His real name is Juan Esteban Aristizábal, but he’s better known by legions of Latino pop-rock fans as “Juanes.” Originally from Colombia, the successful entertainer has called Miami home for the last seven years.
And it’s in Miami where he’s sparked a polemic debate about art, music, and politics.
Juanes recently announced that he’d be playing a concert in the name of peace. The concert is set to take place in Havana on September 20.
Such events have always been a sore spot among Miami’s Cuban exile community, who fled the island’s totalitarian dictatorship. True to form, Juanes has been denounced on local TV and radio for his participation in what most Cuban-Americans see as an exercise in pro-dictatorship propaganda. For his part, Juanes claims to be apolitical — despite making on-the-record remarks praising Fidel Castro.
Nobody debates the artist’s right to go to Cuba and perform for Cubans, and I don’t begrudge the Cuban people who would enjoy such a concert, but Juanes has to be very naïve or very cynical to claim that such a performance is not an endorsement of the longest-running and most cruel dictatorship in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
Juanes insists that the idea for the concert was his and that he was not invited by the Castro regime — a claim that is not believable on its face. The planned concert smacks of pre-calculated political theater. In a Stalinist dictatorship like Cuba, there is no private space for musicians to perform. And certainly no private function is going to take place in Havana’s “Plaza of the Revolution,” where the concert is planned. The very name of the venue and its history as a gathering place for Fidel’s compulsory anti-American harangues nullifies Juanes’ claims of political neutrality.
Simply stated, no foreign artist (or Cuban for that matter) gets permission to play such a concert in Cuba without the approval of the regime. It is by a definition a mutual endorsement.
In the past, musicians have used their high profiles to advocate for peace, human rights, and against dictatorships, and in almost every case the dictatorships they protested were of the right-wing variety. I find it hard to believe that Juanes would play such a “peace concert” for Augusto Pinochet in Chile or for the white Afrikaner government of South Africa if either was in power today.