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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Cuban Libre: Musician Carlos Manuel Defects

Aired June 11, 2003 - 19:49   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, with songs like that, Carlos Manuel Pruneda became one of Cuba's top singers. But what he did overnight on Sunday has turned his story into a mix of behind the Iron Curtain and "Behind the Music." What he did was defect.
CNN's Ed Lavandera tracks the journey from stardom to asylum.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A few days ago, Carlos Manuel and his band were performing a concert in Mexico City. After the show, they were supposed to board a jet back to Cuba.

But Manuel had another journey in mind. He caught a different plane and flew to Monterey, Mexico. From there, he jumped into a taxi cab and drove straight north to the U.S.-Mexico border. Manuel walked across a bridge and asked federal agents in Brownsville, Texas for asylum, a life-altering journey, which has brought Manuel to Miami, where his agent put the experience into simple words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're finally home.

LAVANDERA: Carlos Manuel says Cuba's Communist government would never allow him to have a successful musical career.

"I don't agree with the regime," he says. "I'm tired of being a hypocrite. I always had the hope that Cuba would change, but every day it takes steps backwards."

(on camera): Carlos Manuel's arrival might be getting a lot of fanfare in the U.S., especially in Miami, but that's not the case in Cuba. Fidel Castro's regime hasn't responded publicly to this high profile defection, but word is spreading on Havana's streets and most people say they're shocked by the news.

(voice-over): A Cuban radio station recently declared Manuel's band the most popular salsa group on the island. Manuel's defection follows a long lines of musicians that have escaped from Cuba, including jazz musician Arturo Sandoval, who defected in 1990.

He says, "I love my country, but I want to send my people a message. I love my island, but I'm going to keep working and one day you'll get to see the way the world is."

All in the hopes of not just finding artistic freedom, but more importantly, personal freedom.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Joining us now for more on this, our Havana bureau chief, Lucia Newman.

Lucia Newman, good see you. How is this story being played in the press in Havana?

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Good evening, Anderson.

Well, it's certainly all of the talk of the town here. It's on everyone's lips, especially young people who -- many of whom idolize Carlos Manuel, as he's known here. But the Cuban state-run media hasn't said a word about it.

In fact, the story has been completely overshadowed by the current dispute between the European Union and Cuba. You might remember that last Thursday, the European Union smacked diplomatic sanctions on Cuba for the execution of three hijackers and also for the jailing of 75 dissidents in April. And so now tomorrow morning the Cuban government has announced a demonstration -- more than a million people are supposed to protest in front of the Spanish and Italian embassies an honor that's normally reserved for the U.S. diplomatic mission.

So as you can see, it's not only salsa players who are having trouble here -- Anderson.

COOPER: Let's talk about those dissidents. Seventy-five dissidents arrested in April. Now Carlos Manuel mentioned those as part of the reason -- and their treatment as part of the reason he defected. Do people talk about the dissidents and is there a lot of support for them? I mean, just in casual conversations?

NEWMAN: Honestly, Anderson people don't talk so much about the dissidents as they do about the execution of these three men. All of them black, by the way, who were put before a firing squad for trying to hijack a passenger ferry to the United States. And that is the recurring theme here. People who try to leave Cuba one way or the other, just before that happened, a group of Cubans hijacked two different planes from the Isle of Youth and actually made it to the United States and a couple of weeks ago a famous guitar player defected to Mexico and now we have Carlos Manuel. So this is something people are talking about constantly here, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Lucia Newman, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Well right, we're going to go to Miami and a guest with a unique perspective on today's story. Alina Fernandez Revuelta hosts "Simplemente Alina" on WQBA in Miami. She defected from Cuba in 1993, which made a lot of news at the time, mostly because her father is Cuban President Fidel Castro. Alina, thank you very much for being with us. What was the reaction of the Cuban community in Miami to this defection.

ALINA FERNANDEZ REVUELTA, FIDEL CASTOR'S DAUGHTER: It's been a great reaction. He's very welcome her, as you can imagine. It makes me wonder why a person, a young person that has been an idol and so popular in his country decides to defect.

COOPER: Why do you think he is defecting now?

REVUELTA: Well, given the wave of repression and the latest execution in Cuba, you can understand that people are getting really, really afraid and he said by himself that he doesn't agree with the regime. So it's time for him to move on. He'd rather begin from scratch then stay in his own country.

COOPER: Well, let's talk about that. Will he-- beginning from scratch here in the United States -- obviously he was a big star in Cuba. Is he very well known in Miami?

REVUELTA: He's very well known among the youngest people, you know? He's not my generation. But my daughter has all his records. I'm sure he will be successful.

COOPER: He defected, I know, with a lot of members of his family. How difficult is it making that transition, in particular when you're bringing your family with you?

REVUELTA: I think it's difficult, but as I told you he's decided to start from scratch. He will from have to provide for his family, but I'm sure that he will be very welcome. He's talented. He will find his way to a great career as Manolin (ph), the salsa doctor, also did a few years ago.

COOPER: Right.

It's been almost 10 years since you defected. What was the most difficult part of the transition for you?

REVUELTA: Well, imagine to learn your language being almost 40- years-old. That's something. But there is a lot of details you have to go through.

COOPER: Do you ever dream of going back to Cuba?

REVUELTA: That's a difficult dream. I think that in a way I could be useful in the Cuban future I'll be there.

COOPER: And probably a lot of people would be interested to know -- do you keep in touch with your father at all? When was the last time you saw him?

REVUELTA: No, no, no, no. I am one of the person that instead of getting all of the benefits I could in Cuba, I decided to become a dissident and I escaped to America, looking for freedom, as you said yourself. COOPER: You've made quite a home for yourself here and we appreciate you joining us today. Alina Fernandez Revuelta, thank you very much.

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