In most countries, a murderer who took part in strangling an old lady wouldn't be leading a get-down-and-boogie party propaganda machine sent around the world to spread goodwill. He'd be on death row or doing life behind bars.
But Los Van Van leader Samuel Formell, son of the band's founder Juan Formell, is not only a free man but also will lead the band this Sunday night at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami (7 p.m., $62-$102). And he'll be banging on the drums he learned to play when he was supposedly doing time in a Cuban prison, according to an underground Cuban blog posted this week.
Because communist apologists -- and Van Van fans -- will likely dismiss the story as sour grapes posted by a dissident who's had his writing materials confiscated and might not fully appreciate the wonderful things the Castro brothers have done, New Times tracked down two sources who were on the island when the story broke and who were closely and personally acquainted with Formell and the victim's family. They declined to speak on the record for fear of retribution.
The following story outlined in Juan Gonzalez Febles's blog, they assure
us, is for the most part accurate. The only mistake they found was that
it named three, instead of two, thugs who took part in the 1984 killing
during a robbery in Havana:
"Samuel knew where to find the
(stereo) equipment, and, what's more, counted on the confidence (of the
victim) to gain access. Who would suspect anything from such a
delightful young man? After all, his father was a successful artist and
the old lady confided in (Samuel), who visited frequently and helped
around the house.
"One afternoon, he knocked on the door, and
the old lady, trustingly opened it. The three (it was two) young men
raided the house, gagged her, and immediately took charge. Samuel was
one of them. After the initial nervousness had worn off, Formell got
his accomplice's attention: 'She knows me. We have to kill her!' he
"The old lady was strangled with a phone cord and they fled with their booty."
Formell was arrested by the "ever-efficient" Technical Department of
Investigations (DTI) of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR),
Gonzalez Febles writes. He was taken to prison "to atone for his
terrible crime" but "only knew the exterior" of the compound and was
allowed to go home at night. He was later authorized to have his drums.
was released under house arrest and by 1990 was officially a free man,
according to our sources. After a short stint with the band of famous
singer Isaac Delgado, an eventual defector who helped get him out of
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jail, Samuel joined his father's band.
So, if you catch the show
Sunday night, all of that singing and hip shaking might take on a slightly
different connotation. Samuel Formell has plenty to celebrate.