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Last year none of the nominees from Cuba were given visas anyway. Many observers, including Rodriguez-Taseff, alleged that the Bush administration prevented the nominees from entering the U.S. to placate powerful interests in Miami and the Latin recording industry. "The decision not to give these artists visas was influenced by powerful, politically connected people in the music industry that did not want a controversy," she said. As a result, the estimated 300 protesters (including some who were upset with LARAS for not bringing Cuban musicians to the awards) who gathered on September 3 to demonstrate in front of the American Airlines Arena during the Latin Grammys numbered far fewer than the expected crowd of 1500. "Had the award show happened in 2001 in Miami, as it was about to happen at one point, the protest would have been big," admitted Rodriguez-Taseff.
Abaroa said that LARAS was happy with last year's event. So why was it moved back to Los Angeles this year? Partly to save money. Since most of the 800-person production team that puts on the Latin Grammys lives in Los Angeles, it's cheaper to hold it there than fly everyone out to another city.
"We didn't make an open call to look for cities," he said. "But we considered a number of options and we simply went for the best package, considering that L.A. gives us an equilibrium in economic, strategic, and infrastructure aspects." He denied that Miami's famously strained relations with Cuba was another motivation. "[LARAS] didn't leave Miami for a political reason. The organization is located in Miami, its address is in Miami, [and] we've created jobs in Miami," he clarified. "But that doesn't mean that it will have priorities over other cities when it is time to organize the show."
Producer Kike Santander, who was recently named chairman of LARAS, doesn't rule out the Latin Grammys returning to Miami. "We're just following the academy's vision, which is to annually rotate from city to city, and we're not only going to do it in the U.S., we hope that we can soon move it to other countries as well," he said. "Nothing went wrong with Miami. It is simply natural to be here [in L.A.] as it's going to be natural to come back to Miami in the future."
"It's good to hear that they're expressing that it has nothing to do with politics or with the politics of Miami," said Rodriguez-Taseff. "Is that believable? Probably not, but it doesn't matter because they promised to come back. Most important, I think that they recognize that if they ever come back to Miami they're going to have to deal with the reality that at least in some people's minds, there is a connection between music and politics."
LARAS may have eluded the Cuban-exile community -- for now. But this year has still brought its share of drama.
At the July 14 press conference, Mexican singer Lupillo Rivera, fondly known as "the bull of corridos," listened to the announcement that his live album, El Concierto -- Universal Amphitheatre, was nominated for best banda album. Offering a big smile, he posed for a hundred photos with the famous gramophone in the background. Then he criticized LARAS's attempts to balance the musical numbers among different Latin groups. Since, according to the 2002 U.S. Census, Mexicans are tallied at a combined fifteen million versus nine million other legal and illegal Latin Americans, and regional Mexican music accounts for almost 60 percent of the country's Latin music sales, why don't Mexicans get special treatment from the academy?
Rivera, one of the biggest acts in the regional Mexican music market, believes that LARAS should give up its complicated search for a balance among all of the Latin music genres in favor of predominantly Mexican programming that will earn better ratings. "If [I were] the owner of the Grammy organization I'd start listening to Mexican music, simply because we are the majority. That way, if you get the attention of the majority of the people of this land, you would immediately get better ratings and more sponsors, that's for sure," he said.
However, Lupe de la Cruz, senior vice president of marketing for Univision/ Fonovisa Records -- a conglomerate that accounts for 45 percent of the country's Latin market, including most of the regional Mexican music -- said that the Latin Grammys have come a long way since their 2000 debut. "I think that the ultimate goal that all of us seek for the Latin Grammys is to be reflective of the market," he said. "In our case, we think that there's room to improve how they address the regional Mexican music categories. Are they doing justice to the genre? Yes, they've come a long way on that part."
Abaroa, for his part, said LARAS isn't overly concerned about garnering high ratings for its annual broadcast. It leaves that up to Cossette Productions, which has produced the Grammy telecasts since 1971, and CBS. LARAS's primary mission is to protect the show's integrity during the 45 minutes allotted for performances in the two-hour show (excluding commercials and the award presentations) by presenting a culturally diverse slate of musicians.