Pop singer Juanes sparks furor in Cuban exile community with plans for Havana concert

An international concert planned for Havana's Plaza de la Revolución and headed by a major Latino pop star is stoking passions in exile Miami in a controversial clash of art and politics.

The blogosphere was buzzing Friday over the Paz Sin Fronteras (Peace Without Borders) concert to be presented by Juanes, the immensely popular Colombian rocker who now calls Miami-Dade home, on Havana's Plaza de la Revolución on Sept. 20. Also scheduled to appear: famed Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez; Los Van Van, the island's most famous dance band; Spanish singer Miguel Bose; and Puerto Rican singer Olga Tañon.

Juanes declined interview requests Friday.

``It's time to start knocking down our own mental walls,'' he wrote in a Twitter feed about the event in late June, when news of the concert leaked. ``Our Cuban brothers need us and we need them. I'm talking about a peace concert on Sept. 20 . . . raise your voice, and let's put aside our ideological differences.''

The show is the second edition of the Paz Sin Fronteras concert that the multi-Grammy-winning star staged on the Colombian-Venezuelan border last year, which drew some 100,000 spectators at a moment of high tension between the governments of the two South American nations.


Plans for the Havana show set off an argument over music and politics in Miami's exile community the likes of which hasn't been heard since the controversial Los Van Van concert at the Miami Arena in 1999. Earlier this week, Juanes received what appeared to be death threats. Last week, members of Vigilia Mambisa, a tiny right-wing exile group, smashed and burned Juanes' CDs on Calle Ocho -- an action that produced its own controversy, as other Cuban opinion-makers criticized the protest for making the exile community look too extreme.

Critics have said that for an artist of Juanes' stature to appear in Cuba, especially on the Plaza de la Revolución -- and with artists such as Rodríguez and Los Van Van, both of whom are closely associated with Cuban government -- is unacceptable support of the island's regime.

``I love the fact that he decided to play a concert for peace for the Cuban people,'' said popular exile singer Willy Chirino. ``But if he doesn't want any political connotations, why is he inviting Silvio Rodríguez and having [Cuban singer-songwriter] Amaury Pérez as an organizer, who are two of the most pro-Revolutionary artists in Cuba? Invite artists who have no political opinions, or invite Cuban artists who don't represent Castro's Cuba.''

Others have supported the singer, saying that he is opening doors to the Cuban people that encourage much-needed change on the island and in U.S.-Cuba policy and exile attitudes.

``It's time to focus on the Cuban people and not focus exclusively on the Cuban regime,'' said Carlos Saladrigas, co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group, a group of Cuban-American businesspeople that supports improved relations between people of the two nations. ``We believe [the concert] will be of more benefit to the Cuban people, in terms of an opening, in terms of gathering freely.''


The intensity of the debate seems to have surprised the amiable 37-year-old singer, who lives in Key Biscayne with his wife (who is eight months pregnant) and their two young daughters. Juanes' songs are known for positive messages of love, humanity and family, and he has a foundation which works with land-mine victims in Colombia. Now he has found himself the object of controversy in South Florida.

Earlier this week, Juanes reported to Key Biscayne police that he had received threatening responses to his Twitter feed; one appeared to be a death threat. His house has been stalked by paparazzi and television crews (one from local station América Tevé surprised him while he was on a bike ride).

And although the concert was first slated to include approximately a dozen artists, several stars whom Juanes has approached -- including Juan Luis Guerra (who participated in the first Paz concert), Ricky Martin, Luis Fonsi and Enrique Iglesias -- have turned him down.

Juanes spokesperson John Reilly said the singer is determined to proceed. ``Plans for the second Paz Sin Fronteras concert have not changed,'' Reilly said Thursday in a statement. ``While Juanes understands that there will always be some distressed by efforts for change, he has received overwhelming support from across the Miami Cuban community and continues to feel safe in the city that he has made his home.''


Juanes, who has talked to the Spanish newspaper El País and appeared on Univisión's talk show Aqui y Ahora earlier this month, but has otherwise not talked to the press, insists that he only wants to bring music and a connection to the outside world to Cuba. ``I'm not interested in the Cuban government,'' he told El País. ``I'm interested in the people, in the youth . . . [Cuba] is a country of 11 million people who are isolated for political and historical reasons. It can't continue like this.''

Adrián Leiva, an independent journalist who was thrown out of Cuba by the government last year and who now writes for the Cubanet website from Miami, says that people on his island will welcome Juanes and his music.

``The Cuban population and the youth are basically saturated with politics, with the arguments and politics of the government,'' Leiva said Friday. ``They will receive this concert like a cultural embassy of international artists who bring a message of peace and concord through music.''

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