Cuban singer Carlos Varela set for U.S. tour

Fri Apr 23, 2010 5:28pm EDT
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By Esteban Israel

HAVANA (Reuters) - With U.S.-Cuba relations at their lowest point since President Barack Obama took office last year, Cuban singer Carlos Varela will launch a six-city U.S. tour next month with hopes of bringing the two countries a little closer.

Varela, often referred to as Cuba's Bob Dylan, will start in Los Angeles with a concert on May 5, then work his way across the country for a final show on May 15.

Varela, 47, last performed a concert tour in the United States in 1998 but put on an impromptu show for members of Congress in Washington in December while lobbying for new U.S. policy toward communist-led Cuba.

Varela and his band will tour the United States amid new tensions triggered by the December arrest in Cuba of a U.S. contractor suspected of espionage and the February death of a Cuban political prisoner on a hunger strike.

Obama, who took office in January 2009, said early on he wanted a "new era" in long-hostile U.S.-Cuba relations and took modest steps toward rapprochement.

But he has adopted a harsher tone in recent weeks, saying Cuba has not reciprocated and has in fact shown its same old "clenched fist" with the arrest of the American and mistreatment of island dissidents.

Cuba, in turn, has stepped up criticism of Washington in state-run media, and accused it of orchestrating, with Europe, an international media campaign against the island.

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