Singer Pablo Milanes urges more freedom in Cuba

MIAMI,  (Reuters) – One of Communist-ruled Cuba’s  best-known singers, Pablo Milanes, said in quoted comments he  would like to see more freedom to protest on the island as he  prepared for a controversial concert this month in Miami.

Pablo Milanes

Miami’s Spanish language El Nuevo Herald newspaper  published an interview on Sunday with the 68-year-old two-time  Grammy award winner, whose melodic and evocative ballads are  well known in Latin America and internationally.

Milanes’ planned Aug. 27 concert in Miami, a bastion of  anti-communist Cuban exiles in the United States, has touched  off a storm of discord between those who criticize him as a  stooge of the communist government in Havana and many fans and  supporters who defend his right to perform in Miami.

Ties between the United States and Cuba remain cool but  cultural exchanges of Cuban and U.S. artists and musicians have  increased as U.S. President Barack Obama has boosted  people-to-people contacts through special licenses that can be  granted under the longrunning U.S. economic embargo on Cuba.

Milanes, a privileged celebrity in Cuba where authorities  allow him to travel and perform widely outside the island, said  his Miami concert sought “peace and love” and he wanted to  “hold out a hand to those who extend their hand to me”.

“I’m not going to criticize anyone and I don’t want to be  criticized. I simply want to be heard as a man who sings his  songs,” he told El Nuevo Herald.

Describing himself as a “progressive, tolerant, left-wing  revolutionary”, Milanes made clear he believed there should  more freedom of expression in Cuba, including the right to  protest, and more freedom for Cubans to travel abroad.

“Every human being has the right to protest, and, what’s  more, has the duty to say what he thinks,” he said.

He indicated he felt economic reforms introduced by Cuban  President Raul Castro, which have opened up more private  enterprise, had not gone far enough to promote other freedoms.

“When one thinks of the reforms, you think they’re going to  come united with a series of freedoms, such as freedom of  expression, but it’s not happening like that,” El Nuevo Herald  quoted Milanes as saying. It said he gave the interview by  phone from Spain, where he was performing.

RACIAL
DISCRIMINATION

The U.S. government says Cuba continues to persecute  dissidents who oppose its one-party communist system.

Washington has also condemned the imprisonment by Havana of  a U.S. aid contractor who brought Internet technology equipment  to the island — where such technology is strictly controlled  — while traveling there on tourist visa.

Cuba describes political dissidents as mercenaries and  traitors in the pay of Washington.

Milanes said Cuba’s state-controlled media suffered from  “self-censorship”.

He also criticized Cuban government curbs on travel to and  from the island, saying those born in Cuba should be able to  visit their homeland freely, while Cuban citizens should be  allowed to leave if they wished “without needing a card or  passing through a bureaucratic filter”.

Milanes said Cuban officials discriminated against blacks  in the multi-racial population, adding ing this had created  “castes” and privileges passed on inside white families.

The singer, who in 2006 sent a letter to then ailing Cuban  leader Fidel Castro wishing him a speedy recovery, said he  himself was persecuted in Cuba in his early 20s, when he was  sent to a military work camp along with other “freethinkers”.  Also sent to such camps were homosexuals, Catholics, Jehovah’s  Witnesses and common criminals.

Several Cuban exile groups have asked Miami-Dade mayor  Carlos Gimenez to halt Milanes’ planned concert in the city,  and have warned of protests, but supporters of the initiative  say it could help promote reconciliation among Cubans.

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