After watching the much talked-about Juanes concert on Sunday, I was left with a feeling that something transcendental had taken place.

Almost 10 percent of Cuba's population showed up -- about 30 percent of Cuba's youth. Considering the lack of available transportation, it became clear the Cuban people voted with their feet.

For a people used to speaking in code, things were said that, except during the Pope's visit, have never been said in Cuba in a public forum. The joy in their faces said it all, in sharp contrast to the taciturn faces normally seen during the interminable political gatherings of the past.

Meanwhile in Miami, at the Versailles Restaurant, Miguel Saavedra and his Vigilia Mambisa had a steamroller crush dozens of blank CDs in yet another of their usual, but detestable, demonstrations largely aimed at intimidating dissenters from the hard line of exile politics. Unexpectedly, a spontaneous gathering of young people, fed up with a 50-year-old failed policy, outnumbered them, and gave Saavedra a dose of his own medicine. A recent poll showed that the vast majority of Cuban Americans believe his actions severely damage the hard-earned image of our community.

There are many messages in the tea leaves of the concert. For hardliners in the Cuban government, the message is clear. The immense crowd wanted a moment of fun and relaxation, but, in a way, they were also there for a silent protest against a system that has wrought fear, poverty, hatred, bitterness, division and hopelessness. A desire for change was in the air.

Interestingly, tensions during the negotiations and words spoken by literally all of the Cuban performers gave us a glimpse of the debates and tensions that exist within the Cuban system. With a sense of déja vu, reminiscent of our own generational divide in Miami, we saw moderate and progressive voices prevail over the forces of inertia.

The tea leaves also portend a wake-up call for the Cuban-American community. After all, the hardliners failed to derail this concert. There are still those who will never change, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling. Although we at the Cuba Study Group have for years been saying that Miami is changing, it took Juanes' courageous and bold initiative to let us see it, feel it and to rid ourselves of the fear to say it that has gripped us for so long.

The massive attendance highlighted the large and growing disconnect between the exiled hardliners and the Cuban people. More Cuban Americans have come to the realization that we cannot afford to continue with failed policies to meet the challenges of the future. We need to engage. It is not reasonable to expect to partake in a new Cuba if we don't partake in the process that creates it.

Juanes showed us the euphoria and effectiveness that comes from tearing down walls. The old policies of hurting the regime with collateral damage to the people need to give way to policies that help the people even when they may provide a collateral benefit to the regime. It needs to be all about the people.

During his visit to Cuba, Pope John Paul II asked the world to open up to Cuba, as he asked Cuba to open up to the world. This man knew that it takes openness -- he lived it. With his visit to Poland he nearly single-handedly brought the whole Soviet bloc to transition.

Juanes echoed his voice. Totalitarianism requires closeness. Fighting it requires openness. It is time to give openness, reconciliation and dialogue the chance they deserve. Let us all stand up to fear; it's time to change.

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Date Title
9/24/09 Current Record