Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Go, Juanes, go

The Colombian singer Juanes is moving ahead with his plans for a September 20 concert where he and other international artists will perform in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion.

In the process, he is making the rounds in Miami and colliding with the opinion that since politics pervades everything in Cuba, he is engaging in politics merely by going to Cuba – and if he doesn’t say certain things and conduct himself in a certain way, the entire enterprise will be immoral.

I hope Juanes’ headache wears off by September 19.

His concert won’t change the world, much less Cuba, but it has the makings of a great success, and thousands of Cubans will love it.

It’s a concert for peace, pure and simple, he says – a repeat of a “Peace Without Borders” concert he held on the Venezuela-Colombian border last year. His representative, Fernan Martinez, has said that the concert will be “completely apolitical, there will not be mentions of politics in favor of or against any government.”

Interviewed on Univision last night (story and video excerpt here), he spoke very much as an artist, not a politician. But he also expressed a faith that his idea of a concert in Havana is not only deeply right, but meaningful in a way that approaches the boundary of politics: “To go play in Cuba is sort of impossible…to go to Cuba is a symbol that it is time to change minds…I want to go to Cuba with my friends to tell the world from Cuba that people need to change.” As for the concert location, he sees it as neutral and open – when his interviewer noted that there’s an image of Che Guevara there, he countered that Pope John Paul II celebrated an important mass in that plaza, and that there’s also a monument to Jose Marti.

Juanes’ initiative is drawing a reaction in Miami. “When talking about Cuba, one can’t ignore politics,” Cuban American star Willie Chirino said on the same Univision program. And he’s got a point – Juanes’ claim that he’s not involved in politics, but he wants to change the world, is a little hard to grasp, even though it’s the kind of thing that artists say all the time.

Critics are right to point out that in Cuba, there are no private concert venues or promoters, so an event like this has to be approved by the government. Since it’s a government venue, there’s the possibility that a government official may appear on stage and make a speech. And there are those who are mystified about a concert for peace in Cuba, when Cuba is not at war. They’ve got a point too.

Some say Juanes shouldn’t go at all, and his concert will be immoral if he doesn’t bring Cuban American artists and use his platform to criticize the Cuban government’s human rights record. The event will be “shameless, thoughtless and heartless,” one Joe Cardona wrote in the Miami Herald, “one more tacit legitimization of the hemisphere’s most oppressive 50-year-old dictatorship.” Agence France-Presse interviewed two activists and proclaimed that Miami is “on a war footing.” Oh boy.

The Obama Administration seems to be supporting the concert. A State Department spokesman told El Nuevo Herald last week, “We are not officially supporting the concert, but the State Department is in favor of these kinds of cultural exchanges to the extent that they increase understanding between peoples…We fully respect Juanes and we wish him much good luck in his project.”

I cast my vote with Juanes.

My guess is that blogger Yoani Sanchez’ opinion – that the concert conditions may not be ideal but “Juanes should come and sing” nonetheless – will be that of the vast majority of Cubans. Her comments are here in English and in Spanish.

The worst-case scenario, I suppose, is that a Cuban official would make a speech, or an announcer would deliver a political message from the stage. If that happens, the thousands of Cuban kids of all ages in the plaza will either listen, or they will do what they often do, which is to zone out while they wait for the music to begin.

Surely, they will be there for the music. And if they find out that some opposed the concert because it didn’t include the right political message, then they will get the idea that the ideological rigidity that smothers all kinds of beneficial creativity, expression, and enterprise – not to mention just plain fun – is alive and well, not only in the buildings surrounding the Plaza de la Revolucion.

21 comments:

David C said...

Nicely summarized. Thanks Phil as usual for pulling all these strings together.

Anonymous said...

what infuriates people most is not so much the concert but the outrageous hypocrisy demonstrated by the high-minded who so vehemently supported the entertainment boycott of South Africa yet turn around and praise someone for traveling to Cuba. If Peters arguments are good enough for Cuba why weren't they good enough for South Africa?

chingon

leftside said...

Chingon, in South Africa it was the mass organizations of that country who requested the artistic boycott. When Ray Charles went anyhow, the people and organizations were so united and strong that only 30 people showed up for his concert in Soweto (and Charles was stoned). For some reason, I don't quite see the same grassroots (let alone mass) opposition to artists coming to Cuba. The opposition only exists in Miami.

