Should we congratulate Silvio Rodriguez?
By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES — As we might have expected from an incident as talked-about as asking for political changes in Cuba during a massive official function, musician Roberto Carcasses (RC) has gone from being what he is – a brilliant and innovative artist – to a kind of test case for political militancy on the island.
The first to come forward, of course, were the system’s watchdogs, those who supported the administrative measures taken against RC. This included artists compelled – either by their own convictions or opportunism – to support everything the regime does and the increasingly sterile, insignificant and badly-paid government bloggers. There was one lot among those who supported the sanctions, however, that caught my eye: Miami’s tiny pro-Castro bunch.
The first to speak up was a radio host who used to have a show about cult musicals in Cuba and is today a kind of militant mudslinger who flirts with several, apparently opposed political tendencies (which, in truth, are mutually dependent).
Then came Max Lesnik, whom I mention and quote only to show the ideological backwardness and decadence of pro-Castro circles. For Lesnik, the main problem with RC’s statements is that he called for the legalization of marihuana, “(…) to smoke it, as he said, to be able to party hard, in the lap of vice and corruption. Of course, none of that means freedom. This whole business of marihuana ‘for everyone’, I don’t agree with that.”
To summarize, Lesnik comes off rather foolish with such a vulgar dismissal of the broad range of complex issues referred to by RC. One of those thorny issues, in effect, is the legalization of drugs like marihuana, a very serious international debate which this political analyst (in lower case, to be sure) reduces to “partying” and debauchery.
I should point out that, when I wrote last week’s article on Carcasses’ statements, I didn’t know what the artist had meant with “Maria.” Now that I know, I, who have fun in ways which do not involve the use of drugs, have yet another reason to congratulate RC.
Then we have those who support RC. Within Cuba, they have shown merely a kind of guild solidarity. In other words, they have only touched on the issue of an artist’s right to make use of the stage for such political demands. Nearly all have reproached RC for using an official function related to the Cuban Five for other purposes.
These are erroneous presuppositions that don’t hold water.
On the one hand, I believe we have to defend the right of artists to express themselves as they see fit, be it through a speech or a song. But I also believe this right should be granted all citizens. RC exercised this right, availing himself of the fame his talent and hard work have earned him, and to a certain degree give him immunity.
Other people who attempt to do the same thing are beaten by authorities, forced to leave the country or worked over at a police station. The only truly democratic, just and patriotic position would be that of defending the right of all citizens to express themselves, a right that should not be denied such prominent intellectuals as Cuesta Morua, Yoani Sanchez, Miriam Celaya, Regina Coyula and Rodiles, to name only a few who are denied access to the country’s grandstands.
On the other hand, I believe we have to desacralize Cuba’s public sphere, no matter what issue is being debated. What’s sacred for some is not so for others, and such differences do not make any of us less Cuban. Behind this issue of the imprisoned Cuban agents – and I am also in favor of their release – there is a whole machinery of jingoistic manipulation that ought to be unmasked, to the benefit – even – of the imprisoned Cubans.
The most prominent figure to have publicly come forward in defense of RC is Silvio Rodriguez. Basically, what this veteran Cuban folk musician said is that RC was clumsy when he made use of the grandstand the way he did, but that the sanctions the government was planning were also clumsy.
Portraying himself as well above these two blunders, Silvio Rodriguez asked RC to join the stage with him in a number of neighborhood concerts and organized a meeting where, it is said, authorities annulled the sanctions.
Though this is a positive development, I don’t think it is the most important. When all is said and done, RC is young, well-known and talented and can overcome any petty sanction imposed on him. The sanction would also, ultimately, prove very costly for the government.
The most important development is that a cultural figure of post-revolutionary Cuba as paradigmatic as Silvio Rodriguez, or so an optimistic interpretation of what he said seems to suggest, is moving towards more tolerant and pluralist positions, something he hasn’t exactly expressed in the known past. If this is the case, I congratulate him.
One of the things Silvio said, for instance, is that he supports the idea that artists should be able to express their criticisms through different means, though not at an official function related to the Cuban Five, an issue he called “sacred.” He also expressed disagreement with “a sanction as excessive as forbidding a musician to carry out his social function.”
If we take the issue to a different terrain and apply pure logic, Silvio Rodriguez would have to acknowledge that he also condemns sanctions that forbid medical doctors, professors, sociologists, anthropologists, journalists and others to carry out their “social function”, when these are dismissed from their place of work or subjected to such harassment that they are practically forced to leave.
If he is ready to condemn “excessive sanctions”, perhaps he is ready to condemn such measures against activists of the opposition, and even against those people who express criticisms without any intentions of changing the government, as is most often the case.
He should be particularly critical of such measures when they are implemented during such celebrations as those held by dissidents on Human Rights Day, a day which, to these Cubans, is “sacred.”
Some readers will no doubt think I am dreaming. I want to believe I’m not. I would therefore like to see Silvio Rodriguez stand above his own blunders – as he does today over those of others – and take back having signed, only ten years ago, a document supporting the extra-legal execution of three young, poor black men who committed a crime that did not warrant such a measure.
I am not, to be sure, asking him to disavow his political views, nor his fondness towards Fidel and Raul Castro or Machado Ventura. Such positions are a part of our present and will be part of a pluralist future where they’ll be room for all imaginable political positions.
What I am suggesting is that Silvio Rodriguez ought to distance himself from a criminal action, so that we can begin to believe in his words and so that no similar incident ever takes place again. While it is true that the three young, poor black men were not artists, they were nonetheless as human and as Cuban as Carcasses and the Five, as Silvio Rodriguez ought to know.