Forty-three members of a Cuban dance troupe performing at a Las Vegas casino asked for asylum in the United States on Monday 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.
"This is a brave and bold action by my young artists," Nicole "N.D" Durr, the German creator of the Havana Night Club show, said of the dancers, singers, musicians and stagehands. "It's done with sorrow, leaving family behind, but with resolve."
There was no immediate reaction from Fidel Castro's government.
For more than 40 years, Cuban refugees have routinely 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 Monday, said Pamela Falk, a City University of New York professor advising the troupe. They were expected to arrive in Las Vegas on Tuesday, she said. At least two cast members have decided to return to Cuba, and one was wavering, Falk said.
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 Monday and run until Jan. 11 at the Stardust hotel and casino.
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. The visas were granted.
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. She said she was thrown out of Cuba and told she could never return, and said that was part of the reason the cast members decided to leave Cuba.
"We've been together for more than six years," she said. "We are like a family."
Joe Garcia, an official with the Cuban American National Foundation, an anti-Castro group in Miami, said: "Cuba had sort of warned these guys. They basically broke up the group."