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Niche: The Cuban Connection

By Megan Kinneyn | Feb. 2, 2007
News

Law Office Management

Feb. 2, 2007

Niche: The Cuban Connection

Bringing Cuban musicians to the Unites States. By Itir Yakar

By Itir yakar
      Edited by Martin Lasden
     
      Bill Martinez's passion for Latin music is not only contagious; it also feeds a big part of his legal practice. Known by his friends and colleagues as the "Cuba guy," Martinez helps that country's musicians and artists obtain the required legal documentation to perform in the United States. One of his clients was the Buena Vista Social Club. He's also worked with Chucho Valdes, Los Van Van, and the Spirit of Havana.
      Martinez, 54, graduated from Hastings College of Law in 1977, then went on to teach and advise students at the New College of California School of Law before becoming an immigration lawyer in 1989.
      Although the laws restricting travel to Cuba for Americans haven't changed since 1963, the difficulty of getting visas for Cuban musicians has ebbed and flowed, depending on who's in power in Washington. The current administration has been, as Martinez observes, one of the toughest to deal with.
      Under U.S. law, Cuban artists are considered employees of the Communist Party, and Americans are banned from financially supporting the Cuban government and the Communist Party. Martinez's job, therefore, is to prove that the musicians he wants to bring in are internationally recognized talents, and that they will not share the proceeds from their performances with the Cuban government.
      To that end he negotiates with the State Department in addition to the various producers, concert hall owners, and event organizers. And, if a visa request is denied, he always has the option of filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government, although he has done so only once in the past ten years.
      It's a dream job, Martinez says: He doesn't have to go to court and has clients who share his love of music.
      Still, he has at least one regret in his career: When Ibrahim Ferrer, one of the lead singers of the Buena Vista Social Club, won a Grammy award in 2004, Martinez tried but failed to get a visa for him to attend the ceremony, even though Ferrer had been allowed in six years earlier to play at Carnegie Hall. Ferrer died in 2005.
     
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Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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