Elian Gonzalez Protest Shuts Down Latin Conference Kickoff

Gloria Estefan, supporter of boy's Miami relatives, may have influenced decision.

MIAMI — The general strike by Cuban-Americans protesting the forced removal of Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives' home caused the cancellation of Tuesday's Sony Latino-sponsored showcase, which would have been the kickoff event of Billboard's annual Latin Music Conference in Miami.

The showcase was to have included a presentation by Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan of her album Alma Caribeña, along with performances by Sony Latin-music artists Son by Four, Francisco Paz, Corvo, Melina Leon and Monica Naranjo and Massiel.

Sony Latino decided to observe the general strike, according to the Billboard Music Group's marketing Vice President Howard Appelbaum, "in part because the James L. Knight Center, where it would have been held, was itself closed — at least that's what they told me, although I haven't confirmed it — and in part because of the fact that Estefan is visibly supportive of Elian's Miami relatives."

The vehemently anti-Castro Estefan recently linked arms with her actor friend Andy Garcia in front of the Lazaro Gonzalez household to protest the U.S. government's intent to reunite Elian with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.

"Billboard doesn't have a position on the Elian issue," Appelbaum said. "We don't take a stand on political issues."

Appelbaum expressed disappointment in the event's cancellation, adding that he considered the Latin Music Conference, now in its 11th year, to be a "free marketplace of ideas for all things Latin."

The conference is expected to draw between 1,200 and 1,400 participants during its three-day run, Appelbaum said. It concludes Thursday (April 27) with the seventh annual Billboard Latin Music Awards.

Estefan was unavailable for comment. The singer and her publicist were en route to the Bahamas, where she is filming a television special in conjunction with Tuesday's release of Alma Caribeña.

The strike left much of Miami-Dade County resembling a ghost town. Shops were shuttered as Cuban-Americans took to the streets to demonstrate their displeasure with the U.S. government's handling of the Elian case. An estimated 115,000 Miami-Dade public school students — about one in three — and some 4,000 teachers missed school either in honor of the strike or because school bus drivers honored it, according to the Miami Herald.

Things were back to normal Wednesday, however, and the conference went on as planned. It began in the morning with Billboard Latin-music editor John Lannert's one-on-one interview with singer Enrique Iglesias, who did not allude to the Elian controversy in his remarks.