The Sad Contradiction of Silvio Rodriguez

Dmitri Prieto

Silvio Rodríguez and Amaury Pérez. Photo-Petí,

HAVANA TIMES, July 2 – Last Tuesday ended the first season of a televised program of interviews with cultural host Amaury Perez.  This singer-songwriter’s show has presented a whole series of Cuban public figures —  most of whom are also his friends — to respond to his questions in an intimate atmosphere.

It’s not the first time that a program like this has appeared on Cuban TV.  The 2006 broadcast of a similar show hosted by another singer (Alfredito Rodriguez) triggered the “little e-mail war” (an outbreak of spontaneous critical comments sent by e-mail — complete with long routing lists — concerning cultural, political and social issues in Cuba).

This backlash was prompted by Rodriguez’s interview of one of the most infamous cultural obstructionist in the 1970’s period known as “the gray epoch” among Cuban advocates of freer cultural expression.  That controversy led in turn to a new epoch in the design of paths to national informational exchange.

This time, however, Perez was the television host, and the last program of this season featured another of his friends: singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez.  The guest had been one of those youths of the ‘60s who created the Cuban nueva trova movements.

Silvio’s voice and look takes me back to my days as a high school student – when the songs of nueva trova were spontaneously hummed by the kids my age; when people took the lyrics seriously and passionately debated the messages sung; when couples gave and received their first kisses to the chords of Silvio.

Then came the ‘90s, and some say (I don’t know if it’s true) that during a concert people unfurled a big banner in front of Silvio that read: “Silvio, we love you, even though you’re a deputy!”

Silvio Rodriguez. Photo: Caridad

Somehow nueva trova became a “scarce resource” in the Cuban cultural field, and not exactly because of the increasingly high cost of living.  It’s that life itself had changed, though Silvio was still there.

Please, excuse me for this nostalgic apparent ode to “trova” in the middle of the reggaeton age.  But I’m not writing today about Silvio’s music or his poetics, but about his political thinking.

In the interview, Silvio declared himself to be revolutionary and even “officialista” (pro-government), which is no news to anybody.  He’s an artist who is quite explicit in his political orientation.  But this time Amaury asked him to explain a little about his already known idea that it’s necessary to proceed from revolution to evolution.

Silvio was crystal clear when saying that revolutions — in terms of their making absolutely radical changes — are rather rare events in human history.  He held that the Cuban revolution triumphed in 1959 and that now it’s necessary to evolve, which is what usually happens in societies.

He therefore argued that Cuba too must evolve, and from the exchange between Silvio and Amaury it was made clear that both artists are against conservative immobilism and statism.  Concerning the latter I interpreted Amaury as deriving its meaning based more on that which is “static” rather than on anything having to do with the “state” – but I could be mistaken.  This is an opposition that my friends and I of course share with the two figures.

Several weeks ago, when receiving some journalism award for his blog, Silvio called for actions “to destroy” the bureaucracy.  We also want such actions to occur.

All I have left is to highlight a contradiction in Silvio’s position.

Bureaucracies usually don’t let themselves be “destroyed,” they defend themselves.  Nor are they given to “evolving”; instead, that’s the very cause of the immobilism and statism that Amaury and Silvio criticized.  Likewise, the only “evolving” of bureaucracies is in function of their perpetrating themselves in power and to “change everything so that everything remains the same.”

Only a strong popular political movement can destroy the bureaucracy.  This requires an organized movement, but not organized in a bureaucratic manner.  This would be a true embryo of the new society stripped of bureaucrats.  And what would such a movement be other than a true revolution?

Therefore — and I’m continuing with this the strict logic of facts, beyond that of concepts — what Cuba needs is a revolution.

Amaury talked with Silvio about the implicit sadness in his songs.  I think that sadness doesn’t only cover a certain troubadouresque romanticism with its wings; I think that sadness also casts a shadow on the poetics-politics of a certain type of thought.

One of the songs by Silvio where there most strongly emerges the tragedy of the fight for the human being is the one titled “Preludio de Giron” (Prelude to the Bay of Pigs), referring to the battle in which invading troops organized and trained by the CIA were defeated by Cuba in 1961.

Today we need Cubans committed to the country’s future so that that each one of our days becomes a prelude to a victory like that of the Bay of Pigs, but this time against the power of the bureaucracy.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

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