Monday, 21 September 2009

Massive crowd turn out for Juanes' Peace Without Borders Concert

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans watch international stars perform in a free Peace Without Borders Concert.

HAVANA, CUBA (SEPTEMBER 20, 2009) REUTERS - Hundreds of thousands of people filled Havana's Revolution Square for a "peace" concert on Sunday (September 20) in which Colombian singer Juanes and other musicians sought to bridge the political divide that has separated Cubans for 50 years.
The concert was shown live on international television, including to viewers in Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community and center of opposition to Cuba's communist-led government.

Puerto Rican singer Olga Tanon, who kicked off the concert by shouting, "It's time to change."

Juanes, a 17-time Latin Grammy winner who lives in Miami, was joined on stage by 14 artists from six countries, among them Olga Tanon of the U.S. territory Puerto Rico, Miguel Bose of Spain and Jovanotti of Italy. Cuban salsa kings Los Van Van closed it out.

Juanes, who organized his "Peace Without Borders" concert in conjunction with the Cuban government, had insisted the show was not political, but raised eyebrows at the end of the concert when he shouted "one Cuban family" for Cuban unity and "Cuba libre," words that have been a rallying cry in the exile community for years.

They prompted immediate speculation on Spanish-language television in Miami, but drew no response from the Cuban government.

The huge crowd in attendance, which Juanes said numbered more than 1 million, danced and swayed under a blistering sun that caused many to faint during the five-hour event.

A number of Cuban dissidents supported the concert, even though they say the government was using it to project an image of tolerance that does not exist.

One of Cuba's leading anti-government dissidents, Martha Beatriz Roque, told Univision on Sunday that Cuban state security police had warned a number of dissidents and other individuals to stay away from Revolution Square.

"I think it shows much about the desire we Cubans have for union, solidarity and desire to live in peace," said Miriam Leyva, wife of dissident Oscar Espinos.

Juanes has said he organized the concert because he believes U.S. President Barack Obama has "opened the door" to change by easing the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo and taking other steps to improve U.S.-Cuba relations.

He said he would like to see Cuban leaders respond to his overture by moving away "from some of the anti-democratic practices of the past."

Cuba's government last week chided Obama for not doing more to completely end the U.S. sanctions on Cuba.