Anonymous said...

Leftside, why have you not answered my questions?

NLNR

Anonymous said...

"For some reason" you don't quite see the opposition to artists coming to Cuba. gee, leftside, why do you think that might be?

chingon

Anonymous said...

Could someone explain cui bono for Juanes? Please spare the artistic issues, what benefit can accrue to Juanes from performing in Cuba? Obviously increasing sales in the Cuban market can not be the reason.

Vecino de NF

leftside said...

Chingon, we'll be waiting for you to tell us all about a group in Cuba opposed to the Juanes concert.

Vecino, no its not about CD sales, or personal benefits for Juanes. Reading his tweets in recent days, to me it seems like it is simply about doing something for the young people of Cuba and just doing something out of the ordinary in the name of peace and the power of music... but I agree with Peters that he could work on explaining himself a bit better.

leftside said...

NRNL, since you are so insistent, I will attempt to answer your very complex questions one by one:

1) Why is there no freedom of the press?

First off, press freedom is a concept that simply means private ownership of the press to most people. Cuba does not accept the idea of powerful individualistic forces owning the communication channels. Their pre- and post-Revolutionary experience taught the Cuban people all they needed to know about the private press. Yet, the Revolution did very little to ever close private media. Most private media just folded their tents, went to Miami or closed after declining readership. The outlets that remained did not allow their journalists and editors to have freedom to write what they wanted. So journalists took it upon themselves to add disclaimers to positions and editorials they disagreed with. Management would not allow this and various workplace struggles and skirmishes ensued – journalists became radicalized. The journalists and workers eventually took control of the important outlets, electing new management and creating new organizations. These new journalistic organizations – completely democratic and transparent - created new ways of doing journalism. Out was the old reliance on crime pieces, gossip, celebrity, sensationalism, etc. In was a journalism that sought a higher purpose – to improve the country, to reflect its diverse realities, to take a preferential attitude to the poor and disenfranchised, etc. The country quickly found itself under attack by the US and Cuban journalists quickly adopted a patriotic angle.

I would argue that, in some ways, they went too far in Cuba and mistakes were made. I would also argue that this idea of Castro coming in and closing up and gagging media was far from the truth. Furthermore, the idea that there is no criticism of the Government in the Cuban media has been shown to be false, these last few years in particular. Should there be more criticism – I think so. Should a private oppositional press be allowed to flourish at a time when the country remains under the cross hairs of a mortal enemy 90 miles away? I don’t know. If I saw more evidence that an elite-owned press could be responsible, I might have fewer reservations. Unfortunately, I have watched the way the private press has behaved in places like Venezuela, Bolivia or Honduras – actively supporting coups and separatism and showing absolutely no regard for the basic journalistic concepts like facts, truth or ethics. I want to be hopeful. But a press reliant on corporate advertising and pleasing the elites of society will always be biased against the interests of the majority. The largest censor in history is the market. The poor have little chance to have their perspective heard in a “free marketplace” where money means everything.

brianmack said...

Phil, I totally love this blog. I read it daily and miss the weekends (I know you take a break then.) Here's my spin on this. First of all, the regime in power is disgraceful! Most of us know that.
They are also incompetent and bitter.
O-K so why am I a supporter of this concert? It's Yoani Sanchez! She
is living and breathing the tyrants who run Cuba and if she endorses this, I also think it's a grand idea! Peace to those who stayed!

Anonymous said...

Leftside, your explanation is warped, at best. answer the question simply and directly. yes or no.

do you believe that in cuba there should be,

1. freedom of the press?
2. alternative political parties?
3. freedom of assembly?
4. freedom of movement?
5. a vote on whether to maintain the current socio-political system or not?

NLNR

Anonymous said...

