Saturday, October 26, 2013

A short moment of freedom

Posted on Friday, 10.25.13

A short moment of freedom

Just over four years ago, Colombian pop star, Juanes (Juan Esteban
Aristazabal) led an international group of Latin music stars and Cuban
performers (sanctioned and approved by the Cuban state) who performed
for just under seven hours for a million, sun-baked Cuban fans at the
heart of Havana's infamous Revolutionary Plaza. The mega concert, which
was part of Juanes' Peace Without Borders conscience-building concert
series certainly provided plenty of food for thought.

With the benefit of sufficient time to assess and dissect what the
concert symbolized and the effects it had on the Cuban people, comes an
inspiring and insightful documentary titled 13 Million Voices directed
by Janelle Gueits and produced by her brother, Chris Gueits.

The film is a gritty, behind the scenes look at what took place leading
up to the performance — when all the niceties from the participants and
government dignitaries had been dispensed at the press conference and
most cameras were off. The narrative traces the experiences of several
members of an organization called Raices de Esperanza (Roots of Hope), a
group formed in 2003 by young Cuban American students (primarily from
universities across the United States).

The mission of Raices was then, and continues to be now, to raise
awareness about the lack of freedoms, the frustrations and the overall
plight of young Cubans on the island. Janelle Gueits and several members
of Raices met with Juanes prior to the concert in 2009, and after some
careful thought decided to support the performer on his crusade to play
his music for the hermetically isolated Cuban people.

"The idea of having a musician play in Cuba on a grand scale is
something we [the leadership of Raices] had spoken about several years
before the Juanes opportunity presented itself," the film's director
explained. "We thought, 'What better way to transmit the message of
freedom than through music?' When we found out about what Juanes was
trying to do and spoke to him directly (an exchange that is documented
in the film) we decided to support his effort."

The idea of the concert produced mixed reaction among Cubans in Miami
(yours truly included). On these very pages I wrote a column questioning
the purpose of the concert. I was (and continue to be) leery of what I
consider to be one of the most disingenuous, lying, self-serving regimes
of our times. What I didn't count on was on the maturity, sophistication
and downright courage of the members of Raices who traveled with Juanes
to Cuba and witnessed and documented the concert backstage.

These young activists/filmmakers stood strong in the face of overt
attempts by the Cuban government to intimidate them and suppress their
filming of the event. 13 Million Voices captures the tense exchanges
that went on at the lobby of the hotel between government officials and
Juanes just hours before the show. The film also reveals how Juanes
steadfastly and honorably defended the young Cuban Americans' right to
be there.

The documentary, which will make its way to television in early 2014,
also exposes the testimony of young people in Cuba commenting on the
horrid state of oppression on the island. "For years we've all heard the
traditional adjectives that rightfully describe the Cuban regime — words
like tyrannical, dictatorial etc.," said Janelle Gueits. "Unfortunately,
with time, the impact of these words fades. I always wanted to put names
and faces to those deeds. I wanted to see for myself what kind of
deprivation of rights really takes place in Cuba. This whole journey for
me has been about humanizing the story."

This week, Tony Jimenez, a Raices founder who was one of the Cuban
Americans on the fateful trip with Juanes, shared a viewpoint, which the
film reinforced for me: "For seven hours the Cuban people sang and
laughed free of hate, violent rhetoric or repression. For a moment, they
tasted freedom and to me that was well worth it."

Source: "A short moment of freedom - Joe Cardona -" -

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