- communism - Cuba - Fidel Castro - Havana - music - Raul Castro
AFP - More than half a million Cubans gathered in Havana on Sunday for a concert featuring Miami-based singer Juanes, a gig welcomed by US President Barack Obama, but criticized by Cuban exiles.
Hundreds of thousands of parasol-waving fans braced blistering heat in the capital's storied Revolution Square, with merriment belying the political undertones that the concert has produced.
Miami's Cuban exile community has criticized the performance, saying it will legitimize the island's communist regime, and Colombian-born singer Juanes received death threats ahead of the "Peace without Borders" concert.
Many of those present appeared focused on the need for Cubans everywhere to unite.
"We have to unite Cubans that are inside and those outside. Everyone has family there. It does not matter why they left. We have to leave hate behind," said Yordanis Padron, a 34-year-old electrician.
Clutching a umbrella, bottle of water and a snack, 73-year-old Lidia said she hoped the concert would "serve as a message to the imperialists that we want peace and help to reconcile those here with those from over there."
Earlier, Obama welcomed plans for the massive but controversial concert, telling US Spanish-language network Univision the performance could help improve ties with Cuba.
Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met the Colombian singer before he left for the island, a trip which has prompted some of Miami's million-strong Cuban exile community to smash his records in protest.
"My understanding is that he's a terrific musician. He puts on a very good concert," Obama told the station as part of a five-channel media blitz on Sunday to sell his plan to reform US health care.
"I certainly don't think it hurts US-Cuban relations, these kinds of cultural exchanges."
Juanes has promised a "historic" show on Havana's vast Revolution Square, the scene of countless declarations by Cuba's communist leaders and home to an iconic mural of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.
"We are excited to connect with the audience in Cuba -- saying that we are here, that they are not alone, and that we hope over time things can change and the Cuban family can be one," the 37-year-old Grammy winner said Saturday.
"What better language than music... for that wake-up call," said Juanes, who now lives in Miami.
The show is the second event under the "Paz sin Fronteras" banner, after a 2008 Juanes show promoting peace on the border between Colombia and Venezuela.
The concert, headlined by Juanes -- most famous for his hit songs "A Dios le Pido" and "La Camisa Negra" -- will also feature some of Latin America's brightest music stars, including Olga Tanon, Danny Rivera and the Orishas.
Speaking from Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez described the event as "marvelous," and said protests against were "insanity"
Although the concert has been politically charged, Obama warned that it was no substitute for politics.
"I wouldn't overstate the degree that it helps," Obama said.
"What I'd really like to see is Cuba starting to show that it wants to move away from some of the anti-democratic practices of the past."
Since coming to office, Obama has lifted some restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling and sending money to the island, but there has been no major breakthrough in icy ties between the Cold War enemies.
Instead, both sides seem to be taking an incremental approach to improving relations.
This week, representatives from the two sides met to discuss the resumption of postal service between the two countries.