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Cuba's Finest Banned

A significant percentage of the companies slated to attend the MIDEM conference violate this rule. Paris-based record label Milan Latino, for instance, has licensed the rights from Cuba's largest record company, Egrem, to release numerous Cuban recordings for compilations. Milan has also signed sonero Adalberto Alvarez and other Cuban nationals to record new material on the label. Representatives of New York-based RMM, which signed Issac Delgado through a Latin American subsidiary, are also scheduled to attend, as are people from EMI, the international distributor for Caribe Productions, which is the biggest exporter of new Cuban CDs from the island.

"They can come and they can bring [recordings by] their other artists," Villafana said when asked last week about these presumed violators. "But if they're dealing with [recordings by] Cuban artists, it certainly will be an issue with us." Given the big bucks the MIDEM confab is expected to bring to the county, Villafana's looser interpretation of the order is not surprising.

But it is wrong, according to Robert Cuevas, a lawyer in the County Attorney's Office. "The order doesn't pertain to only a particular transaction that has to do with Cuba," Cuevas says. "For example, the county could be buying tractors made in the States from a certain company, but if the company does some other business with Cuba we can't deal with them at all."

According to Cuevas and First Assistant County Attorney Murray Greenberg, no one from GMCVB or the county manager's office bothered to seek legal advice from them about the application of the order before negotiating with MIDEM. Though Cuevas refused to comment specifically about how the order applies to the conference, there is little question that -- by his stated standards -- MIDEM does business with representatives of the Cuban government. For three decades Egrem has paid MIDEM thousands of dollars to set up booths at its annual conferences in Cannes. Egrem also makes distribution deals for Cuban recordings at these gatherings, and Cuban bands frequently perform.

Villafana says that any discussion of withdrawal of county support for the event because of MIDEM's Cuban business relationships is "purely hypothetical."

That may not be the case for long.
Michael Spring, who oversees grants for the Tourist Development Council, says he will seek the county attorney's advice before signing off on the $24,000 grant the council is supposed to give to MIDEM. Nor is GMCVB's contract with MIDEM a done deal. According to Villafana, the final paperwork, including the Cuba affidavit that would seal the deal, remains unsigned. Villafana contends that even if the agreement were canceled, MIDEM could still come to Miami -- it would just have to make do without the promised grants or corporate support; and MIDEM could be denied use of the public facilities GMCVB has offered in agreement with its government partners, chiefly Dade County and the City of Miami Beach.

This would mean MIDEM would have to find a facility large enough to house 175 booths and several thousand music reps from some 600 companies. Not a likely prospect.

The exclusion of Cuban music and musicians has cast a pall over the event. "MIDEM should have chosen another location for the convention," says Bill Nowlin, head of the Cambridge-based Rounder Records. "While I understand that there are strong feelings among the anti-Castro community in Miami, this is an international music conference hosted by a European organization, and it is intended to be inclusive rather than to exclude. United States government policy is that there should be free exchange of recordings and publications between Cuba and the United States. So this vocal minority is not only contradicting the wishes of the attendees from around the world but also U.S. policy."

Rounder distributes Ashe Records, a New York-based label that features CDs by Cuban artists in its catalogue. Ashe president and record producer Rachel Faro has dropped her plans to share a stand with Rounder, but she says she will still attend MIDEM. "My interest now is to challenge the situation and go ahead with what I do, which is completely legal under the federal law," says Faro. She says that she has spoken with some other attendees about wearing armbands or ribbons in protest during the gathering. "What are they going to do? Arrest me in the lobby of a hotel for making a deal with an Argentine company for a Cuban master tape? The whole thing is ridiculous."

Jimmy Durchslag of Bembe has decided to cancel altogether. "I don't want to feel like I have to wear an overcoat and skulk around saying 'Pssst! Over here! Have a look at these CDs,'" he huffs.

Milan Latino has scrapped plans to have its Cuban artists perform at the event. But the company will bring Cuban CDs, even if they have to be kept under the table. "The Cuban product sells, and that's what counts," says Vanessa Suarez, director of Milan USA.

Bernard Batzen, MIDEM's artistic director, is unhappy about the situation. "We tried hard to let the Cubans in," Batzen says from his office in Paris. But given GMCVB's mandate, he canceled his plan to showcase Cuban bands in a series of live performances. In fact, he says he won't bring any Cuban bands to Dade, even if the county reverses its stance: "We would have a riot on our hands."

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