Page last updated at 20:01 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 21:01 UK

Cuban cultural icons get US visas

Silvio Rodriguez, file pic
The "voice of the Cuban revolution" has hinted at change

Two of Cuba's biggest stars have been granted visas to visit the United States next month.

It will be the first time in decades that the folk singer Silvio Rodriguez and the prima ballerina Alicia Alonso have been allowed to perform in the US.

Both have been staunch supporters of Cuba's communist system.

President Obama has been encouraging people-to-people contacts with Cuba, while maintaining a decades-long trade embargo.

Silvio Rodriguez, who gave his last concert in the US in 1979, is booked for a multi-city tour starting in New York's Carnegie Hall on 4 June.

The 63-year-old musician is known throughout Latin America as the voice of the Cuban revolution.

Change of tune?

But some of his more recent lyrics have included subtle criticism of life in the communist-run island.

"If we don't change, they are going to change us," he said in a recent interview.

Alicia Alonso, the legendary founder of the Cuban national ballet, is also due to appear on stage in New York.

Aged nearly 90, she first rose to fame as a prima ballerina with the American ballet company.

She's been granted a visa to attend a special anniversary performance on 3 June.

Cultural exchanges like this were routinely blocked under former President George W Bush.

Relations have eased slightly under President Barack Obama - who has lifted restrictions on Cuban Americans visiting the island - and there has been an increase in academic and cultural exchanges.

But the American embargo is still in force, and Mr Obama has criticised the treatment of dissidents and lack of democratic reform on the island.

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