah of Iran as the richest leader in the world,
while the Congo had its precious natural resources sucked away
and was reduced to an "economic basket case", leaving the
Congolese masses wretchedly impoverished.
Eric Ebouney, a stage and film actor from the Cameroon with
masterful oratory skills, delivers an exceptional and explosive
performance as Patrice Lumumba. With equal gusto, Alex Descas,
from Guadeloupe, plays Mobutu, Lumumba's former aide-de-camp
turned nemesis, delivering a wonderfully believable performance.
"Lumumba," which is in French with English subtitles, is a
tremendously moving film experience, with beautiful
cinematography and a stupendous soundtrack. The casting of both
African and European actors is outstanding, with exceptional
performances throughout. Raoul Peck's directing exhibits as much
finesse as a maestro guiding an orchestra. It is no wonder that
the film has already won the Director Fortnight Award at Cannes
last year and was the winner for best feature film at the Pan-
African Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Shot in Belgium, and Zimbabwe and Mozambique for its African
locations (the ongoing war in the DRC prohibited filming there),
the film has astounded audiences in Europe, Africa, Cuba and
Canada. It is a phenomenal depiction of the human suffering
caused by the hypocrisy of Western "democracies."
As Lumumba wrote in his last message to his wife, Pauline Opanga,
"History will one day have its say, but it will not be the
history that Brussels, Paris, Washington or the United Nations
will teach, but that will be taught in countries emancipated from
colonialism and its puppets. Africa will write its own history,
and it will be, to the north and to the south of the Sahara, a
history of glory and dignity."
An essential part of that history was written 10 years ago in
Raoul Peck's award-winning documentary "Lumumba - Death of a
Prophet." That bio-doc has now been magnificently complemented by
this poignant and breathtaking film masterpiece, whose screenplay
Peck wrote with Pascal Bonitzer. "Lumumba" is a major
contribution to the reclaiming of Africa's glorious history in
dignity. The puppeteers are not likely to be happy with Peck's
product. But all people who believe in common decency, fair play,
social justice, and redressing old grievances by making right
past wrongs, they will love Raoul Peck's "Lumumba."
"Lumumba" will formally begin its U.S. national release with a
premier performance on Wednesday, June 27th at the Film Forum,
209 West Houston Street, just west of 6th Avenue in lower
Manhattan. A celebration will follow the premiere at S.O.B.'s,
204 Varick Street, featuring director Raoul Peck, an exclusive
African cultural program with La Troupe Makandal, and a surprise
celebrity guest host. To buy tickets to the film screening and/or
opening night party, call (212) 631-631-1189 or emailing
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.imagenationfilmfestival.org.
The author is chairman of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition and hosts
Afrikaleidoscope on WBAI, 99.5 FM , broadcast Thursdays from 9 pm
All articles copyrighted Haiti Progres, Inc. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Progres.