Juanes and his concert

August 15, 2009

Carlos Saladrigas, El Nuevo Herald

It appears that hardline elements inside the Castro regime notified the international media that the singer and songwriter Juanes was planning a concert in Cuba. Obstinate elements within the regime, as well as those abroad, don’t want this concert to take place. Allowing it challenges the isolation of Cuba, an isolation that many sectors in exile are indirectly contributing to maintain.

As happened during the visit of Pope John Paul II, and in other similar occasions, when the oppressed Cuban people are presented with a small window to the outside world, we are quick to judge from the comforts of exile and rapidly close the door to limited opportunities for openness.

I experienced this during the visit of the Pope. I was one of the voices that advocated for the cancellation of the cruise ship that was planning to take thousands of church members from Miami to Cuba, and we succeeded. After watching those days of relative openness in Cuba, during the visit by the Pope, I deeply regretted my opposition. We should not make the same mistake again.

I am not aware of Juanes’ intentions in planning this concert in Cuba. It is possible that he is only looking for fame and publicity, but he could also have the best of intentions, seeking some openness for Cubans and taking a message of love, reconciliation and solidarity to the Cuban people. We don’t know what he plans to sing, but he has in his repertoire a number of songs that carry a strong message of freedom, solidarity, and hope. From his trajectory we know that he is a defender of peace and that his music is loved and appreciated by youth around the world. It is precisely because he attracts the interest of Cuban youth, which has so few opportunities to experience the outside world, that this concert in Cuba is so important and offers so many possibilities.

Instead of slamming the door at his face, we should ask Juanes to send the Cuban people a message of hope from their brothers in exile. We can ask him not to accept any restrictions from the regime about what he will say or sing. We can ask him to send our people a warm embrace from the many Cuban artists in exile, whose return to the island his banned by the government.

It is also possible that the Cuban government is waiting for what has always been its safe formula: to let exile organizations do its dirty work. If Juanes were to cancel this concert for fear of the pressure from the exile organizations, the regime would be victorious by characterizing the exiles as intolerant and obstinate, and as a bonus, they would eliminate the risk posed by the concert. In fact, even if exile organizations acted with caution, it may even be possible that the government itself would cancel the concert, with the political price that it would entail.

Let’s not forget that almost all European transitions were preceded by numerous cultural and artistic exchanges. Spaces of openness like the one proposed by Juanes contribute to the fracture of totalitarian and repressive structures. The big lesson is that these transitions take place on step at a time. If we learn to take advantage of the spaces that decadent regimes increasingly offer, maybe we could help accelerate the necessary and inevitable transition.

Carlos Saladrigas is co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group.

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8/15/09 Current Record