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Huge crowd fills Havana square for peace concert
Sun Sep 20, 2009 9:30pm EDT
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By Jeff Franks
HAVANA (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of people filled Havana's Revolution Square for a "peace" concert on Sunday in which Colombian singer Juanes and other musicians sought to bridge the political divide that has separated Cubans for 50 years.
The concert was shown live on international television, including to viewers in Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community and center of opposition to Cuba's communist-led government.
A small group of exiles, who say Juanes legitimized a government that denies its people basic human rights, staged a protest in Miami's Little Havana against the concert.
Juanes, who organized his "Peace Without Borders" concert in conjunction with the Cuban government, sang "it's time to change" in a song and told the audience "the important thing is to swap hate for love."
He had insisted the show was not political, but raised eyebrows at the end of the concert when he shouted "one Cuban family" for Cuban unity and "Cuba libre," words that have been a rallying cry in the exile community for years.
They prompted immediate speculation on Spanish-language television in Miami, but drew no response from the Cuban government.
Juanes, a 17-time Latin Grammy winner who lives in Miami, was joined on stage by 14 artists from six countries, among them Olga Tanon of the U.S. territory Puerto Rico, Miguel Bose of Spain and Jovanotti of Italy. Cuban salsa kings Los Van Van closed it out.
The huge crowd in attendance, which Juanes said numbered more than 1 million, danced and swayed under a blistering sun that caused many to faint during the five-hour event.
OPENED THE DOOR
Juanes has said he organized the concert because he believes U.S. President Barack Obama has "opened the door" to change by easing the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo and taking other steps to improve U.S.-Cuba relations.
In an interview aired Sunday by Spanish-language network Univision, Obama downplayed the concert's importance, saying "I certainly don't think it hurts U.S.-Cuban relations ... (but) I wouldn't overstate the degree that it helps."
He said he would like to see Cuban leaders respond to his overture by moving away "from some of the anti-democratic practices of the past."
Cuba's government last week chided Obama for not doing more to completely end the U.S. sanctions on Cuba.
In the concert crowd, Hector Pena, who works in tourism, called the show "a success," but shared Obama's skepticism about its ability to change long-bitter U.S.-Cuba relations.
"With or without Juanes, Cuba and the United States are two big noses that will never be able to kiss," he said. Continued...
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UPDATE 3-Huge crowd attends Cuba peace concert
Sunday, 20 Sep 2009 06:53pm EDT
Juanes concert latest front in Havana-Miami row
Friday, 18 Sep 2009 10:55am EDT
PREVIEW-Juanes concert latest front in Havana-Miami row
Friday, 18 Sep 2009 10:49am EDT
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