The Obama administration has been hinting at a possible thaw in the half-century standoff with Cuba, and on Sunday, Colombian pop star Juanes did his best to further the cause by headlining a massive concert for peace in Havana’s famed Plaza de la Revolución.
Playing in front of several hundred thousand fans at the Peace Without Borders concert, Juanes bucked the authoritarian regime led by the Castro brothers by chanting, “Cuba libre! Cuba libre!” (“Free Cuba!”) before segueing into a call for “One Cuban family! One Cuban family!” He was appealing to the many Cuban exiles who, according to The Miami Herald, had criticized the show because they feared it would appear to lend support to the authoritarian communist Castro regime. In an ominous and telling sign, a gigantic image of communist icon Che Guevara towered over the plaza where the concert was held, which has been the site of many long-winded political speeches from former leader Fidel Castro over the past 50 years.
The crowd was reportedly filled mostly with young Cubans, many of whom had arrived early in the morning to get prime spots near the stage. “I can’t believe it. This is the most beautiful dream of peace and love,” Juanes said while taking the stage to chants of his name. “Whatever differences we have, at the end we are all brothers,” he added, segueing into his hit plea for peace, “A Dios le Pido” (“I’ll Ask God”).
Telling the young crowd “the future is in your hands,” Juanes played his anthem of hope, “No Creo en el Jamas” (“I Don’t Believe in Never”), and a rock song about a kidnap victim called “Sueños” (“Dreams”) that he turned into a hushed ballad as he explained that it was for “everyone who is imprisoned unjustly and seeks liberty.”
The Herald said that while historic, the show was viewed as a triumph for the Castro regime by Republican U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, who decried the fact that there was no mention made of human-rights violations by the regime or of the political prisoners behind bars for speaking out against Castro.
For a few hours, anyway, all that political drama was pushed to the side as the packed crowd took in 15 artists from six Latin American countries, including Cuba’s Los Van Van and Silvio Rodriguez and island rap/funk group X Alfonso, one of many acts that included subversive lines in their songs. Despite signing a pledge not to make political statements, a female rapper with X Alfonso sang, “Down with the control. Down with those who manipulate you.”
Spanish pop singer Miguel Bosé told the crowd, “We’re all here together — for the dream of concord, for the dream of dialogue!” and was later joined by Cuban singer/songwriter Carlos Varela for the latter’s “Muro,” (“Wall”), which speaks of longing for a world outside Cuba’s seawall.
Also on the bill were Puerto Rican singers Olga Tañon and Danny Rivera, Cuban artists Amaury Pérez and Carlos Varela, Orishas Italian rapper Jovanotti, Spain’s Victor Manuel and Luis Eduardo Aute, New York-based Cuban singer Cucu Diamantes, and the band Yerba Buena.