Cuban Vegas troupe granted asylum
Members of the Havana Night Club show defected to Las Vegas from Cuba in November. Now, the U.S. government has granted them asylum.
BY DAVID OVALLE
Members of Havana Night Club, the show that drew headlines when its members defected en masse last year from Cuba and settled in Las Vegas, will walk into a government office today to apply for something many Americans take for granted:
Social Security cards.
''Then, a new life starts,'' said Nicole Durr, the show's director.
The 49 dancers, singers and musicians this week received letters in the mail at their Las Vegas apartments with the word: They had finally been granted U.S. asylum.
Said Puro Hernández, the show's musical director: ``Now comes the responsibility that comes with credit cards and bills. You have it all -- now you have to know how to manage it.''
The troupe defected in November and began an extended run at the Wayne Newton Theater at the Stardust Resort & Casino.
The show spans the history of Cuban music, starting from deep drums entrenched in the island's African roots, to the Spanish colonial era, the Tropicana cha-cha-cha pre-Castro days and the infectious reggaeton of today.
''This is great news and I'm glad they've been received as openly and generously as they have,'' said Joe Garcia, the former executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, who lobbied for their visas.
Havana Night Club had performed across Europe and Asia and was invited to play in Las Vegas by entertainers Siegfried & Roy.
But troupe members couldn't obtain visas because of the chill in relations between Cuba and the United States.
After Durr proved to the U.S. State Department that the troupe operated independently of the Cuban government, visas were granted.
Cuba balked at letting them come, but amid international pressure -- from exile groups and even protests by cast members -- the Castro government relented.
Saying they would never be able to return to Cuba and perform, 51 of 53 members defected. Two of the defectors eventually went back to the island.
Gloria Estefan performed with the troupe in Las Vegas in December.
Later, professional baseball pitcher Orlando ''El Duque'' Hernandez, who had defected with the help of the same immigration attorney as theirs, also visited the show. He teared up after seeing the performance.
The troupe has since done two stints at the University of Miami's Convocation Center.
The group also made headlines in June when producers pulled from the market a CD that featured a music video that critics said promoted travel to Cuba. The show said the CD was produced well before the defections.
Havana Night Club's run has been extended at the Stardust until Sept. 4.
Big plans are in the works, said show director Durr, who promised the performance is being made even grander.