- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Forty-three members of a Cuban dance troupe performing at a Las Vegas casino asked for asylum in the United States yesterday in one of the biggest mass defections of entertainers from the communist country.

Members of the cast said they took the step because they feared they would be forced to quit performing if they returned to Havana. They said Cuban authorities did not want them to perform in the United States in the first place.

“They were forced into this,” Nicole Durr, the German creator of the Havana Night Club show, said of the dancers, singers, musicians and stagehands. “We will continue our work.”

The performers arrived by bus at the federal courthouse in Las Vegas, where they submitted the paperwork for asylum.

Fidel Castro’s communist government gave no immediate reaction.

For more than 40 years, Cuban refugees routinely have been given asylum in the United States. Applicants usually receive a response in less than two months.

Seven other cast members now in Germany had applied earlier and were granted U.S. asylum yesterday, said Pamela Falk, a City University of New York professor advising the troupe.

Group members slowly entered the country months ago and performed in Las Vegas from Aug. 21 to Sept. 6, with a short encore engagement last month. The troupe’s show was scheduled to reopen yesterday at the Stardust Resort and Casino and run until Jan. 11.

In July, promoters complained that Cuban officials were not backing the group’s first planned trip to the United States, although the troupe had made 16 other trips to countries such as Japan and Germany.

Cuban authorities said they did not support the effort because they did not believe the United States would grant visas — especially because it rejected a similar request in February. However, the United States did grant the visas.

But Miss Durr said that when the show’s members decided to come to Las Vegas, the Cuban government threatened to make life unpleasant upon their return.

Miss Durr also said she was thrown out of Cuba and told she could never return, and that was part of the reason the cast members left Cuba.

“We’ve been together for more than six years,” she said. “We are like a family.”

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