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    Gloria Estefan at intersection of art, politics

    Posted on Saturday, 03.27.10

    Gloria Estefan at intersection of art, politics
    In my opinion: Human rights and the
    Myriam Marquez discusses human rights, the Calle Ocho protest led by
    Gloria Estefan and the '' in Cuba.
    Ladies in White stand up to regime in Cuba
    In this 2008 interview, Yolanda Huerga speaks about the history of the
    'Damas en Blanco' movement.
    Miami Herald Staff

    It may seem strange. She's a singer, not a politician.

    Yet Gloria Estefan now stands squarely at the intersection of art and
    politics. And there, standing silently beside her on the stage at last
    week's Miami march — as she called for peace, love and human rights —
    was Emilio, the astute businessman who makes things happen.

    Her crossover from artist to leader began last Sunday. Gloria couldn't
    take the TV images anymore of women in Havana getting beaten by
    regime-organized repudiation mobs as they marched silently to call
    attention to Cuba's dismal human rights record.

    “We have to do something to let the world know,'' she told her husband.
    By Tuesday, she was holding a news conference calling for anyone who
    cares about human rights and to dress in white and march
    “silently'' Thursday down Calle Ocho. (The silent part, she joked
    later, was a tall order.) The Estefans would pick up the tab for
    security, closing streets and satellite time to beam the event worldwide.

    It was a defining moment.

    A march called not by a political group but by a shy, petite woman who
    has worldwide name recognition. A mother who doesn't care if diving into
    this political storm can wreck her popularity with some fans here or abroad.

    Of course, Gloria and Emilio have never been apolitical. They have been
    to Guantánamo to sing to desperate , held prayer vigils when a
    little boy became a political pawn in 's script. She's the
    daughter of a Bay of Pigs and Vietnam War veteran, who spent a year and
    a half in a Cuban .

    Definitely, she has spoken up over the years about Cuba's dictatorship
    — but only when asked.

    But now Gloria is leading, not waiting to be asked, with a simple theme
    that's universal: treat others as you would want to be treated. That, in
    essence is the meaning of humanity, of empathy — the ability to connect
    with others' suffering, a lesson she embraced, Emilio told me, when she
    studied the Holocaust.

    Humanity. It's the same theme that Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia uses
    when asked about his homeland. These artists don't impose — they expose.

    Andy, who last year narrated a documentary about the Ladies in White, is
    leading a march Sunday in Los Angeles. Other marches have sprung up at
    college campuses where the group Raices de Esperanza, Roots of Hope,
    have been reaching out to young people in Cuba for several years.

    For this is a historic moment. Two crazy old men in Havana have refused
    to change the script of their 51-year-old regime. They're still in
    revolution mode — all fire and brimstone and blood to keep control.

    Then Orlando Tamayo died Feb. 23 after an 83-day hunger strike.

    The Ladies — the mothers, daughters, wives and other loved ones of
    Cuba's political prisoners — walked in his honor in Havana with
    Zapata's mother, Reina, leading.

    And the mobs came to beat them, and the foreign media's cameras were
    there to capture it all, to see Cuban security drag elderly women and
    toss them as if they were trash onto a bus. And the European Union
    noticed and decided not to play nice with the Brothers Crazy.

    But those images, oh, those images couldn't get out of Gloria's head.

    At a packed Casa Juancho minutes before the march, Gloria was
    serene, glowing. “This is so important, those women need the support of
    those of us who can speak freely,'' she told me, as a who's who of
    well-wishers squeezed in to greet her. “We're here, we're comfortable.
    They're risking their lives. We have to add our little grain of sand.''

    It's those grains of sand that can build a mountain of support for the
    Cuban people.

    Emilio, the power behind his woman, was jubilant. Outside, the streets
    were flush with supporters dressed in white — not just Cuban exiles but
    Venezuelans, Colombians, Nicaraguans, Ecuadorians. There were American,
    Cuban, Mexican, Spanish flags and others. There were young people;
    families; former political prisoners like Cary Roque, who fought 50
    years ago; salsa stars like Willy Chirino and Lissette; and
    20-somethings like rapper Pitbull.

    But it was that Tuesday news conference that struck me most. There,
    Gloria and Emilio had managed to bring two warring camps to the same
    place. Members of the Cuban American National Foundation and the Cuban
    Liberty Council, which split from the foundation almost a decade ago
    over differences about how best to help Cubans rid themselves of the
    Brothers Crazy.

    The , the travel ban, the daily family flights, wet foot/dry foot
    — all the tactics and all the policies — were set aside on this side
    of the 90-mile puddle to focus on the images coming from Havana, on the
    mothers, daughters and wives who for seven years have been marching
    silently — until now. Now they chant: .

    And thanks to Gloria standing at that intersection where heart trumps
    politics, where art embraces truth, the ladies' message resonates. At last.

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