December 18, 2003

The Miami Herald

Miami TV station suspends program of actor who met with Castro

Associated Press. Posted on Thu, Dec. 18, 2003

MIAMI - A Spanish-language television station has stopped broadcasting the program of an Argentine actor because he met with Cuban President Fidel Castro last week, channel officials said Thursday.

WDLP-TV took Guillermo Francella's comedy show off the air until he describes his stance on the Castro government, station officials said. The program is recorded in Francella's native Argentina, where it is still broadcast.

The majority of South Florida's Spanish speakers are Cuban-American, and most of them oppose Castro's communist government.

"We are supportive of Miami's Cuban-American community, which has had a negative reaction to Francella's visit to Cuba", WDLP spokeswoman Sonia Colin said.

Francella was in Cuba for a Latin American film festival and met with Castro last Friday, the Miami-based newspaper El Nuevo Herald reported on its Web site Thursday. The Argentine embassy in Havana released a statement saying the meeting was "relaxed and affable."

She said station officials have tried unsuccessfully to contact Francella. He could not immediately be reached Thursday.

He has starred in several Argentine movies, including "My Dad is an Idol" and "A Day in Paradise."

Cuban violinist proof that dreams can come true

From the dusty camps at Guantánamo to the Golden Panther Arena at FIU: A Cuban rafter girl made famous by her violin earned her second degree at Tuesday's graduation.

By Elaine De Valle, [email protected] Posted on Wed, Dec. 17, 2003.

Everywhere she goes -- from Calle Ocho to Tallahassee to the White House -- they ask her to play the violin.

So it was only natural that Lizbet Martínez -- the Cuban rafter girl who won the world's heart playing The Star-Spangled Banner while in Guantánamo detention camps nearly a decade ago -- would play it again on her own graduation day.

Now 21, Martínez was 12 when she and her parents left Cuba on a raft. The family was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and spent four months at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo before coming to Miami in January 1995.

On Tuesday, she received her bachelor of science degree in music education at Florida International University.

''This truly is the land of opportunity,'' Martínez told The Herald moments before she took the stage at FIU's Golden Panther Arena.


''This little girl fled the Castro regime with her parents and nothing more than a violin,'' FIU President Modesto Maidique said in presenting Martínez. An FIU spokeswoman said he changed the program at the last minute to include her performance when he learned she would be there.

She ''became a symbol of the rafter refugees crisis . . . a ray of hope,'' he added.

Martínez understands the role her music has played.

''It's amazing what a little violin was able to do,'' she says. "Three minutes of the national anthem changed my whole life. Who would have thought?''

She's done a lot more than play the violin, however, to get where she is today.

It is her second degree -- she got a bachelor of arts in music performance in June -- and she says it won't be her last. She already applied to FIU's graduate program as a violin major and doesn't plan to stop until she gets a Ph.D.

In the meantime, while she doesn't have a full-time teaching job, she tutors children and performs in a trio at weddings and other functions.

After a celebratory lunch with her parents and fiancé, Iván Martín, on Tuesday, she prepared for an evening job with a quartet at the Port of Miami-Dade. Today, she will be at a recording studio with a Spanish-language singer.

And soon, she hopes, she will become a U.S. citizen. She passed the exam in October.


''She doesn't stop,'' says her father, Jorge Martínez.

''An extremely talented young lady,'' said Fred Kaufman, director of FIU's School of Music, where Martínez played first violin. "When she graduates with her master's, she will easily be able to get a position with a major orchestra.''

But Martínez loves teaching.

''It is her dream to help other children sharpen their talent,'' her father said.

This past semester, Martínez was a student teacher at Emerson Elementary and Coral Reef High. At the grade school, she taught basic music skills. At the high school, a magnet for musically inclined teenagers, she conducted the string orchestra and loved it.

'The level of those kids' talent is amazing,'' she says.

She swayed with the bow side to side as she played a subdued, almost sad Star-Spangled Banner on Tuesday morning. The audience was silent until it erupted in cheers and applause.

Martínez has not lost hold of her Cuban roots. The young woman misses her grandparents, uncle, cousins and friends.

It is bittersweet.

"I see what is happening to my friends that are staying in Cuba, and the same thing would have happened to me: I would have graduated and nothing would have happened.''


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