Latino rocker sees Havana gig helping U.S.-Cuba thaw

Wed Aug 26, 2009 6:31pm EDT
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By Pascal Fletcher

MIAMI (Reuters) - Colombian rock star Juanes says a public concert he plans in Cuba next month could help further thaw U.S.-Cuban ties despite outcry from some Cuban exiles who accuse him of pandering to the island's communist rulers.

Juanes, who lives in the United States, told the Miami Herald in an interview published on Wednesday he saw his scheduled September 20 concert in Havana's Revolution Square as a chance to promote reconciliation between Cuba and the United States, which have been ideological foes for nearly 50 years.

"I am not a communist ... I'm not going to Cuba to play for the Cuban regime ... Our only message is one of peace, of humanitarianism, of tolerance, a message of interacting with the people," he told the paper at his Key Biscayne home.

Juanes, 37, whose full name is Juan Esteban Aristizabal Vasquez, is a major star in the Spanish-speaking music world and has won a string of Latin Grammy Awards.

A 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba restricts travel to the Communist-ruled island by Americans, although special licenses can be granted.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Juanes met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in May to propose his concert and they had discussed the general support of President Barack Obama's administration for "people to people" contacts with Cuba.

But he said Clinton refrained from taking a specific position and it would be up to the Treasury Department, which enforces the U.S. embargo, to issue the necessary licenses for those involved in the concert to make the trip.

A Treasury spokesperson said Juanes required a license because he resided in the United States, which made him subject to U.S. jurisdiction even though he was Colombian. The spokesperson did not say whether the license had been granted.   Continued...

<p>Colombian singer Juanes poses for a photograph at the Standard Hotel in Los Angeles, California May 6, 2008. REUTERS/Hector Mata</p>