Ladies in White

Gloria Estefan opens up about her desire to perform in her native Cuba
as she releases latest album The Standards
By AMY OLIVER

PUBLISHED: 20:54 GMT, 21 October 2013 | UPDATED: 00:36 GMT, 22 October 2013

The 56-year-old grandmother doesn’t strike you as a threat to national
security. Despite her towering Louboutin heels she is barley more than
5’3” and has today has poured her still trim body into a figure-hugging
teal dress. In truth she looks as terrifying as a teapot.

The laughable terrorist label has done nothing to hinder her
extraordinary success either.

To date she has sold 100million records worldwide, won seven Grammys and
has performed for no fewer than six presidents. She and Emilio, whom she
met on joining his band Miami Sound Machine in 1976, run seven
Cuban-themed restaurants and two hotels in the US. They own a publishing
company and recording studio used by the likes of Madonna and Jennifer
Lopez and even have a stake in American football team Miami Dolphins.
It’s no surprise the couple are reportedly worth more than £300million.

Gloria is currently in talks to develop a Broadway musical of her rags
to riches life story and Monday 21st October sees the release of her
twenty-seventh album The Standards, on which she sings classics from the
Great American Songbook. Last week she fulfilled a long-held dream to
perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Retirement does not seem imminent. But despite all she has achieved,
Gloria says one dream still remains.

‘My dream is to sing in a free Cuba,’ she says. ‘I just hope I’ll be
young enough to do it. The Castros have lasted a long time, but they’re
pretty long in the tooth now so it’s just a matter of time. Despite
being 87, Fidel is still very much a figure head there. Fidel dying will
help his brother Raúl (the current president of Cuba) to move on, but to
be honest I don’t think the Castros will be able to continue after that.
The Cuban people will have had enough. They’re getting braver.’

Gloria’s parents fled to Miami, Florida when she was just
two-and-a-half-years old after Fulgencio Batista was ousted by Fidel
Castro in 1959.

Her father had been a police officer chosen to ride with Batista’s wife
in her motorcade. Gloria’s grandfather was a commander in the army and
friend of the dictator after they both attended the same military school.

Her father returned to Cuba as part of the US’s ill-fated Bay of Pigs
invasion in 1961. He was captured and spent two years in Castro’s jails.
On his return he joined the US Army and volunteered for Vietnam naively
believing the American government of the day would stage another coup in
Cuba in return for his patriotism.

He returned a broken man with a neurological condition most likely
contracted from exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide used to deforest
the jungle.

Gloria who had never really known her father spent her teenage years
caring for him. Music was her escape and she poured her angst into
song-writing.

‘My dad was a very moral and idealistic man,’ Gloria explains. ‘I don’t
feel angry with him; in fact I admire him for what he did. It didn’t pay
off for him, but it paid off for us. He wanted us to grow up in a free
country and we did.’

Gloria has been back to Cuba just once, in 1979 when then US president
Jimmy Carter temporarily lifted the ban on American travel to the island.

She and Emilio went to help his brother and two children who had been
victimised by Castro’s henchmen for announcing their plan to leave via
Costa Rica.

‘They took away his family’s ration cards so they had no way to eat. His
son was also getting beaten up in school because of it,’ Gloria says.

Because they had US passports, Gloria and Emilio were allowed to shop in
diplo-tiendas – stores that Cuban citizens were not permitted to enter
unless accompanied by a tourist.

‘My niece had never had an apple or tasted an olive so when she went
into that store with us her jaw literally dropped. We bought them enough
food to go into hiding for a couple of months before they left the
country. We weren’t famous then so were allowed in.’

Gloria was asked to return to Cuba in 1997 by Pope John Paul II, but
refused.

‘I asked him to understand that with my presence it would turn his very
beautiful spiritual mission into a political one,’ she says. ‘I could
not have just sat there quietly and been a good girl. I would have
needed to express my discontent at Fidel.’

Now Gloria insists she would never return permanently to Cuba having
made a home of Miami, alongside the majority of the nearly one million
current Cuban exiles living in the US.

‘I consider myself Cuban-American, because my generation were raised
with a very deep love of the Cuba that was or Cuba BC (before Castro) as
I call it,’ she says.

‘My parents kept every bit of our culture alive because they really
thought we’d be going back in a matter of months. That was 55 years ago,
Now, the Cuba my mother remembers no longer exists but what hurts me the
most is that the Cubans are just 90 miles away from one of the richest
countries in the world yet still trying to survive on a daily basis.’

Barack Obama is under pressure to lift the 1960 embargo which limits US
companies trading with Cuba. Controversially, Gloria believes it should
stay in place.

‘I don’t think lifting the embargo will help the Cuban people,’ she
says. ‘It will just see millions of dollars pour in to further fund a
rogue, terrorist government.’

She seemingly has Obama’s ear on the subject and received some flak from
her fellow Cuban-Americans after hosting the President at a 2010
fundraiser in her own lavish home on Miami’s exclusive Star Island.
Tickets cost an eye-watering £19,000 per couple.

‘I wasn’t campaigning for Barack Obama,’ Gloria insists. ‘We’ve never
given a cent to any political campaign because we’re not affiliated. But
at that meeting I was able to sit with the President and show him
pictures of the Ladies In White (a protest group of Cuban wives of
jailed dissidents) and what they were going through. The following day
he drew worldwide attention to their plight. That was my purpose for
having the President in my home. Of course I’m going to get stick
because politics is horrible, but I’ll do whatever it takes to free my
country.’

Gloria Estefan is nothing if not determined, which she puts down to
surviving a horrific car crash in 1990. She fractured her back after a
lorry ploughed into her tour bus during a blizzard and was not expected
to walk again.

But through sheer hard work and determination just ten months later she
was back on her feet and touring her best-selling album Into The Light.

‘Actually, we’re thinking of calling our musical ‘On Your Feet’ because
we’ve been through some tough times and always got back on our feet
literally and figuratively,’ Gloria says.

‘Following the crash I try to enjoy each day. You plan, but I focus on
the moment because I was almost done right there. I don’t want to waste
any time.’

The Standards is out on Monday 21st October on Sony.

Source: “Gloria Estefan wants to perform in her native Cuba | Mail
Online” –
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2470851/Gloria-Estefan-wants-perform-native-Cuba.html

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