Monday, September 21, 2009
There was so much fuzz for such a long time about Sunday’s concert in Havana that when it finally happened, all my expectations had slowly died out. But no matter how big my expectations were, the concert certainly surpassed them.
Seeing pictures of the huge one million strong crowd flocking the Plaza de la Revolución left me speechless and made me think. Perhaps, Juanes’ idea of performing in the least free country in the Americas was not as bad as I had originally thought. Perhaps, all those Cubans living in the United States who were destroying Juanes’ CDs at the time of the concert were making a big show about nothing. Perhaps the concert had no political meaning whatever and was simply that, a concert before a people that has music engrained in its DNA.
Perhaps. But of course, none of those things are entirely true. Any concert in Havana does have some political meaning (a bad one, usually), which means that those Cubans in America had a point, and that the concert in itself was never a great idea.
One of the last communist dictatorships in existence, the Cuban regime is the most heinous, abusive, freedom hating government in this hemisphere. The gerontocracy that has ruled the island for the last half century still has around 250 political prisoners who have been charged with “dissidence”, which means not buying into the Castros baloney. Elections (would that be an appropriate term?) for the Cuban National Assembly tend to have a number of candidates running for the same number of seats –maybe that is how communism makes sure that nobody is left behind. All candidates must be affiliated with the Cuban Communist Party, for all other political associations and groups are forbidden in the island. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on each other, and anyone who is suspected of opposing the government can be harassed and intimidated by official groups. Freedom of the press is nonexistent. There is no independent judiciary, or anything similar to the rule of law. Whatever the Party says, goes, all in the name of equality.
And of course, Cuba also has five decades of failed Marxist economics. You can go ahead and blame Cuba’s poverty on the US embargo, but no observer can deny that communism has a big share of the responsibility for the dire state of the island’s economy. No matter how much oil Venezuela shares with Cuba, or how many yuan China invests there, a nation that has no space for individual entrepreneurship or private property will never produce wealth for its people.
And if you think that life under communism cannot be that bad, that Cuba is a champion in education, health care and other social issues, just sit down for a minute and ask yourself why so many Cubans risk their lives (facing sharks, dehydration, bad weather, the US coast guard…) every year to cross the 90 miles that separate them from America. A doctor gets paid around 15 dollars a month –and that is one of the highest salaries available, bar the politicians’. Many professional women who work important jobs in the day are pushed into prostitution at night just to make ends meet. So much for a place meant to be the paradise of social justice.
Who is to blame for all this? Fidel, Raúl, and their minions, no doubt, a group of murderers and criminals disguised as statesmen. Marxism is to blame. La Revolución, which has brought nothing but oppression and poverty, is to blame.
So, forgive me if I do not wholeheartedly support Juanes’ idea to sing at the square that is named after that same revolution, in front of the huge Che Guevara portrait, and in the same place where Fidel Castro has rambled on for many, many hours. The place is just too filled with symbolism, and with celebration of the nasty Cuban regime –any event that occurs there is bound to have political echoes. Can one perform in such a location without sympathizing, at least in part, with what the place stands for? Would one perform in such a location if one despised what the place stands for? I bet Juanes, or any other decent artist, would have felt slightly uncomfortable performing in Stalin’s Moscow or in Hitler’s Berlin back in the day. Why was it not the same with the Castros’ Havana?
So yes, the concert was a huge success. It brought happiness to millions of Cubans and to more outside of the island. But if anything, the fact that one million people attended the concert shows how many Cubans crave to be in contact with the outside world, with its celebrities, with its music, with show business in general. That so many people showed up to a concert without precedent in that country, also underscores how isolated that Cuba is. During his performance, Juanes talked about “peace” and “the end of all barriers”. Perhaps, then, he should have thought twice about singing at the one place that celebrates the very people that have spent their lives building so many barriers around the Cuban people.
This article appeared first in Colombia Reports.