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Cuba: Concert for Peace

Categories: Latin America, Cuba, Arts & Culture, Human Rights, Migration & Immigration, Music, Politics

The mere mention of the word “Cuba” awakens the most passionate debates, especially among Latin Americans and people from the Caribbean. The Colombian singer Juanes [1] proposed a truce, a moment for solidarity, for peace, for transcending political, geographical, and emotional frontiers. And what better way of achieving this than with music? This was the vision that motivated Juanes to organize the concert “Paz sin Fronteras” [2] celebrated on Sunday September 20, 2009, at iconic Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba. Fifteen artists from Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Spain, and Italy performed (for the full list of artists see the concert's official site [2]). According to the organizers, 1,150,000 people filled Revolution Square to listen to music during six hours under the hot Caribbean sun. The immense crowd resembled a sea of foam: everyone was dressed in white, the artists and the spectators alike. Footage of artists arriving at the concert [3] was posted at YouTube.

But the event was also surrounded by controversy. Cuban exiles in Miami fiercely opposed [4] it, and Juanes — who lives in Miami, like many other Latin American artists — even recieved death threats [5]. Once in Havana, some artists also complained [6] that they were under government surveillance. We see once again that anything related to Cuba leaves no one indifferent. Even United States President Barack Obama had something to say [4] about the concert when asked in an interview with Univisión: “I certainly don't think it hurts U.S.-Cuban relations… I wouldn't overstate the degree that it helps.” Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez commented [7] that it was “wonderful” that so many international artists could participate in the event. Even though the artists mainly talked about peace, love, and solidarity between Cubans, there were a few political comments during the concert, like when Juanes shouted [8] “Cuba libre” (Free Cuba!), and when the legendary Cuban group Los Van Van [9] — who were the last ones to take the stage — said [8] “In spite of it all, the concert for peace took place!”

The Cuban blogosphere was very vocal. Posts from Cuban bloggers, living in Cuba and in other countries, show the diversity of opinions on Cuba's political situation.

In Generación Y [10], the Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote about the concert that same Sunday:

Tomorrow will dawn as every Monday. The convertible peso will continue its ascent, Adolfo [11] and his colleagues will have another day behind bars in the Canaleta prison, my son will hear at school that socialism is the only option for the country and at the airports we will continue to ask permission to leave the Island. The Juanes concert will not have significantly changed our lives, but nor did I go to the Plaza with this illusion. It would be unfair to demand of the young Colombian singer that he propel those changes that we ourselves have not managed to make, despite wanting them so much.

I was at the esplanade to check out how different the same space can be when it accommodates crowds organized from above, versus when it shelters a group of people dancing, singing and interacting without the involvement of politics. It was a rare experience to be there, without shouting slogans and without having to applaud mechanically when the tone of the speech marked that it was the time to cheer. Clearly some elements resembled those who march each May first, especially the proportion of plainclothes police in the audience.

If we see the performance of this September 20th as the dress rehearsal for a concert we’ll have one day, then we must congratulate those who participated. Even if there isn’t another, and the Plaza again takes on its solemnity and grayness, at least this Sunday afternoon we live something different. In a place where the division between us has been systematically sown, Juanes — to the setting of the sun — has shouted, “For one Cuban family!”

Marc Mas Ferrer offered his opinion on the concert in his blog Uncommon Sense [12]:

I will not castigate Juanes, nor curse him, nor call for crowds to burn his records. That's a bunch of wasted energy, on which the Castro brothers will feed.

Instead, I will take the opportunity he has presented those of us committed to a free Cuba, the attention he has generated for himself and for Cuba, to educate, to advocate on behalf of those Cubans who recognize that the only “border” blocking peace on the island is that placed by a murdering regime against the Cuban people.

As Juanes and the other singers perform, I will be remembering the political prisoners [13] and other Cubans who have dedicated their lives to bringing a true peace to Cuba — a peace with respect for human rights, a peace with justice, a peace with freedom.

That will be much more than Juanes is likely to do for them.

Reinaldo Escobar commented in Desde aquí [14] [Es]:

La plaza estaba llena, no sólo de personas, sino de modos de pensar, de tendencias y credos. Nadie puede dividir en dos bandos a toda una nación. A ver, usted que me está leyendo, ¿en cuál saco quiere que lo echen?, ¿donde van los que hicieron explotar un avión en pleno vuelo en el que viajaba nuestro equipo de esgrima, o en el que están los que hundieron el remolcador 13 de marzo, cargado de inocentes? ¿En el saco de los que ahorcaron al alfabetizador Manuel Ascunce o en el de los que ordenaron derribar dos avionetas desarmadas? La gente que vi en la plaza el pasado domingo no cabía en ninguno. Los jóvenes que acompañaban las canciones tenían sus ojos puestos en el futuro, no digo que fuera un coro de ángeles, pero no seré yo quien los satanice como “cómplices de la dictadura”. Que los cubanos seamos una sola familia es un hermoso y necesario propósito, gústele a quien le guste y pésele a quien le pese.

The Square was full, not only with people, but with different ways of thinking and beliefs. No one can divide a nation in two factions. Let’s see, you who are reading this, what bag do you want to be thrown in? On what side are the ones who exploded the plane our fencing team was traveling in? On what side are the ones who on March 13 sunk the tugboat that was full of innocent people? On what side are the ones who hanged the alphabetizer Manuel Ascunce or the ones who ordered to bring down two unarmed planes? The people I saw at the Square did not fit into any of these categories. The young people who were singing had their eyes on the future. I am not saying it was a choir of angels, but I will not demonize them as “accomplices of the dictatorship.” To believe that we Cubans are all part of one family is beautiful and necessary, in spite of whom it may bother.

The entire concert may be watched here [15]. For photos visit Roberto Suárez's blog Cuba en fotos [16] [ES].