Cuba rocks to huge peace concert

Havana has hosted the biggest open-air concert since the 1959 revolution, featuring some 15 top Latin American, Spanish and Cuban performers.

An estimated one million people – many wearing white – attended the free event in Revolution Square, Havana.

Colombian singer Juanes, who organised the Peace without Borders concert, received death threats from Miami-based critics of the Cuban regime.

But he had the support from 20 high-profile jailed dissidents inside Cuba.

The BBC’s Michael Voss, who was at the five-and-a-half hour concert, said there was a mood of excitement as many residents of the isolated, music-loving island had never seen anything like it before.

Michael Voss
Michael Voss, BBC News, Revolution Square
It’s absolutely packed here. There’s never been a free open-air concert like it ever before.

When Pope Jean Paul II celebrated his historic Mass in this same place just over 10 years ago, there were about 250,000 people here. We estimate there is double that number here now.

This is the centre of power here in Cuba. Normally when I come here, it is to cover the big May Day parades and there are red flags everywhere.

Now, everyone is wearing white. There are white flags, white shirts. That’s the message – Peace without Borders.

He said people had travelled from across the island to attend.

But our reporter said heat was a problem, with many people being carried away on stretchers after fainting.

“We are here for the music and it is a message of peace and unity, not only for Cuba, but for the entire region,” said Latin Grammy winner Juanes.

Among the other artists taking part on Sunday were Spain’s Miguel Bose, Olga Tanon from Puerto Rico, the Cuban performers Silvio Rodriguez and Los Van Van.

“Together, we are going to make history,” said Tanon, as she opened the concert with the love song, Es Mentiroso Ese Hombre (That Man is a Liar).

“It was really complicated to get here but I just couldn’t miss it,” a Havana resident, Maria Antonia, who was in a wheelchair, told BBC Mundo.

“We are going to stay as long as we have the strength,” Cristina Rodriguez, a 43-year-old nurse who came with her teenage son, Felix, told AP.


While critics have complained that Juanes is endorsing the island’s communist system, the dissidents say the concert is an opportunity for reconciliation.

Woman dancing

Juanes said the show was about peace and tolerance, not politics, telling the audience that “the important thing is to swap hate for love”.

But at the end of the show, he caused some surprise by shouting “Cuba libre!” (Free Cuba!) and “One Cuban family”, slogans associated with the Cuban exile community.

In Miami, where the concert was broadcast by Spanish language TV stations, there were protests among some Cuban-Americans, with one group crushing Juanes CDs using a small steamroller.

“There has been a lot of blood spilled in Cuba and people executed by firing squad,” said 77-year-old Hernan Gonzalez, who said he spent six years in a Cuban prison for his opposition to Fidel Castro in the 1960s.

“He [Juanes] is singing over dead bodies.”

Ninoska Perez, spokeswoman for the Cuban Liberty Council, told BBC Mundo: “It’s a farce… that overlooks Cuban reality by conveniently describing it as ‘an apolitical concert’.”

The location of the Havana concert was highly symbolic.

The headquarters of the communist party is in Revolution Square, along with a giant metal sculpture of Che Guevara’s head.

The square was used by Fidel Castro to give five-hour speeches, and is also where Pope John Paul II celebrate a historic open air Mass in 1998.

Speaking in an interview broadcast on Sunday, US President Barack Obama said he understood Juanes to be a “terrific musician”, but he was cautious about the impact of the concert.

“I certainly don’t think it hurts US-Cuban relations,” he said.

“These kinds of cultural exchanges – I wouldn’t overstate the degree that it helps.”


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