The anti-Castro reggaeton star Elvis Manuel was missing and feared dead Monday, a week after he and 16 other refugees sought to flee the Communist island on a raft, family members and refugee advocates said.
The U.S. Coast Guard rescued Irioska María Nodarse, Elvis Manuel’s mother, who manages his musical group, and 13 other people in the Florida Straits on Wednesday, two weeks after they left Pinar Del Rio seeking to make the passage to Florida. Five others, including Elvis Manuel, 19, one of Cuba’s biggest musical stars, could not be found and were presumed dead after rescue efforts were called off over the weekend.
Twelve of the 14 survivors, including Irioska María Nodarse, were returned to Cuba on Saturday; the two others, believed to have been the group’s U.S.-based smugglers, were in custody.
Two other musicians, Carlos Rojas Hernandez, who performs as DJ Carlitos, and Alejandro Rodriguez Lopez, known as DJ Jerry, were also reported to have been on the raft. It was not clear Monday whether they were among the repatriated survivors.
Last week, after it became known that Elvis Manuel was missing, dozens of Cuban-Americans held vigils in Miami, and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., called on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration officials not to repatriate the rescued refugees.
‘Obviously, they’ve been repressed’
Besides expressing concern for Elvis Manuel, Ramon Saul Sanchez, head of the Cuban advocacy group Democracy Movement, said he feared for the safety of the 14 who were repatriated.
“The Cuban government has indeed gone into a concert that Elvis Manuel was conducting and ended the concert with tear gas and other kinds of proceedings, so obviously they’ve been repressed," Sanchez said.
Music producers and executives involved in reggaeton, an infectious Latin-flavored fusion of reggae, dancehall, hip hop and electronica, said Elvis Manuel could expect to launch a lucrative career if he made it to the United States. His recent singles “La Tuba” and “La Mulata” both became hits on U.S.-based music-streaming and video sites, even though he has never performed in this country.
In a posting on his MySpace page, Elvis Manuel said shortly before he left that he had been approached by several U.S. record producers eager to work with him. But in a recent interview, he frequently expressed frustration with his confinement to Cuba, having been quoted as complaining, “My music is everywhere, but I don’t have a cent to buy something to eat.”
Javier “Voltaje” Fernández, owner of Metamorphosis Music and Production, who worked with Elvis Manuel on his recent single “Esa Mujer,” described the singer as a “simple, kind person” devoted to his mother.
“Everything he does is for her, and his biggest hope is to get her out one day,” Fernández told The Miami Herald.
Hundreds of fans had left messages of concern and sorrow on Elvis Manuel’s MySpace page Monday.
“We are asking God that you are well,” wrote one fan. “I have faith that you are well and that you will achieve what want in Miami.”
“The love of all Cubans is with you,” wrote another. “We support you until the last moment and we ask God that you are here soon.”