Cuba: Juanes' Concert in Havana... and Miami
But no less extraordinary than the hundreds of thousands of fans who cheered him in Havana, was the sight of young Cuban exiles in Miami confronting and shouting down a group of exile hardliners who were demonstrating against his performance.
For many, this scene late on Sunday marked a symbolic turning against the diehard Cuban exile politics which in the past has gained Miami an unenviable reputation as a hotbed of violent extremism -- just the kind of image Cuba's communist leaders have always been delighted to bestow on the U.S. city.
Experts say this reflects a generational shift in the Cuban exile community, after years of unflinching anti-communist opposition, toward a more moderate stance more open to U.S. President Barack Obama's outreach policies for Cuba.
"This was a message ... that each time the most radical groups of the historic Cuban exile community are more isolated," said Miami businessman Carlos Saladrigas, who backs the idea of constructive U.S. overtures toward Havana.
As the fans in Havana streamed home from the huge Juanes concert in iconic Revolution Square, mostly younger Cubans in Miami's Little Havana turned out to express their support for him and counter his elderly hardline detractors. Only days before, the 37-year-old U.S.-based Colombian singer had been pilloried by many exiles who said his "Peace Without Borders" show would naively legitimize Cuba's communist government,
In the end, amid scuffles and fistfights that led to some arrests by Miami police, the four hundred or so shouting "Viva Juanes" outnumbered the anti-Juanes group by four to one.
It was not lost on observers that the pro-Juanes group upbraided his opponents outside the Versailles restaurant on Calle Ocho, for years the rallying point of Cuban exile opposition to Fidel Castro and the 1959 revolution he led that brought communism to Cuba -- sending successive waves of islanders fleeing into exile in the United States.
Saladrigas said he believed the Juanes concert had opened the eyes of many exiles to the powerful possibilities of developing more cultural and academic exchanges between the United States and Cuba, in what would be a loosening of the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the island.
"This was a powerful precedent that shows that this kind of cultural interchange is good," Saladrigas said.
MORE CULTURAL EXCHANGES?
For its part, Cuba's state-run media celebrated the Juanes concert, with newspaper Granma running a front page headline "Beautiful Party in the Square", in reference to one of the biggest ever non-political events held there. Granma said Cuba had "scrupulously fulfilled" all its commitments for the event, including a pledge not to manipulate it politically.
Obama, who earlier this year promised a new beginning in long hostile U.S.-Cuban ties, moved in April to relax the embargo by lifting curbs on family travel by Cuban Americans to Cuba and on remittances sent to relatives there.
This won him broad support in Miami, long a hardline bulwark of Republican politics. It also gave heart to moderate Cuban exiles who argue the best way to deal with Cuba's aging communist leadership -- President Raul Castro, 78, last year replaced his ailing brother Fidel, 83 -- is to pressure them with increased "people to people" contacts, not isolation.
Obama acknowledged cautiously in an interview on Sunday that cultural exchanges like the Juanes concert "do no harm" to U.S.-Cuban ties. He said Washington did not officially back the event, although U.S. authorities supplied licenses for U.S.-based technicians and equipment to go to Havana for it.
Appearing with Juanes were 14 artists from six countries, among them pop stars Miguel Bose of Spain and Jovanotti of Italy, and Cuban singers.
Several Cuban exile commentators, most of whom had criticized Juanes before the concert, praised the Miami-based musician afterwards.
They said his impromptu references to "one Cuban family" and "Cuba libre (free Cuba)" placed exiles firmly in the Cuba debate and expressed the political divide that separates Cubans more eloquently than many official visitors to the island.
"He did a lot more than we all expected ... we all thank him for his gesture," said Cuban American broadcaster Maria Elvira Salazar, whose Maria Elvira Live political affairs show on Mega TV is one of the most watched in the exile community.
"By saying 'one Cuban family', it was an unequivocal message that he was sending, pro-freedom," Salazar said. Juanes had insisted his concert was non-political.
Salazar said Juanes' public utterances between songs before Cuban and foreign TV cameras had resonated positively with Miami exiles, many of whom are former political prisoners.
"As the hours were progressing, when he finished the concert ... you could see the needle (of exile opinion) turning in favor of Juanes," she said.
Around three weeks before the Havana concert, a poll conducted by Bendixen & Associates showed that 47 percent of Cuban exiles were opposed to the concert by the Colombian star in Havana, against 27 percent who backed the event.
Salazar believed Juanes' adroit rock n' roll diplomacy had dramatically raised his standing among the Cuban exiles.