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September 21, 2009

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Cubans swarm for peace gig

CUBANS in their multitudes flocked to sprawling Revolution Plaza yesterday for a massive open-air "peace concert" headlined by Colombian rocker Juanes.
Organizers say they expect as many as half a million people to attend the four-hour concert under a broiling Havana sun. Even half that many would make the Colombian heartthrob's visit the biggest by an outsider since Pope John Paul II's 1998 tour.
Thousands of Cuban revellers stood along Havana's seaside Malecon boulevard before dawn yesterday, drinking, singing and staring out at the moonlit sea. Nearly all said they planned to attend.
"I am singing to the Cubans, I am singing for you, Juanes," crooned Elide Ramirez, a Juanes fan, as he strummed on a guitar just after 5am. "Here are the Cubans, waiting for you like brothers."
And outside Revolution Plaza, many ignored government warnings not to turn up until noon.
"We've been here since 3 in the morning waiting for everyone, waiting for Juanes and for (Puerto Rican singer) Olga Tanon," said Luisa Maria Canales, an 18-year-old engineering student. "I'm a little tired, but I am more excited."
That excitement does not extend to some in the United States, where Juanes has endured death threats, CD smashing protests and boycotts since his decision to hold the "Peace Without Borders" concert in Havana.
Police in Key Biscayne, Florida, say they are keeping watch over the homes of both the rocker and his manager.
Still, the criticism from Florida is far from universal. Spanish-language stations are gearing up for coverage, and several exile groups have 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 United States foreign policy toward Cuba. But Juanes has insisted the concert is about music, not politics.
"It is one more grain of sand for improving relations through art," the singer said upon arriving in Havana late Friday.


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