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Latin Grammys More than Just Entertainment - 2003-05-11

Preparations for this year's Latin Grammy Music Awards appear to be striking a sour note. Officials in Miami have decided to withhold most forms of municipal support if artists from Cuba take part in the September event.

The Latin Grammy Awards show brings together the biggest names in Latin American popular music.

But the much-anticipated event is in danger of becoming embroiled in the politics and the passions of Miami's large Cuban-exile community, many of whom oppose the inclusion of Cuban artists who work within the island's communist system.

Amid strong pressure from exile groups, Miami's city commissioners have unanimously voted to provide only minimal police and fire protection for the Latin Grammys if Cuban nominees attend. Commissioner Tomas Regalado said the measure is entirely appropriate.

"It sends a message to Cuba and to the world that their [Cuban] representatives are not welcome here. Those who want to come, well, let it be. And those who want to protest, we have to protect them," Mr. Regalado said.

Miami campaigned energetically to attract the awards show, which is estimated to bring about $30 million in revenues to the city. Initially, no objections were raised concerning Cuban artists.

But the atmosphere has changed in the wake of Cuba's recent crackdown on dissidents on the island. In March, the government of President Fidel Castro arrested scores of opponents and independent journalists and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 28 years.

Cuban exiles say they cannot remain silent in the face of growing repression on the island, nor can they extend a welcome to musicians they regard as lackeys of Fidel Castro.

Artists and organizers of the Latin Grammys said they hope the controversy will not upstage what they hope will be an upbeat celebration of musical achievement. During a recent visit to Miami, recording artist Jon Secada said, "We live in a free country. This is a free country. Anybody who comes to this country is free to do what they want. I hope, and I would think, that all the artists who come to this country will be able to express themselves freely."

Two years ago, Latin Grammy organizers moved the event from Miami to Los Angeles, after city commissioners granted Cuban-exiles permission to protest across the street from the arena where the festivities were to be held. This year, organizers say the event will go ahead as planned in Miami, with or without the city's full backing.