Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cuban singer Milanes blasts attacks on dissidents

Posted on Tuesday, 08.30.11

Cuban singer Milanes blasts attacks on dissidents
AP Hispanic Affairs Writer

MIAMI -- Cuban singer-songwriter Pablo Milanes has criticized harassment
of a leading Cuban dissident group, saying insults and obscenities
hurled by pro-government crowds at the so-called Ladies in White during
their protest marches are "vile" and "cowardly."

In an open letter published Tuesday in Miami's El Nuevo Herald, Milanes
said one may not agree with the dissident group, but he disapproves of
how they've been treated at times by rowdy government supporters. The
public comments drew attention for their outspokenness and came just
days after the Havana resident and two-time Grammy winner performed his
first concert in Miami, before several thousand people.

"When I see that some women dressed in white protest in the street and
are mistreated by men and women, I cannot help but be ashamed and
indignant," the 68-year-old singer wrote in Tuesday's letter, referring
to the group.

Milanes, one of the celebrated founders of Cuba's "nueva trova" musical
movement, has long maintained he is loyal to the Cuban Revolution. But
he has at times advocated for more freedoms on the island and been
critical of the government. In 2010, he publicly backed a dissident
hunger striker who was demanding the release of political prisoners.

The Ladies in White formed in 2003, following the arrest of 75
dissidents, many of whom have since been freed and left communist Cuba.
The women, who seek march weekly, are appealing for more political
freedoms and the release of remaining dissident prisoners there.

Usually, the protests are quiet and uneventful, but on occasion large
crowds come out and taunt the women with shouts of "Worms!" and "Get
out!" Cuban officials insist that the counter-protests are spontaneous,
though state security officials are normally present.

"The most vile and cowardly thing is for a horde of supposed
revolutionaries to ruthlessly attack these women," Milanes wrote. This
"does not mean I disagree with Fidel (Castro), nor does it mean I agree
with the Ladies in White."

Dissidents have increasingly complained of harassment and rough
treatment in recent weeks, including the reported weekend arrest of more
two-dozen people in the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba, including
members of a local chapter of Ladies in White.

Cuban state media, which rarely mention dissident groups except to
accuse the dissidents of being "mercenaries" hired by Washington, have
not reported any arrests, and the accounts could not be independently
confirmed. Exile groups in Miami said relatives of those arrested over
the weekend were planning sit-ins.

Milanes is most famous for ballads such as "Yolanda", which he performed
in Miami on Aug. 27.

In the letter published Tuesday, Milanes also said he was saddened and
embarrassed by what he views as a "complicit silence" among fellow
artists and others who are afraid to openly criticize the government.

"Upon my return to Havana," Milanes wrote, "I say to the Cuban
intellectuals, to the artists, to the musicians, and to the high-level
state officials, don't whisper in my ear: "I'm with you but...."

There was no immediate government response in Havana to Milanes' letter.

His comments about the Ladies in White came in response to a column last
week by journalist Edmundo Garcia, who co-hosts a Miami radio show with
a charter flight company owner who is one of the foremost advocates of
travel to Cuba.

Garcia criticized Milanes for telling U.S. media he sympathized with the
Ladies in White and was no longer a "Fidelista." Garcia also mocked the
singer for failing to criticize the exile community and for eschewing
pro-revolutionary songs when he performed in Miami.

About 200 hard-line Cuban exiles, who have long considered Milanes a
supporter of Fidel and Raul Castro, picketed his Miami performance.
Meanwhile, some on the left have questioned the revolutionary
credentials of someone who dares to criticize the government.

"My 53 years of revolutionary militancy give me the right, which very
few exercise in Cuba, to express myself with the freedom that my
principles require," Milanes wrote. "That freedom means I have no mortal
commitment to the Cuban leaders, whom I have admired and respected. But
they are not gods and I am no fanatic, and when I feel I can make a
criticism and say no, I say so without fear or reservations."

Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana contributed to this report.

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