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Cuba says U.S. denies visas to Grammy nominees

Aging musicians say they're not security threats
/ Source: Reuters

Cuban officials complained Thursday that the Bush Administration has denied visas to Cuban Grammy nominees for Sunday’s awards ceremony and wondered how aging musicians could be considered security threats.

All five nominees for best traditional tropical Latin album are Cubans who live on the island. They include 77-year-old singer Ibrahim Ferrer of Buena Vista Social Club fame and salsa pianist Guillermo Rubalcaba, aged 75.

“I am not a terrorist. I couldn’t be one. I am a musician and have always been well received by American audiences,” said Ferrer, one of the veteran musicians who were rediscovered and shot to world fame by the Buena Vista project.

Officials in Cuban President Fidel Castro’s communist government said the musicians were denied visas under U.S. immigration regulations barring entry to the United States of people considered a threat to its national security.

“How can these musicians be considered terrorists?” asked the the head of the Cuban Music Institute, Abel Acosta, at a news conference.

Pianist, not a terroristA U.S. diplomat in Havana said the decision was taken under a presidential proclamation that allows the administration to suspend entry of persons “detrimental to the interest of the United States.”

Washington has enforced economic and travel sanctions against Cuba for four decades. The Bush administration has toughened U.S. policy against Castro’s one-party state and cut back on cultural exchanges and visits by artists.

Acosta accused Bush of blocking the musicians’ visas for political reasons to please Cuban-American voters in Florida.

“We all know that this decision was taken to please the Cuban exile Mafia in Miami in an election year,” he said.

The Cubans who will miss the Grammy awards include lute player Barbarito Torres and “timbalero” percussionist Amadito Valdes.

The one Cuban nominee who has a U.S. visa and could attend the 46th annual Grammy Awards is piano virtuoso Chucho Valdes, nominated for best Latin jazz album.

Valdes, who has won three Grammys, said on tour in Europe that he would not attend the ceremony in Los Angeles if the other Cuban musicians were not allowed to travel there.

“I’m no terrorist. I’m just terrified that the piano is not sounding good,” said Rubalcaba.