HAVANA – Amid the controversy surrounding Colombian pop star Juanes’ plans to give a “Peace Without Borders” concert in Cuba next month, young people on the streets of Havana said it’s unfair that anti-Castro exiles in Miami are trying to sabotage the event for political reasons.
Opponents of the Castro regime in Miami are calling for boycotts of Juanes concerts and CDs, saying he would be tacitly supporting a regime that locks up peaceful dissenters and calling on him to sing for freedom not peace.
But young Juanes fans in Cuba say they would be the only victims if the concert were not held and are already making arrangements to attend the show on Sunday, Sept. 20 at the emblematic Plaza de la Revolucion, a huge square used by the Cuban government for political rallies.
“For me, going to that concert would be crazy. It would be so much fun for kids. I don’t think it’s fair for them to take that away from us, for them to stop him from meeting us and singing for us,” said Oleydi, a 17-year-old student.
She said that in her downtown Havana neighborhood “people are really excited” and “people are making plans” to attend the event with friends and family.
“It would be great if all the (invited artists) would come, but if it’s just Juanes we’d still have a great time,” Oleydi said.
Since Juanes announced his intention to give another “Peace Without Borders” concert, (the first being a show he gave in 2008 on the Colombian-Venezuelan frontier to calm tensions between those two neighbors), he has been heavily criticized by Cuban exiles.
Members of one Cuban-exile group in Miami on Friday used hammers to destroy copies of Juanes’ CDs in protest over the planned concert.
The Vigilia Mambisa organization placed the CDs on a sidewalk on Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana, the heart of the Cuban-exile community, and shattered them to pieces. Protesters also held up posters that read “Juanes, Guerrillas Without Borders,” “Juanes, Olga Tañon and Miguel Bose, Traitors” and “Juanes, Friend of the Murderous Castros.”
Puerto Rico’s Tañon and Spain’s Bose are among the performers who may join Juanes for the concert, although other artists have apparently been pressured into not taking part.
Cuba’s state media has not mentioned the controversy but the news has gotten around because people with Internet access or illegal satellite dishes have spread the word.
“Juanes shouldn’t waste more time trying to convince people that what he wants is to (bring an alternative message to that of) Fidel and Raul (Castro),” said Brian, a 25-year-old taxi driver who has been following the news on U.S. Spanish-language channel Univision thanks to a satellite dish.
“In the end, the only people hurt are the people, because the government couldn’t care less if Juanes comes here to sing or not. Don’t kid yourself,” he added.
Some of the people interviewed said they don’t even want to think about the possibility of the concert being canceled and said they are tired of everything related to Cuba being discussed in terms of politics.
“We’re not going to a May Day rally at the Plaza de la Revolucion. We’re going to hear Juanes and the other artists he’s invited,” said Odelsis, a 24-year-old student.
In her opinion, Cuban exiles have “made a big deal out of this just because they felt like it, to make some news and because Juanes lives there,” adding that “no one protested” when U.S. hard rock bank Audioslave or Australia’s Air Supply played at Havana’s Tribuna Antiimperialista.
“They’re making the mistake of linking politics to art and, if it’s cancelled, it’s those of us waiting who will be the victims,” she said.
Many of those interviewed weighed in on the political divide between those who left the island after the revolution and those who stayed.
Yasmani Monzon, 22, said it’s “absurd” that some are protesting the fact that Juanes chose the Plaza de la Revolucion for the concert or that he invited Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez – whom Cuban exiles in Miami say is a “singer of the regime” – to perform with him.
“He has to sing with Silvio because he’s an illustrious figure in Cuban music who was persecuted at the beginning of the revolution and kept singing and stayed here with us,” said Monzon, who added that the artists “should feel proud to go to a country and be allowed to perform at its most important plaza.”
“I can’t stand how those who left put the political tag on everything and try to sabotage the lives of those who stayed,” she said.
Mauricio, a 27-year-old musician, said “the combination of music, Havana and peace are enough to shine a light on Miami’s ultra-conservatism and political blindness.”
“Maybe all the answers to the questions about this concert are political, but is Miami the center of the world?” he asked rhetorically.
“The concert isn’t that important. Music doesn’t save your life, it just helps you. But it’s clear they’d rather watch Juanes in the Miami Arena while eating popcorn, not thinking that in the Plaza (de la Revolucion) he’d be making Cubans happy.”
Juanes, for his part, defended his planned concert in an interview earlier this week with Univision.
The 12-time Latin Grammy winner said he will not offer any political message during the show and that performing in Cuba is important to open a window on the outside world for Cubans and give concert-goers some happiness, freedom, peace and fun for “a little bit.”