2016: The Year in Charts

Cuban Reggaetón Singer Who Fled U.S. Flaunts Bling, Gets Arrested in Havana

Courtesy
Gilbert Man (center) in the 2014 video for "Chambonea."

Gilbert Man is wanted for credit card fraud in Florida -- could the artist's arrest signal a new era of cooperative law enforcement with Cuba?

Gilberto Martinez Suarez, a Cuban reggaetón singer who calls himself Gilbert Man, posted on his Facebook page that he was "Doing everything possible to take Cuban music to another level." Now, he might have to do it from a prison cell.

The former Florida resident posted photos of himself balancing bundles of dollars on his bicep, standing in front of various luxury cars, and pretending to shoot a handgun. His abundant Facebook gallery shows a house with a swimming pool and jacuzzi, designer shoes, a collection of colognes and other symbols of his high life in Cuba. He recently announced he'd be performing with well-known Puerto Rican urban artist Cocsculluela in Havana in February.

What Martinez's social profile did not disclose was that he was on the lam, having fled to Cuba after posting bail in the U.S. He was indicted on charges of credit card fraud and identity theft in Dade County in Sept., 2014. Cuban police arrested him earlier this month at his home in Guanabacoa, a traditionally Afro-Cuban neighborhood in greater Havana. Martinez was taken into custody days after an investigative report on Florida crime rings that funnel money to Cuba was published in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, according to the newspaper. The news of Martinez's arrest was first reported by Reuters.

The 28-year-old fledging performer was allegedly one of a trio of identity thieves who had used 100 different credit cards to buy expensive electronics and make purchases at Toys R' Us, Babies R' Us and other stores of over $150,000. It was not his first arrest. The Sun-Sentinel reported that Cuban-U.S. policy over the past decades has enabled Cuban-born criminals escape to the island. Because of the icy relations between the two countries, they could normally could live there with no fear of being returned back to the States by Cuban authorities.

The historic talks between the two nations could lead to changes in cooperative law enforcement. According to the Sun-Sentinel, the U.S. Marshals Service in South Florida has been compiling a list of fugitives believed to be living in Cuba, "in case things change," and the Castro government begins to comply with extradition requests.

If that happens, it could impact not only Martinez and others like him, but conceivably also Nahanda Abiodun, the woman often called "the Godmother of Cuban Hip-Hop," who is wanted by the FBI. Born Cheri Dalton, Abiodun is accused of participating in a string of armed robberies, and has been linked by authorities to the 1979 prison escape by Black Panther Assata Shakur, who also went to Cuba and is on the FBI's Most Wanted list. Abiodun, who has lived very publically in Havana for about 25 years, was instrumental in recruiting support for the Havana Hip Hop Festival from American activists and rappers.

While Martinez's arrest in Havana could signal a change in cooperative law enforcement between Cuba and the U.S., his ostentatious display on Facebook epitomizes an ongoing battle between Cuban cultural authorities and artists, whose music they view as frivolous and commercial. Minister of Culture Abel Prieto has spoken out about the lack of values of reggaeton, which quickly became popular in Cuba in the mid-2000s and is still favored by Cuban youth. In 2012, Cuban officials banned explicit reggaeton music from the radio.

"Neither vulgarity nor mediocrity will be able to tarnish the richness of Cuban music," Cuban Music Institute's Orlando Vistel Columbie said at the time. "Obviously, people can listen to what they want privately. But, that freedom doesn't include the right to reproduce and disseminate that music."

The Cuban government's disdain with what has been seen as capitalist society's influence on musicians did not begin with reggaeton. In the early days of Fidel Castro's reign, American-style music quickly fell out of favor and was replaced with the songs of Cuban folk musicians and other forms of what was seen as authentic Cuban expression.

In the 1990s, after the dollar was legalized and Cuba opened up to Europe following the fall of the Soviet Union, artists were permitted for the first time to work as free agents and negotiate their own contracts. Groups who played the Cuban salsa music known as timba began to bring in money from tours and records on foreign labels. While by American standards their incomes were not notably high and their purchases were discreet, the fact that they owned cars and could afford gold jewelry made them stand out in Havana, where doctors made the equivalent of about 15 or 20 dollars a month at the time.

For decades, Cuban artists have embodied socialist ideals when it comes to fame, balancing their work abroad with free concerts for the Cuban public. But they of course have not been immune to the seductions of fame, and Cuban artists over the years assumed, at least to some extent, that a ticket to the Yuma (the U.S.) was a ticket to success.

In the case of Martinez/Gilbert Man, it's not surprising that his fans and neighbors in Havana were not suspicious that the reggaetonero from Florida arrived with "a lot of money in the bank," as he claimed in a song. He recently convinced a Cuban magazine called Vistar that he was a player, declaring in an interview that he was "a business man" who had returned to Cuba to promote the island's urban music.

Martinez's last Facebook post was on Jan. 7. Cuban officials have not revealed his whereabouts since his arrest.