Juanes’ Cuba Concert Draws Multitudes

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans attended an open-air “peace concert” in Havana on Sunday headlined by the Colombian rock star Juanes, an event criticized by some Cuban-Americans who said the performers were lending support to the island’s Communist government simply by showing up.

One of the singers at the concert, Miguel Bosé, announced that the crowd in the sprawling Revolution Square numbered 1.15 million people. It was impossible to verify that number, but Juanes’s visit was clearly the biggest by an outsider since Pope John Paul II’s in 1998.

Most concertgoers wore white to symbolize peace, and some held up signs reading “Peace on Earth” and “We Love You, Juanes.”

Juanes came on stage three hours into the show, gazing at the multitudes in evident disbelief. He said the concert was “the most beautiful dream of peace and love.”

“I can’t believe what I am seeing with my own eyes,” he said.

“We came to Cuba for love,” he said. “We have overcome fear to be with you, and we hope that you, too, can overcome it.”

Even before the show started, colorful umbrellas sprouted like flowers across the wide square as revelers shaded themselves from the unrelenting sun.

“We are going to stay as long as we have the strength,” said Cristina Rodríguez, a 43-year-old nurse accompanied by her teenage son, Felix. They and thousands of others had arrived hours before the concert to get a good spot, ignoring government warnings not to turn up until noon.

The excitement did not extend to some across the Straits of Florida, where Juanes had endured death threats, CD-smashing protests and boycotts since announcing his plan for the concert in Havana.

The police in Key Biscayne, Fla., said they were monitoring the homes of both the singer and his manager.

Still, the criticism from Florida was far from universal. Spanish-language stations covered the event, and several exile groups voiced support, describing it as a rare chance for Cubans to get a glimpse of the outside world.

Some Cuban officials used the opportunity to deride United States foreign policy toward Cuba, and the 47-year trade embargo in particular. But Juanes insisted that the concert was about music, not politics.

“It is one more grain of sand for improving relations through art,” he said upon arriving in Havana late Friday.

Of the threats from Miami, he said only: “It is a city that I love.”

Juanes recently met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the concert even prompted comment from President Obama, who told the Spanish-language Univision network that the event probably would not have much effect on United States-Cuba relations.

“My understanding is that he’s a terrific musician. He puts on a very good concert,” Mr. Obama said in the interview broadcast Sunday. “I certainly don’t think it hurts U.S.-Cuban relations. These kinds of cultural exchanges — I wouldn’t overstate the degree that it helps.”