Cuban ‘Peace’ concert riles some exiles

Colombian singer Juanes, who created
An international rocker is creating a rare opportunity to sing about change on the Communist island of Cuba.

Colombian singer Juanes — a 17-time Latin Grammy winner — has brought 15 international artists to Havana. He hopes to thaw U.S.-Cuba relations by staging a “Peace without Borders” concert. But the reaction in Miami, Florida, home to both Juanes and a large Cuban exile community, has not been entirely peaceful. Juanes has received death threats over the concert via Twitter, he said, and his home in Miami is under police protection. Some Cuban exiles in Florida have called the concert an endorsement of the Communist regime and a declaration of war, smashing his records in a public anti-Juanes demonstration. But the singer said the reaction neither surprised nor deterred him. Watch Juanes prepare for concert “I mean, we knew that this was going to happen,” he said in a statement on his Web site. “I have been living in Miami for seven years, and the first time I visited Miami was 10 or more years ago, so I know what happened in Miami with the Cuba issue and with all these things before [we decided] to go to Cuba to do this event. “I deeply regret having caused, let’s say, this bad moment,” he said. He said he had spoken to Cuban exile leaders in Miami to explain his motives. “If they say that I am a Communist, that Juanes has political intentions,” there is nothing to be done, he said. “I can only control what’s in my heart, what’s in my mind. We know what we are doing and why we are doing it.” Both countries helped him overcome obstacles typical to big, free events staged by foreigners in Cuba — a lack of visas and expensive sound and stage equipment. “We really believe this is the beginning of a new era of communication,” Juanes said.

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Real change may be more elusive. Juanes will be singing with Cuban performers barred from visiting the United States, like Silvio Rodriguez. But missing from this concert will be Cuban-American performers like Gloria Estefan and Willy Chirino, fierce critics of the Cuban government. “We asked the government and we asked Willy and we asked Gloria and we tried,” Juanes said. “But at this time it’s not going to happen. It’s not in our hands. But we really tried. “And part of this dream is that that thing is going to happen in the future. We wish that. I wish that. I would like to see Silvio singing in Miami, for example. I hope in the years to come that Willy or Gloria or all of them can come to Cuba. It’s their country. They are Cubans and they have to come sooner or later.” Chirino said Juanes’ project will only benefit the Communist authorities. “The revolution is going to win,” Chirino said, referring to the government established by Fidel Castro more than 50 years ago. “An old system that’s dying already, you know, they’re going to give it oxygen.” But, Chirino said, he respects Juanes’ motives. “I think Juanes’ idea is brilliant and it’s full of love. Nobody is against an artist going to a country and bringing his or her work to the people,” he said. Thirty-six Cuban dissidents gave their blessing, signing a petition in favor of the concert. “We think Juanes’ initiative is good because it can help bring about national reconciliation and unity among Cubans,” Castro opponent Oscar Espinosa Chepe said. And Cubans seemed delighted by their first chance in decades to hear international Latin stars of this caliber. It’s the largest staged event in one of Havana’s main squares, La Plaza de la Revolucion, since Pope John Paul II said Mass here in front of 850,000 people in 1998.

“It’s a way to open relations between Cuba and the United States,” Cuban Juan Caravilla said. “Why Because music and artists build bridges, you know what I mean” The concert, at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, features all-stars of the Latin music world, including Olga Tanon, Los Van Van and Miguel Bose.