Posted on Sunday, 09.20.09
NEWS ANALYSIS | CUBA
Concert `without borders' not without politics
After weeks of controversy, pop star Juanes performs Sunday in a country
where even entertainment has becomea great divider.
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
Colombian rocker Juanes will strap on his guitar to command the stage at
2 p.m. Sunday at Havana's historic Plaza of the Revolution, but the show
has been sounding a discordant political tune for months.
Juanes has repeatedly stated that his “Peace Without Borders'' concert
“is not political.'' But the event is highly charged with the political
baggage that comes with Cuba's 50-year-old regime and its ever-growing
exile community. And once again, a seemingly cultural event becomes a
window into the role the arts and artists have historically played in
promoting the Cuban government's agenda, and, in some cases, challenging it.
“Cuba is a country divided, and everything is affected by politics,''
says Cuba culture watcher Alejandro Ríos, who runs the Cuban Film Series
at Miami Dade College. “Juanes himself is political. His songs speak of
social causes and issues — he's no Britney Spears and bubble-gum pop.''
The event, expected to attract 500,000 people to the plaza where Pope
John Paul II appeared in 1998, is a classic study in how the Cuban
government uses the island's cultural elite to discredit dissidents,
portray Cuba as a respectful, peace-loving nation and paint Cuban exiles
in Miami as war hawks.
In La Jiribilla, a government-sponsored online cultural bulletin read
around the world, a series of interviews with artists and combative
essays from writers miscast the reaction in Miami to the concert.
To the casual reader, La Jiribilla can seem simply a cultural magazine.
But its articles are laced with political invective delivered by
intellectuals as they are interviewed about their artistic careers and
In its latest issue La Jiribilla follows Puerto Rican singer Olga Tañón
on a visit to the 100-year-old Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán and quotes
her: “Cuba is more alive than ever.''
Tañón, who will sing at the concert Sunday, says she never had a school
like the conservatory growing up and that she has been crying since she
arrived in Havana because she's so happy she “withstood the pressure to
cancel'' her appearance.
In another a headline, La Jiribilla claims that Cubans in Miami “are
breaking Juanes' records with hammers.''
“What do they fear?'' the headline says.
Fact: Only the leader of a tiny activist group, Vigilia Mambisa, broke
some Juanes CDs in front of television cameras.
“That a concert for peace ignites so much war for the simple reason
that it is celebrated in Cuba is totally absurd,'' one of Cuba's top
actors, Jorge Perugorría, is quoted as saying in the same issue.
Perugorría's comments have raised eyebrows among those who know him.
He rose to fame in the 1995 Oscar-nominated movie Fresa y Chocolate
(Strawberry & Chocolate), a groundbreaking film in which Perugorría
plays a gay man who openly criticizes Fidel Castro's government for
persecuting gays. Many of the film's stars are no longer in Cuba,
including the other protagonist, Francisco Gattorno, who played a
faithful Communist student. He has lived in Miami for years.
“Why would an artist of Perugorría's stature need to submit himself to
something like that? Well, in Cuba defending the government is always
rewarded with some goodie,'' Ríos says.
Surely, the concert has commanded headlines since Juanes reportedly
mentioned it on Twitter back in June when he was visiting Havana, and
has since been the subject of talk shows on radio and television.
But Cubans in Miami and throughout the United States have displayed a
wide range of opinions on the concert, including widely favorable views.
“It's significant for them to have this major performance happen, to
have their country on people's radars in any way, shape or form,'' says
University of Miami religion professor Michelle González-Maldonado, born
in Miami of exiled Cuban parents. “In part, it opens their world and it
opens the world to them. In Miami, Cuba is always with us, but when I
traveled and lived in other parts of the world, it's not a daily
presence as it is in South Florida, so anything that draws attention to
the island reminds individuals of the Cuban community and their struggles.''
War in Miami?
Not quite, but there's been plenty of debate, criticism, analysis — and
“The Cuban exile community in Miami has been a diverse one for quite
some time,'' says Lillian Manzor, coordinator of a theater exchange
program with Cuba. “It's generational and also has to do with the
different waves of exiles and with the Cuban exiles who leave Miami [to
live elsewhere and to visit Cuba] and return.''
Manzor left Cuba with her parents in 1968, when she was 10 years old,
and has visited the island.
“There have always been and there should always be voices that are not
in favor of cultural exchanges nor any kind of dialogue,'' she says.
“But opinion has been far from monolithic, and yet the press has for
years been focused on only the discordant voices of exile as
representative of the majority of exile.''
If anything, the concert already is making history in Miami with
unprecedented input from Cuba in the exile media coverage.
For weeks a popular nightly talk show, A mano limpia with Oscar Haza on
América TeVé Channel 41, has been discussing the concert with a diverse
panel of guests — those who favor contact with Cuba and those who
believe nothing short of a militant stand against a totalitarian regime
is acceptable, as well as guests with a complex view of the concert and
“We are going to present and discuss all points of view as is done in a
democratic society,'' Haza says.
In an appearance Tuesday night, Amaury Pérez Vidal, a chief coordinator
of the Juanes concert and one of Cuba's singers invited to perform,
joined the discussion via telephone from Havana.
Pérez said he frequently watched A mano limpia, thanks to a television
antenna he bought in Mexico “when it wasn't popular to do so.'' He
added that he thought all Cubans should have free access to information.
He also said that Pánfilo, a Cuban man arrested for saying Cubans were
hungry, should not be in prison. Cuban authorities sentenced Pánfilo, —
whose appearance on a video posted on YouTube asking for jama, Cuban
slang for food, has been has close to a half-million hits — to two
years. (Panfilo was reportedly released the next day and sent to a
psychiatric facility for alcohol treatment).
After Pérez's appearance, Haza noted: “We'll now see what happens to
him. His presentation in the concert has already been limited to two
The next night, another guest asked if Peréz had lost his antenna yet.
Minutes later, Pérez sent an e-mail to the show's producer so that it
could be read on-air, telling Haza that he was watching and still had
his antenna. He added that he wanted to make sure people understood that
he was defending the right to access information not just for himself,
but “for all Cubans.''
It was most remarkable since Pérez and the other concert organizer and
lvio Rodríguez, have been staunch backers of the Cuban
government, even when it has cracked down on independent journalists and
dissidents. Both signed a document supporting the firing-squad shooting
of three men trying to flee Cuba by hijacking Havana's Regla ferry in 2003.
And despite the appearance of openness, the Cuban government continues
to crack down.
Four days before the concert, as the stage was being erected and some
pinned their hopes that music would lead to positive change — and
supporters, including Juanes, spoke of “reconciliation'' — the Cuban
government arrested Yosvany Anzardo Hernández, a promoter of Internet
access in Cuba who created Red Libertad — Liberty Net — an independent
e-mail service on the island.
Those who witnessed the arrest described it as “brutal.''
Concert `without borders' not without politics – Cuba – MiamiHerald.com
(20 September 2009)