Cuban Singer Silvio Rodriguez’ “Discoveries”

Haroldo Dilla Alonso

Silvio Rodríguez.  Foto:

HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago, singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez angered that very small part of Cuba’s population with access to the Internet. This happened when, following a concert held at a small town in Cuba’s eastern end, the musician was interviewed by the official government web-site Cubadebate.

During the interview, Rodriguez showed a certain degree of disillusionment with the outcome of what both the interviewer and interviewee agreed to call “communism.” More importantly, he made a chilling confession: “I’ve realized,” he said, “that people are screwed, really screwed…” He added: “a whole lot more screwed than I thought,” before mentioning another empirical discovery: “my life is far more comfortable than that of the immense majority of Cubans.”

What’s striking about these statements is that Silvio Rodriguez has always lived in Cuba, and that he has resided on the island for the past twenty years. In the course of these two decades, Cuba’s population has become alarmingly impoverished, individual consumption has dwindled and been transformed into a daily struggle and social services have degenerated to truly regrettable levels. And only now does he discover, to his surprise, that “people are screwed.”

I must point out that, ten years ago, Silvio Rodriguez himself publicly supported the Cuban government’s repression of those who were “screwed” and called for a system that offered them brighter prospects, including the execution, without due process, of three young black men who had hijacked a ferry in order to emigrate to the United States.

Silvio Rodriguez’ statements are an illustration of the perversities that emerge from a system that has not completed its transition to capitalism and of the frivolous disappointment of an elite that imagined it would transform the world and ended up discovering it had merely staged a burlesque show for a public that had been gagged.

These disparaging public declarations have become common among the post-revolutionary elite, interested in publicizing an account of things in which it appears as the baby we should keep and the rest as the dirty bath water we ought to throw out.

A few years ago, when the Cuban president announced the implementation of his economic “reforms,” no few miserable public officials spoke of the devastated Cuban population as a society of vulgar children who simply opened their mouths and waited for the State to spoon-feed them. Only a few weeks ago, we learned of another sudden outburst, that of Alfredo Guevara, a learned official and patron of the arts who, in his last days, complained of a people he considered unworthy of the government’s efforts.

What makes Silvio Rodriguez different from Alfredo Guevara – perhaps because he does not suspect that the world he knew is dying (a common type of blindness among intellectuals) – is that he believes we should continue to move forward: “it’s likely a great part of the population will have to endure many hardships, hard work, problems and shortages, on top of the many hardships, hard work, problems and shortages we’ve had for many years.” That is to say, Silvio Rodriguez is calling on Cubans to make new sacrifices.

Silvio Rodriguez has in fact always been calling on others to make sacrifices. He did it when he was starting out as an artist and he was yet another common Cuban committed to his people, something that made his work authentic and believable.

Today, he is no longer a common Cuban, nor is he believable, because Silvio Rodriguez is an intellectual of the elite, and this – as the musician has just discovered – allows him to maintain a safe distance from the daily struggle for survival of those folk that, according to him, are “screwed, very screwed.” Without a doubt, these people will be even more screwed – and distant from the folk singer that once captured their imagination – when the establishment of an authoritarian form of capitalism has been achieved.

6 thoughts on “Cuban Singer Silvio Rodriguez’ “Discoveries”

  • Does Havana Times belong to Moses Patterson, who is being cheated if he isn’t collecting a CIA salary, or to Circles Robinson, who, back when I knew him in Nicaragua, as a religiously childish pro-democracy liberal, was turning against the Sandinista revolution, and is now turning against the Cuban revolution, just in time to replace the CIA’s temporarily halted Twitter strategy to lure enough Cubans into the some street somewhere to draw fire and justify a NATO invasion?? -Glen Roberts,

  • Remember when Raul admitted in a speech three years ago that he was well aware that Cuban salaries did not meet even the basic needs of the people? I think these guys have always been ‘conscious’ of the failings of their revolution. Silvio has always known the Cuban people are screwed. These elites are so selfish and self-serving that despite their awareness they manage to maintain a false front of support for the propaganda the regime continually defecates for public consumption. However, every once in a while, a human side takes over their brains and they blurt out these kinds of remarks. In a week, Silvio will be back to his old self blabbering on about how special the revolution is and how important the message of the revolution is to the world. Like Raul after his salary remark, nothing will have changed.

  • Omar, I agree that not all people who refill lighters only do that to earn money. Sometimes, they also sell ‘jabas’ or the plastic bags and some even sell ‘duro frios’ or popsicles from their house as well. Real industrialists these guys! Riddle me this Batman: Would you quit your job to refill lighters or sell popsicles? How much of a craphole job would it have to be before you would quit? I have no hidden motivations. I want my Cuban family to have the same freedoms (and more) that I have. Period.

  • Is Silvio developing a conscience or is he just sensing that the wind is changing?

  • Moses, you are living in the town but seem to be blind to the houses. Look, most of the people refilling “the butane in cigarette lighters” are doing something else. Everybody knows that. It is not surprising comming from someone who insist in the embargo as the way to improve live for Cubans. Assuming that this the real motivation of your comments.


  • It continues to amaze me that despite how truly “screwed” most Cubans are, the regime manages to maintain an image for most tourists that leaves tourists believing things are not so bad. I spend most mornings in Havana sipping coffee at the outdoor café in front of the Hotel Colina. From that vantage point, I see two or three Havanatur tour buses daily loaded to the gills with tourists wearing big hats and expensive cameras. I am probably in thousands of tourists photos as the “typical Cuban”. Most of these tourists don’t see the crushing poverty or understand how many Cubans go to work hungry. The buildings that fall down every week collapse far from the tourists hotels and government-sponsored paladares. It is clear that along with the tourists who are intentionally shielded from seeing the real Cuba, elites like Silvio Rodriguez are also out of touch with the early morning bread lines, and all day waits in the sun to fill up propane tanks for cooking. I know people who left State jobs because they could make more money sitting on a stool on the sidewalk refilling the butane in cigarette lighters. Imagine that! I hope things change for Cuba soon.

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