Poll: Cuban Americans change tune about Juanes concert in Havana

October 1, 2009

Jordan Levin, Miami Herald

Cuban-American support of Juanes' Cuba concert has almost doubled in the aftermath of the Sept. 20 event, according to a poll released Wednesday at the Americas Conference by Sergio Bendixen and Associates. The study of 400 Cuban Americans found that 53 percent had a favorable opinion of show, organized by the Colombian rock star in Havana, while 29 percent had an unfavorable opinion.

The results are an about-face from a previous Bendixen poll, conducted Aug. 24, also of 400 Cuban Americans. That study showed 47 percent opposing the concert, while 27 percent were in favor.

The new poll was conducted Sept. 24-26. Both surveys had a margin of error of 5 percentage points, and both were commissioned by the Cuba Study Group, an organization of Cuban-American businessmen that favors direct exchanges with the Cuban people and supported the Juanes event. ``The support is logical,' said the group's co-chairman, Carlos Saladrigas. ``Cubans had fun and heard Juanes scream `Cuba libre' in the middle of La Plaza de La Revolución. . . . He showed courage.'

Support for the event, which featured 15 artists from six countries, increased regardless of the respondents' ages or when they came to the the United States, measures that have traditionally divided exiles' opinions on Cuba. More than half of respondents 64 and younger were in favor of the concert, as were 48 percent of respondents older than 65. Among exiles who arrived in the U.S. before 1980, 48 percent supported the event, as did 63 percent of those who came after 1990.

Talk-show host Maria Elvira Salazar, who made the concert a regular subject on her popular Mega TV show, Maria Elvira Live, said the poll confirmed a shift she had seen in reactions during the concert, and in e-mails she has received since. Remarks by performers Olga Tañon, Miguel Bosé and Juanes about freedom and unifying Cubans had a powerful effect, Salazar said.

``This was different than we had expected,' Salazar said Wednesday. ``Lots of exiles are crying inside. I think [the concert] got us closer -- the Cubans in Miami and the Cubans on the island.'

Among those supporting the show, 51 percent said it was because the concert ``uplifted Cuban people.' People with an unfavorable opinion gave reasons such as ``Concert helped the Cuban government,' ``will change nothing,' or ``Cuba needs liberty, not peace.'

Regardless of their stance, the concert aroused enormous interest. Seventy-three percent of respondents watched the event, which was covered live by four Miami TV stations. Interest was highest among older exiles: More than 75 percent of respondents 50 or older watched.

``They were not interested in rock, they were interested in the politics,' Bendixen said. ``Despite their resentments, most of them concluded the concert uplifted the Cuban people.'

Miami Herald staff writer Andrea Torres contributed to this report.

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