Cuban salsa singer to seek U.S. asylum
BY JORDAN LEVIN
Cuban salsa star Manolín arrived at Miami International Airport on Tuesday afternoon and formally announced he will seek political asylum in the United States.
The singer had hoped to announce his intentions in a concert and news conference in Miami Beach last week, but he was detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for five days at DeKalb County Jail in Atlanta shortly after his arrival in the United States from Mexico.
An attorney retained by the Cuban American National Foundation got Manolín's release Tuesday morning.
Manolín was greeted by his brother, Lázaro González, and his young daughter, who he embraced tightly while speaking briefly to a small group of reporters. The latest artist to seek refuge from the Castro government, Manolín brought a familiar message, calling for freedom of expression, and a new one -- a call for unity between Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.
``I am going to keep singing to Cubans wherever they are, and I am passionate to unite them wherever they are or whatever they think,'' he said.
That message earned him the enmity of the Cuban government and forced the singer, probably the most popular musician in Cuba during much of the 1990s, to come to the United States on Thursday and seek political asylum.
Manolín, whose real name is Manuel González Hernández but who is also known as ``The Salsa Doctor,'' has said on two previous occasions that he wanted to stay in the United States, the last time when he was living in Miami for a number of months from 1999 to 2000. This time, he insisted that recent pressures in Cuba made his choice irrevocable.
``I had to leave -- they wouldn't let me live,'' he said. ``They wanted to take my name from me. They said I couldn't sing as the Salsa Doctor anymore.''
His attorney, Enrique González of the prominent immigration firm Fragomen, Delrey, Burnsen and Loewy, said he thought Manolín had a strong case for political asylum.
``I think what happened to him in Cuba speaks for itself,'' González said.
Manolín's message of unity was picked up by the Cuban American National Foundation, which held a news conference immediately after his arrival.
``Not everyone has the opportunity or courage to do what he did, and we welcome him,'' said Joe Garcia, executive director of CANF. ``I think his message is in line with the exile community. . . . We are committed to the process of reaching out to the Cuban people.''
The outspoken musician sang of having friends in Miami in 1997, but his popularity and powerful connection to the Cuban public -- which made enormous hits of songs like La bola and Somos lo que hay -- largely protected him from reprisals.
But when he returned to Cuba early last spring, he said was censored from radio and television and forbidden to have his own band.
``This is a very difficult chapter for me, because that is my country and my people, and I love them very much,'' Manolín said. ``Unfortunately, I don't understand why [the government] can't understand me or give me the space that I need.''
Manolín said he would continue delivering his message, starting with a concert at South Beach's Club Cristal Thursday.