Colombian whips up a storm with Cuban gig

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The Independent US

Tens of thousands of Cubans flocked to Havana's sprawling Revolution Plaza yesterday for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a Colombian rock star at a huge open-air peace concert .

Juanes, who has won 17 Latin Grammy awards and is known for his social activism, has been criticised by some Cuban-Americans who said the performance gave support to the island's communist government.

Around half a million people attended the four-hour concert under a broiling afternoon sun – double the number that turned up for Pope John Paul II's tour – making it the biggest visit ever by an outsider.

But the excitement did not extend to some across the Florida Straits, where Juanes – real name Juan Esteban Aristizabal – lives in Key Biscayne. He has endured death threats, CD smashing protests and boycotts since his decision to hold the Peace Without Borders concert in Havana. Florida police watched over his home and that of his manager.

But the criticism from Florida is far from universal. Spanish-language stations geared up for coverage, and several exile groups voiced support, describing the event as a rare chance for Cubans to get a glimpse of the outside world.

Some Cuban officials have used the event as an opportunity to deride US foreign policy toward Cuba, and the 47-year trade embargo in particular. But Juanes has insisted the concert is about music, not politics.

Juanes has also won the support of the White House. He recently met the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the concert even prompted comment from President Barack Obama, who said in an interview with Spanish-language Univision network yesterday: "He's a terrific musician. I certainly don't think it hurts US-Cuban relations. I wouldn't overstate the degree that it helps."