The Rolling Stones and Cuba were united for a day when the rock group traveled to the island nation to perform on March 25, 2016. United Press International reports that more than 500,000 people heard the live performance from Ciudad Deportiva, or Sports City. Voice of America revealed that The Rolling Stones were the biggest act to play in Cuba since the country’s 1953 – 1959 revolution.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash was the first song performed by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. When it first appeared in 1968, Cuba considered rock ‘n’ roll music subversive. After the revolutionaries deposed the U.S.-backed leader of Cuba in 1959, Fidel Castro’s one-state party government came to see rock ‘n’ roll music as a part of a counterculture and as dangerously subversive. Groups, including the Rolling Stones, were prohibited on TV and radio. It was a crime for any Cuban to be found in possession of such music. Secret listening sessions thrived, and an underground trade in smuggled records and cassettes of banned music flourished.
In 2015, Pope Francis hosted a dialog between Cuban and American officials in order to bring together the long-standing adversaries. Despite this, the Mirror newspaper in England reported that the Vatican requested that the Rolling Stones not play on that particular Friday, March 25, as it was a major religious holiday in the Christian world. Despite this request, the Rolling Stones and Cuba were united in putting on this performance.
The Rolling Stones’ event comes on the heels of a controversial three-day visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Cuba. He is the first American head of state to visit the island nation since Calvin Coolidge did about eight decades ago.
During his visit, Obama openly called for a more democratic Cuba. Decades of bitterness between leaders seemed to fade as Obama and Castro enjoyed a baseball game together between the Tampa Bay Rays from America and the Cuban national team. The visit was not, however, without American political controversy.
“As long as we’re talking about Cuba policy, I have something I’d like to get off my chest,” said Congressman Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) during a U.S. House of Representatives committee meeting. “I find the imagery of the President yukking it up with FARC terrorists at a baseball game … when Europe is under siege by terrorists, disgusting, absolutely disgusting.” FARC stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia). The Council on Foreign Relations notes that the FARC has long used violence, kidnappings, and extortion as sources of leverage and income.
The rapprochement undertaken by the U.S. president is creating a beachhead for more U.S. business accessibility into Cuba. PayPal has a product called “Xoom,” which is used for international money transfers. Dan Schulman, PayPal’s CEO, said “remittances can open up economic opportunities in many countries, including Cuba, where up to $2 billion is sent from the U.S. to Cuba annually. These U.S. remittances serve as 3 percent of Cuban GDP.” Schulman accompanied Obama on this trip.
The Internet company Airbnb bills itself as a “community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world.” It is establishing a presence on the island. Ahead of the president’s visit, the U.S. government permitted it to accept non-American bookings in Cuba.
It seems that another revolution is now taking place in Cuba. It is one is one in which the Castro government appears more willing to bring the country up to speed in the 21st century. Perhaps this moment in time will be commemorated in history, beginning with the time when the Rolling Stones and Cuba united.
By Bob Reinhard
UPI: 500,000 people attend free Rolling Stones concert in Havana
VOA: 500,000 people attend free Rolling Stones concert in Havana
Looptonga: It’s only rock’n’roll – Stones in Cuba
eNews Channel Africa: Rolling Stones to ‘Shine a Light’ in Cuba in historic concert
The Christian Science Monitor: Why the pope tried to halt the Rolling Stones concert in Cuba
Mirror: Rolling Stones play to 500,000 fans in Cuba after Pope tries to BAN show
ABC News: Congressman Slams President Obama for Attending Baseball Game in Cuba After Brussels Attacks
ESPN: President Obama: MLB exhibition in Cuba ‘something extraordinary’
Council on Foreign Relations: FARC, ELN: Colombia’s Left-Wing Guerrillas
Digital Trends: PayPal hopes to launch Xoom in Cuba before the end of the year
PayPal: Xoom to enter Cuba before year end
Airbnb: purpose of Airbnb
Agence France-Presse: US opens Airbnb in Cuba to global travelers
Photo Courtesy of aka Francois aka Mister Pink’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License