NLNR

those five talking points are all something worthy to achieve, but of course what's ignored is more important that what is made to appear relevant.

do you believe in cuba there should be:

1. A foreign power supporting terrorism against innocents
2. A foreign power blockading a sovereign nation and forcing companies in other countries to do the same
3. A foreign government making it policy how another country should conduct its social/political system, to the point of demanding who can and can not be a part of that system.
4. A foreign government that tortures and imprisons with no due process of law on the territory of another, without permission
5. Placing a country under siege where there is no chance to breath or explore the possibilities of those five points you make, a policy that has been acknowledged and accepted as strategy by the United States of America.

Let me know how any country would have reacted to those aggressions of such a powerful nation. Unless you just want to ignore the impact of American policy against Cuba, as most right wingers try to do.

In a besieged castle all dissent is treason.

End american aggression and let Cuba attempt to move towards your five points, under their terms, not under the point of a gun.

Anonymous said...

vecino can't imagine anything other than profit, assume you're all against single payer health care as well.

Anonymous said...

NLNR

do you honest believe there is free press in mainstream american media? don't be so naive
cuba controls the press to tell how great socialism is and everyone sees through it
american press tells the public how wonderful it is to enter an illegal war, kill hundreds of thousands, over nothing but lies.
and people don't see through it until its too late, and then the press says it wasn't our fault.
which propaganda system is more effective?

Anonymous said...

on Planet Leftside, there is no double standard between the international treatment of South Africa and Cuba.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous August 13, 2009 11:54 AM,

You said "vecino can't imagine anything other than profit, assume you're all against single payer health care as well."

Thank you for letting me know the limits of my own imagination. It is always better to find things like that about oneself from casual observers. But just to befuddle you let me pose a few motives for Juanes' concert in Havana:

1) Security. Being known as a friend of Castro's government (sorry I should have said Cuba in the left vernacular!) provides one with certain immunity from leftist organizations that may engage in kidnappings, etc, and warns similarly oriented rightists organizations that their actions may have consequences.

2) Reaching out to the socially aware demographics. Not knowing much about which market Juanes' music sell in I would venture a guess that it involves lots of women and maybe some men that find him oh so cute! Broadening your audience to the socially committed would bring additional sales. Maybe he already has that market but maybe not...

3) Publicity. Not knowing his appeal on a day to day basis, but knowing how a crossover story can energize interest in his output it is safe to assume such a concert would make his name more known. As a matter of fact, even I am talking about him and don't know his music from the sound of rain drops falling on my head ... wait I do know that song.

Profit is another word for surplus and even Karl Marx believed in that. As a matter of fact all he could talk was surplus this, surplus that ... ;-)

As far as single payer health system, well I go back to the ancient Roman phrase cui bono? What says you?

Vecino de NF

Anonymous said...

What is curious is why Leftside won't answer the simple questions I pose. I know it is easier to diver attention to the ills and malevolence of the US and its policies directed to Cuba. But I ask very simple questions and Leftside cannot answer without psycho babble.

If you refuse to answer those very simple questions, just say so. Come on!

NLNR

Anonymous said...

oye NLNR, speaking truth, ,and you say its diver(t). The point is cause and effect, historically weak, small countries revert to policies that are deemed to be restrictive when national security threatened. The USA has done it throughout its history, including 9/11. every country curtails civil rights under war or national security threat.
the point is cuba will never be able to move towards your five points, (whether they want to or not is immaterial) until my five points are address. The are mutually inclusive, you can not have one without the removal of the other.
your questions are simple, the answers are much more complex, and until you recognize that your questions have no meaning. recognize the position of the strong over the weak and understand what the USA has done to Cuba since the first days of the revolution. and if the USA was doing it to another country it would be just as criminal. (and illegal invasions rise to the level of war crimes)
if you want to call usa policies a diversion or immaterial go right ahead. but don't expect to be taken more than just superficially.

Anonymous said...

in short, the Devil (US) made Castro do it. thanks anon.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous August 14, 2009 10:31 AM,

Not the Devil but the Great Satan! Let's get with the times, OK! ;-)

Vecino de NF

Anonymous said...

and those who believe that US policies have had no affect, i'd like to thank you all for continuing to live in the 15th century. keep up the good work, those sales of your special blinkers must be hot items.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous August 16, 2009 7:51 PM,

Could you please explain the 15th century reference? (Cuba and the USA were in prehistoric conditions in the 15th century,i.e. pre-literate societies).

Vecino de NF