HAVANA — Shirtless men are hard at work under an unforgiving sun this week, hammering away at the stage that on Sunday will hold an unprecedented concert with some of Latin music's biggest stars.
But to many people here in Cuba, the concert for peace, organized by Colombian rocker Juanes, is much more than an afternoon of music and good times.
Many Cubans say it's a desperate attempt by a government losing its grasp on the hearts of its people, a government that this week finally began to show its inevitable human vulnerability when one of its aging, beloved leaders died.
The death of revolutionary hero Juan Almeida, they say, underscored that the visit by a Colombian superstar does not change Cuba's stark reality: It's a nation run by men who are approaching the age of 80, or who have already passed it.
"You better come early," said a worker who was checking the Sunday afternoon temperature. "By noon Sunday, there won't be room here for one single more Cuban."
The concert, featuring 15 acts from six countries, was immediately controversial in South Florida, with some conservative Cubans criticizing everything from lineup to location. The concert, which will be shown live on Univisión.com starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, will be held at the Plaza of the Revolution, which plays host to mass government rallies. An enormous silhouette of Ernesto "Che" Guevara looms overhead.
Most Cubans interviewed, some speaking in hushed tones and looking over their shoulders, had little good to say about the planned event.
"I am not going to that concert because I do not like to be used," said Martin, a Havana man in his 40s who lives with his aging parents. "In this country, they can buy people with a drink and a song. That's not a concert; it's a political event. They couldn't have held it in a stadium? Why there? Why such a place with so much meaning here?"
Added Martha, a small business owner: "Why did they have to invite Silvio Rodríguez? There are plenty of less political artists they could have invited." Rodríguez and Los Van Van, also scheduled to perform, are longtime supporters of the Castro regime.
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