Colombian

Colombian singer Juanes poses for a photograph at the Standard Hotel in Los Angeles, California May 6, 2008. REUTERS/Hector Mata

Colombian rock star Juanes says a public concert he plans in Cuba next month could help further thaw U.S.-Cuban ties despite outcry from some Cuban exiles who accuse him of pandering to the island's communist rulers.

Juanes, who lives in the United States, told the Miami Herald in an interview published on Wednesday he saw his September 20 concert in Havana's Revolution Square as a chance to promote peace and reconciliation between Cuba and the United States, which have been ideological foes for nearly half a century.

I am not a communist ... I'm not going to Cuba to play for the Cuban regime ... Our only message is one of peace, of humanitarianism, of tolerance, a message of interacting with the people, he told the paper at his Key Biscayne home.

Juanes, 37, whose full name is Juan Esteban Aristizabel Vasquez, is a major star in the Spanish-speaking music world and has won a string of Latin Grammy Awards.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said President Barack Obama's administration generally supported people to people contacts with Cuba. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had taken no specific position on Juanes' planned concert, although he had met her to discuss it in May.

Among the anti-communist Cuban exile community in the United States, critics have pilloried Juanes as naive, saying his concert will be a boost for Cuba's communist leadership while ignoring the plight of detained Cuban dissidents.

A number of well-known Latino singers Juanes had invited declined to take part because of the political sensitivity.

But Juanes said the planned Peace without Borders event in Havana, which will follow a similar reconciliation recital he gave on the Colombian-Venezuelan border last year, could help revive U.S.-Cuban cultural exchanges that had remained largely frozen under former U.S. President George W. Bush.

Obama, while calling on Cuban leaders to improve human rights and political freedoms, has said he wants to seek more normal ties with Havana and in April lifted restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to the island, slightly easing the long-running U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

This is the right moment to start something, Juanes told the Miami Herald. In the last administration, for sure we weren't talking about this. But with this administration, with Obama as president, I believe it's different.

Miami media have reported Juanes has received death threats over the concert and a small group of right-wing Cuban exiles smashed and burned CDs of his music in Miami last week.

'FREEDOM, NOT CONCERTS'

Juanes said he met with Clinton and members of the U.S. administration and Congress in May to see if they would back his initiative and give permission to U.S. musicians and technicians to attend the show.

The State Department spokesman in Washington said Clinton refrained from specific comment on the project, and it would be up to the Treasury Department, which enforces the U.S. embargo on Cuba, to issue the necessary licenses for the initiative. There was no immediate comment from the Treasury Department.

The Miami Herald said Juanes would hold the September 20 concert in the same Revolution Square location where Pope John Paul II gave a mass in 1998 during his historic visit to Cuba.

Fellow pop singers Miguel Bose of Spain and Olga Tanon from Puerto Rico world join the Colombian rocker, it added.

Cuban American commentator Ninoska Perez, a fierce critic of Cuban President Raul Castro and his brother, former leader Fidel Castro, said she had told Juanes she feared the Cuban government would use his concert for political manipulation.

He said he wanted to sing for the people. I replied that what Cubans needed was freedom, not concerts, she wrote in the Spanish language El Nuevo Herald at the weekend.

A concert trip to Miami by Cuban group Los Van Van in 1999 provoked an outcry from exiles.

But others in the Cuban American community back the Juanes concert, saying it could help reconcile Cubans divided by politics and by the 90-mile Florida Straits.