By Alfredo Prieto
Just recently, well-known singer-songwriter Juanes traveled to Cuba to work out the details for giving a concert there. Though the visit was brief, he was able to take a stroll through the streets of Old Havana, where he was greeted spontaneously by fervent fans. This evidence indicated that the notion of an isolated Cuban people – so defended in South Florida – doesn’t add up; otherwise no one would have recognized him.
This same experience has also been shared by others, including musicians Kevin Richardson and Howie Dorough (two of the Back Street Boys), who came to Cuba on a completely non-publicized visit – to cite only one example.
Upon Juanes’ return to Miami, the weight of tradition began to bear down on the artist. The Colombian-born singer was immediately accused of acting in complicity with the socialist regime and “changing his black shirt for a red one” – obviously another over-the-top allegation. In addition, he was threatened with a boycott and the destruction of his discography, an experience that others who have dared to cross the circle of ashes have suffered.
One is left with the impression that these people particularly like to go after those who live in their town. Recently several American actors, who Miami political elements relate to like butter on a skillet, traveled to Cuba for exchanges with members of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), but no verbal tsunamis ensued.
Put otherwise, it is obvious that thoughts of the old-timer exiles about cultural exchanges and visits to the island are usually of no interest to Hollywood artists, who as liberals (in the main) completely ignore; even when that peculiar claim that “came off as termite-eaten closet” attempted to pigeonhole him as a communist.
But Juanes is hardly the village idiot, and he has solid convictions. It doesn’t take a sociology graduate to note that the action of this South Florida resident expresses tendencies of change in Miami-Dade County… ones that challenge the perspectives of the aging political exiles, as is unequivocally revealed in survey after survey.
Moreover, before coming to Cuba the singer touched base with the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as White House officials and the Cuban Interest Section in Washington DC.
To make matters worse for the hardliners, the State Department in fact backed the idea of his playing on the island, though without supporting him officially. At heart they are in favor of these types of cultural exchanges because they increase understanding between peoples – an idea that, surprisingly, is subscribed to by both governments, though for different reasons.
“We hold nothing but respect for Juanes and we hope he has good luck with his project,” acknowledged the State Department spokesman.
For the Cuban side, the designation of Revolution Square as the setting for the concert implies a change in the unpopular practice of putting popular musicians from the United States into theaters (Havana Jam, 1979; Music Bridges, 1999) and allowing entrance by invitation only – with the exception of the concert by the rock group Audioslave at the Anti-imperialist Bandstand in 2005.
This will guarantee a heterogeneous and diverse public, as is Cuban society, although accusations of “controlled access” and repression of the participants continue to be broadcast with obstinate persistence in the South Florida media.
Meanwhile, Cubans on the island continue to live their lives amid countless problems, yet they are prepared to receive – without obstacles – the icon of Latin pop-rock. For his part, Juanes has decided to put his shoulder to the dead weight to open the door to his own answers and to bring his music live and direct to the people, like those who he ran into on his brief walk through historic Old Havana.