Sunday, September 20, 2009

Concert in Havana

. Sunday, September 20, 2009

Today, over 500,000 people have gathered in Havana's Revolutionary Plaza for a massive concert featuring Colombian star Juanes and an array of other Latin American and European performers (You can watch the concert live online here). The concert has been promoted as a gathering for peace intended to bring down the hard walls between the governments of the United States and Cuba and to promote dialogue between two countries that have had tense (and at times nonexistent) relations for over 50 years.

The concert has been incredibly controversial on the streets of Miami where Cuban hardliners, primarily members of the older Cuban exile community, have been critical of Juanes and the other performers for going to Cuba, and refuse to even consider any type of rapprochement between the US and Cuba.

The WSJ provides good coverage of today's events:
Billed as a “concert for peace,” the event has produced a war of words in Miami where a majority of Cuban exiles feel the Colombian singer, who lives in the tony Miami suburb of Key Biscayne, will help legitimize the Castro gerontocracy. Some protesters say they will use a small steam roller in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood to flatten a mountain of Juanes CDs as he takes to the stage in Havana. (Juanes didn’t immediately respond to interview requests.)
According to polls, while a majority of older Cubans, and those who arrived in early waves of immigration from the island are dead set against the concert, younger Cubans, more recent arrivals and those born in the U.S. of Cuban parents are much more prone to say, “Why not?”

Some, more liberal exiles hope the concert may open the way to more people-to-people contacts between the two countries -– a musical version of the “Ping-Pong” diplomacy that led the late President Richard Nixon re-establish ties with China decades ago. The concert has also received the full backing of the U.S. government, which facilitated permits for musicians to travel to Havana. Juanes even discussed the event with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who posed afterwards for photographs with the singer.

The fate of the Juanes concert may influence a pending decision by the New York Philharmonic, which is also mulling an invitation to perform in Havana next month.

Since taking office, President Obama has set in motion a slow rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S., lifting restrictions, like the amount of money Cuban Americans can send to relatives and the number of trips they can take to visit relatives on the island. Obama has said the U.S. is ready to act further if Cuba reciprocates, but Cuba has repeatedly said it is disappointed by Obama’s refusal to lift the decades old U.S. trade embargo.

While the Juanes event has caused controversy in Miami, not so in Havana where most people welcome any distraction from their drab lives. Some 36 current and former political prisoners signed a letter urging the Colombian singer to come to Cuba, saying the concert is a chance to advance reconciliation.

Gorki Aguila, leader of Cuba’s leading punk-rock band Porno para Ricardo, says he’s in favor of the concert, although he believes it will be manipulated by the regime. Speaking from Miami, where he is visiting, Aguila said that if Juanez talks about peace, he should also talk about what he sees around him. “He should talk about the reality of the people. There is no freedom of any type, the regimen has imposed its ideology for fifty years, and its time to be done with that,” said Aguila.
The older members of the Cuban exile community have long dominated all political discussion on Cuban issues within the United States, and it's about time the younger generation steps forward and flexes its own political muscle. The younger generations are far less conservative and much more open to engagement with the Cuban government and have come to realize that 50 years of isolation, embargo and idiocy have done absolutely nothing to bring about freedom and greater prosperity on the island.

The younger generation in the US holds the same disdain for Cuba's revolutionary past, but believes a more practical policy of direct people-to-people engagement would bring about a quicker and better solution to "That Infernal Little Cuban Republic" 90 miles off of the American coast. Gorki Aguila summed it up quite well in the quote above, the purpose of the concert and of engagement in general should be to normalize relations, but this should be discussed in the context of human rights violations, repression and outright abuse on the island. The Cuban government should not get a free pass for the hell it has put families and its own citizens through over the past 50 years.

Nevertheless, it's time for direct engagement with the Cuban people and for the United States to put forward a different approach. It's time for the Cuban diaspora to get over its stubbornness and bring Cubans both in the US and Cuba together.

Update (5:41pm): The latest estimates of the crowd now have attendance at 1.15 million people. Even though the government has tried to keep liberal politics and calls for freedom out of the concert, let's just say that some of the performers aren't cooperating. Songs and singers calling for "a time to change","libertad", and "the first step to overcoming fear is to stand up" are being blasted in the plaza.


Anonymous said...

What we need to do now is boycot Univision because the help Juanes to do the concert, Univision paid for broadcasting the show to USA.
also do not listen any radio station that play OLGA, JUANES and the rest of the comunist singer that participated in that concert.

Alex Parets said...

I think the concert was a great idea. It furthered the limited interaction between Cuban citizens and the world. My post called for more engagement, more interaction, more of everything. Boycotts of Univision, Juanes, & Olga Tanon would accomplish absolutely nothing. Protests and boycotts in general rarely accomplish anything. Your calling for more of the same old isolation and shunning tactics. They simply haven't worked in 50 years and they won't magically start working now.

Concert in Havana




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