Pablo Milanes' Miami concert plan drums up discord

Wed Aug 17, 2011 3:04pm EDT
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By Manuel Rueda

MIAMI (Reuters) - Cuban singer Pablo Milanes has not yet played a note of his planned August 27 concert in Miami but the event has already drummed up unharmonious debate among Cuban exiles between opponents and supporters of the event.

Milanes, 68, is a two-time Grammy award winner and one of communist-ruled Cuba's best known musicians, part of a privileged artistic elite on the Caribbean island who are allowed by authorities to freely travel and perform abroad. His scheduled concert in Miami will be his first in the south Florida stronghold of fiercely anti-communist Cuban exiles.

Hardline exile groups, including ex-political prisoners, have asked Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez to halt the performance, calling Milanes a stooge of Cuba's one-party government and saying Havana uses such events for propaganda purposes.

They plan to protest at the concert by the singer, who was granted a U.S. entry visa to travel to the United States.

"If he (Milanes) came here and he stayed like us, if he renounced the (Cuban) regime, then we would go see him," said Antonio Esquivel, president of the Cuban Patriotic Junta, a Miami exile group that opposes any rapprochement with Havana while communist rule remains there.

The concert controversy raging in local Spanish-language media has fueled a wider debate in the divided Cuban exile community over measures by U.S. President Barack Obama to increase "people-to-people" contacts with the island by allowing more cultural, artistic and religious exchanges.

The first group of Americans to tour Cuba through the more relaxed rules under a longrunning U.S. trade embargo received a warm welcome this month.

Although Washington-Havana ties remain frosty after decades of Cold War enmity, supporters of such freer travel and exchanges say they are more effective in promoting change in Cuba than the long tried U.S. policy of isolating the island.   Continued...