THE BLOG

The Storming of the Versailles

Fear not, for this will probably be the final entry on the subject, but I just couldn't resist one last time.

Yesterday at 2:00pm on the button, Olga Tañon of Puerto Rico, Miguel Bosé of Spain, and the Colombian Juanes walked arm in arm to the front of the stage and while the rest of the artists stood at close distance behind them, Juanes handed a sheet of paper over to Olga and asked her to be the voice of the communiqué they had decided to send out to all those present. The text of the message was an attempt at explaining why they were all there, what their objective was and how they wanted to be perceived as artists; a peaceful group of individuals searching for and promoting peace where ever they could.

After that interlude the concert officially took off with Olga Tañon and the roar of close to 600,000 gathered at Revolution Square in Havana.

The crowd sang and danced along with the music of merengue that Olga has made her own for many years now. It then calmed down a bit to the tune of a mellower Victor Manuel, also from Spain, and then the fire went up again during X Alfonso the Cuban singer/songwriter/film maker and his homage to both Michael Jackson -- with a choir of over 70 children singing in the background to his version of "Black or White" -- and his own personal take on the concept of the Cuban Revolution with the song ... Well, can't you guess? "Revolution." The crowd was mainly made up of twenty-something and thirty-something men and women with a good pinch of teenagers and some not so teeny and more mature. They were somehow surviving under the mid-afternoon heat, which is still reaching in the record 90's.

Simultaneously, across the Caribbean Sea, another concert was also taking place, this one under the heading of "Colombians with Cuba." At the Bolivar Plaza in Bogotá, and with the auspice of the mayor of the Colombian capital, a group of artists gathered for approximately two hours and performed in support of the event in La Habana. In Puerto Rico, another concert kicked off at the same time under the heading of "Puerto Rico sends Cuba a hug" with an artist roster worthy of another Paz sin Fronteras.

These two gestures of solidarity and support proved that the initiative launched by Juanes a year ago to promote concerts in places where peace is a distant vision is working. Sustained by him and Miguel Bosé, together with Olga Tañón, on this particular trip to Cuba it is earning them the respect and confidence of many in the region. It also has shown another side of the same coin. Once again Miami is visibly divided on the issue of Cuba. This time though, the balance is even more dramatic than ten years ago during the infamous Elian saga.

At the same time that Havana, Bogotá and the town of Juana Diaz were holding musical events, Eighth Street in Miami was holding the weight of a steam roller. One would wonder what on earth a steam roller would be doing on a Sunday in Dade County unless some weird, untimely road paving were in order. To get a response, well, ask Vigilia Mambisa. The members of this group are the same individuals who destroyed blank cd's with sledge hammers a few weeks ago. And in keeping with their modus operandi (one must give them credit for consistency) they took it upon themselves to (rent?) a steam roller and run over blank cd's with Juanes´ name scribbled on them. Didn't end there, though, and it gets better.

After the steam rolling, a group of Vigilia Mambisa gathered in front of the notorious Restaurant Versailles to protest the concert, news from the wires mention approximately 200 people present at this protest. Cubans in exile exercising their right to oppose. Something that is commendable.

At the end of the concert, close to 7:30pm Havana time, another group of Cubans in exile went over to Versailles and decided to also exercise their rights. Younger Cubans, with larger flags and in greater numbers (over 400) showed Miami that the moment has come to accept a time for change. Versailles had once been the battle ground from whence numerous protests occurred on any and many issues but always in favor of those opposing the government of Cuba of the past 50 years. It is still notorious as being the place where Vigilia Mambisa gathers to basically assail anyone who opposes their ideas.

Yesterday, shortly after Juanes and Miguel Bosé called for change and described Cuba as "an island in the middle of the sea called liberty" younger Cubans took to the streets of Miami and made an old one-time fortress of intolerance theirs. As Juanes said last night nearing the end of the event. "All Cubans together! The Cuban family is one" and like any family, we may not always agree on everything but we have to try. Yesterday's attempt by Juanes and his friends, which are now all of ours, is indeed a step towards the future. It won't change the political process on the island and it won't change US policy towards Cuba, at least not yet. It is though, serving to show that amongst Cubans we can and must try to get along and change for the good of peace, justice and tolerance and by the way, at the end of the concert, there were over 1 million people as proof.