Many Cubans say it's a desperate attempt by a government losing its grasp on the hearts of its people, a government that this week finally began to show its inevitable human vulnerability when one of its aging, beloved leaders died. "> Many Cubans say it's a desperate attempt by a government losing its grasp on the hearts of its people, a government that this week finally began to show its inevitable human vulnerability when one of its aging, beloved leaders died. ">

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Shirtless men are hard at work under an unforgiving sun this week, hammering away at the stage that on Sunday will hold an unprecedented concert with some of Latin music's biggest stars.

But to many people here in Cuba, the concert for peace, organized by Colombian rocker Juanes, is much more than an afternoon of music and good times.

The death of revolutionary hero Juan Almeida, some people say, underscored that the visit by a Colombian superstar does not change Cuba's stark reality: It's a nation run by men who are approaching the age of 80, or who have already passed it.

"You better come early," said a worker who was checking the Sunday afternoon temperature. "By noon Sunday, there won't be room here for one single more Cuban."

The concert, featuring 15 acts from six countries, was immediately controversial in South Florida, with some conservative Cubans criticizing everything from lineup to location. The concert, which will be shown live on Univisió starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, will be held at the Plaza of the Revolution, which plays host to mass government rallies. An enormous silhouette of Ernesto "Che" Guevara looms overhead.


Most Cubans interviewed, some speaking in hushed tones and looking over their shoulders, had little good to say about the planned event.

"I am not going to that concert because I do not like to be used," said Martin, a Havana man in his 40s who lives with his aging parents. "In this country, they can buy people with a drink and a song. That's not a concert; it's a political event. They couldn't have held it in a stadium? Why there? Why such a place with so much meaning here?"

Added Martha, a small business owner: "Why did they have to invite Silvio Rodríguez? There are plenty of less political artists they could have invited." Rodríguez and Los Van Van, also scheduled to perform, are longtime supporters of the Castro regime.

Still, many Cubans weren't focused on the concert. The newspapers have yet to mention it this week. What's on people's minds and the paper's front pages is the death of Almeida, a widely respected commander of the revolution, the only Afro-Cuban to have held such a high position alongside the Castro brothers.

"That wasn't just a death, it was a death that symbolized much, much more," said Beatriz, an artist. "Now people are saying, `Here comes the domino effect. Who is going to be the next victim?' "

With Cuba's senior leaders in their late-70s or 80s, some here lamented a lack of youth at the top.

"We need young people with new ideas," said Alex, a 29-year-old bicycle taxi driver from the eastern provinces. "I am not saying get rid of Raúl; he can stay. I'm saying there is no reason for this country to be in the condition it is in. We need young people with new ideas. The only young guy we had who was educated and prepared and trained got passed up for the president's job. Who got the job? An old man who knows nothing about nothing except the military. He is 70-whatever years old, and his brother is 80-I-don't-know-how-much. What is that? That is crazy.

"So what do they do? They hold a big concert that's going to be a political event. There will be rows and rows of neatly arranged chairs with the military people up front, the young communist people behind them, and people from the party behind them. Behind all of them, way in the back, in the street, will be the Cuban people. They will eventually go home because they can hear Juanes from three blocks away. I might as well watch it on TV."

But he acknowledged many probably will attend the concert if for no other reason than because there is almost nothing else to do here on a Sunday afternoon, and Cubans may never again get a chance to see such stars live.


Alex wonders, though, how the government plans to control a crowd of so many people, which is why he thinks it will be a tightly orchestrated event -- not the freewheeling public concert it has been portrayed to be.

"A lot of people in Miami are criticizing that event, and they are right. They always mix politics with culture in this country," he said. "There won't even be any dancing. People will be clapping like if they were in a restaurant."

Beatriz, the artist, agreed.

"A lot of people will be there because there are people who are in charge of making sure it is full. There will be meetings held on Saturday, where groups of people will be told, `Your job is to arrive at X time and stay for X hours.' You will see all of the Juventud Party people there. You won't see me there. I'm not saying this because I am 50 years old; I'm sure young people will say this, too.

"With all the necessities we have here, what do we care about a concert? We care about what we are going to eat today because we don't know what we are going to eat today, much less tomorrow. You care about what shoes your kids are going to wear. In the Cuban context, we don't care that much about Juanes, or Jesus Christ if he were a rocker and came to Cuba to sing.

"Maybe if it were Sting I would go, although transportation here is really bad and I don't know how I would get there. I guess if it were Sting, I would walk. Juanes, I can hear on the radio."

Source: Miami Herald

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