Tickets too high, Cuban singer cancels in Chile

Hours before he was to have gone on stage in Talca, Chile, renowned Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez announced the cancellation of a concert set for March 9. He now faces legal action for allegedly violating consumer protection laws. The incident resurrects the unsolved problem of providing culture for all when access is bought and sold.

Over four decades, Rodriguez, now 60, has come to epitomize the combination of folk music and the symbolic, politicized lyrics known as “nueva troya,” which has become widely popular in Latin America.

The concert would have been Rodriguez’ fifth in Chile during March, completing his tenth tour of the country. Letters to the city government complaining of high ticket prices appeared in newspapers, one referring to “shame and mockery of the people.” Plans had emerged for a street demonstration outside the theater during the concert.

Tickets for the sold-out concert cost the equivalent of $80 to $112 apiece. According to Santiago activist Elizabeth Henríquez, “that amount of money represents half of a monthly wage for any average worker.” Observers say that over 30 percent of the people in the Talca region live in poverty.

Rodriguez offered to reimburse Multimusica, organizer of the concert, for administrative costs that included paybacks to ticket holders, who received an apology from the singer. The office of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet offered to stage a free concert in another city. Rodriguez turned that down because of legal and scheduling considerations.

Multimusica wants Rodriguez to return to Talca to carry out the concert obligation. A few admirers, even some who protested the high prices, criticized him for lack of flexibility.

The singer-songwriter first toured Chile in 1972 when he sang several free concerts. He returned in 1990, after the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship, to give a concert with Chucho Valdés in Santiago’s National Stadium before 80,000 people. He has provided other free concerts, one of them a tribute to Che Guevera.

Rodriguez claims that in February he asked tour organizers to set up a free concert, a plea he reiterated at a press conference on his first day in Chile and later at a meeting with Chilean cultural and political figures. He had introduced the idea at a meeting with President Bachelet in February.

This time Rodriguez arrived in Chile after a successful concert in Lima, Peru, where he received an honorary degree from San Marcos University. Referring to a “media flurry” over protests first against high prices and later over the cancellation, he seemed to suggest that his popularity and honors had generated hostility. “Now I believe that they wanted to politicize this visit with the Chilean people,” he told La Nacion after he left, but the “politicization is not against me but is against Cuba.”

Manuel Jacques, head of Chile’s Christian Left, praised Rodriguez’s decision as an example of “ethics and humility,” adding that “access to culture and recreation” is “one of the fundamental rights. It’s a duty of the state to honor that right.” For Communist Party leader Juan Andrés Lagos, Silvio Rodriguez was teaching that “one lives not only by money, but also out of dignity and decency.”

Rodriguez plans to return to Chile in 2010 for the 20th anniversary of his landmark National Stadium concert. Asked if that concert would be free, he said admission fees would be necessary because of rental costs, but that doing a free concert in a public plaza might be possible. He pointed out that “in capitalism the selling is always possible, but they make the giving-away part difficult.”

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