The New York Times reports that hundreds of thousands of Cubans attended Juanes’s “Concert for Peace” at the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana yesterday afternoon, with estimates of attendance reaching as high as 1.15 million people. The event, organized by the Colombian singer, had been angrily criticized by some Cuban-Americans on the grounds that Juanes and the other performers joining him yesterday were lending their support to the island’s Communist government.
Puerto Rican singer Olga Tañón opened the concert with a loud shout-out to the crowd, standing packed together under a broiling Havana sun. “Together, we are going to make history,” she said, as the plaza erupted in cheers.
Juanes came on stage three hours into the show, gazing out at the multitudes in evident disbelief. He said the concert was “the most beautiful dream of peace and love. We came to Cuba for love. We have overcome fear to be with you and we hope that you too can overcome it,” Juanes said. “All the young people in the region, from Miami in the United States and in all the cities … should understand the importance of turning hate into love.”
Crowds had started gathering overnight. On Havana’s seaside Malecón boulevard, thousands of partygoers gathered before dawn, drinking, singing and staring out at the moonlit sea. Nearly all said they planned to attend the show. The Cuban government had provided a fleet of buses to bring people to the event, as well as ambulances to treat people suffering from heat exhaustion as they stood for countless hours in the hot sun. “We are going to stay as long as we have the strength,” said Cristina Rodríguez, a 43-year-old nurse accompanied by her teenage son, Felix. They and thousands of others had arrived hours before the concert to get a good spot, ignoring government warnings not to turn up until noon. “We’ve been here since three in the morning waiting for everyone, waiting for Juanes and for Olga Tañón,” said Luisa María Canales, an 18-year-old engineering student. “I’m a little tired, but I am more excited.”
News of the concert had led to death threats against Juanes and his manager, Fernán Martínez Maecha, in Florida, where the singer lives, and the police in Key Biscayne is still monitoring their homes. Opponents organized CD-smashing protests and boycotts since the announcement was made. The concert, however, was widely covered by all Spanish-language stations in the United States, some of which broadcast portions of the concert yesterday. For Juanes, the concert was “one more grain of sand for improving relations through art,” as he said upon arriving in Havana late Friday.
Juanes recently met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. President Obama, speaking to the Spanish-language Univision network, commented that that the event probably would not have much effect on United States-Cuba relations. “My understanding is that he’s a terrific musician. He puts on a very good concert. I certainly don’t think it hurts U.S.-Cuban relations. These kinds of cultural exchanges — I wouldn’t overstate the degree that it helps.”
For the complete report go to http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/21/world/americas/21cuba.html
The photo above, by Ismael Francisco for Prensa Latina/AP, appeared in the Times article above.