The unanimous narrative about Gorki Aguila, leader of the Havana punk band Porno para Ricardo, is that the Cuban government intended to silence him, but flinched and retreated in the face of an Internet-fueled blast of worldwide outrage.
I missed this late-August event when I was away from the blog, and I wasn’t familiar with Gorki’s work. I checked it out; no doubt he’s quite a critic. He pulls no punches, blasting the government and its leaders in both political and personal terms, sometimes with obscenity. His band has fans overseas and uses the Internet to promote their work.
And the police reportedly picked Gorki up on the peligrosidad social charge – a prosecutorial blank check if there ever was one – the foundation of which is that the state can detect in a person’s behavior a “proclivity” to commit crimes, and judge him to be in a state of “dangerousness.” (See explanation from Amnesty International in its “Fear of unfair trial” alert about Gorki’s case.) Conviction on that charge could result in a four-year jail sentence.
So it appeared that they were coming after Gorki to deny him his right to voice dissent through his music, and in turn they were warning his band’s following not to get any big ideas.
That may indeed be what happened – even though, in the event, Gorki was convicted of “disobedience,” got no jail time, and was fined 600 pesos. One can’t discount the intimidation value of a few nights in jail with a trial and possible jail time looming.
But for the sake of being contrarian, I’ll add a few things.
If it’s the case that the Cuban government was intimidated by the Free Gorki campaign and its press coverage, that would represent a real change. This government, in the past few years, executed three youths for the crime of hijacking, arrested 75 dissidents in one fell swoop, and jailed the dissident jurist Rene Gomez Manzano for 19 months then freed him without bringing charges. It would not have been out of character, if there was a desire to press stiffer charges, for prosecutors to have done so regardless of the reaction.
Then I listened to some of the music, available on the band’s website. That experience raised the possibility that there could have been a grain of truth to the police story about neighbors complaining about the decibel level of the band’s rehearsals. That, according to Yoani Sanchez, was the prosecution’s argument at the trial, which was open, and which she attended. (Go here to read her report on the trial, with the account of the witnesses and the apparently desultory defense; see the final entry, “, El Juicio.”) Listen to the music, imagine living nearby as rehearsals are going on, and ask yourself if there’s a neighborhood on earth where a few neighbors wouldn’t call the cops. Gorki himself talked to reporters at home after the trial ended; he told AFP, “We can’t rehearse here anymore, we have to look for another place.”
Apart from the decibel level, there’s the issue of content. Much is sexual, and much has to do with issues of unrequited love, to put it mildly. Then there’s a vile song that Gorki, 39, sings about a relationship with a woman, including adventures on a bus and in a cemetery, that ends with him killing her with a single gunshot: “Only dead are you mine…And in my head I have you, every day.” It’s not hard to imagine that Cubans in an average neighborhood would not want to hear this, and would not want their kids to hear this.
The guy’s freedom of expression should be respected. I could care less about his genre or his taste.
If the neighbors complained, I don’t blame them.
I hope he gets rehearsal space.
Two motivations may in fact have been in play on the government’s part: warn a critic, and respond to neighbors’ complaints.
If Gorki is being set up as the Havel of Havana, then God help
And finally, the next time the Bush Administration is attacked for not caring about civil liberties, they can end the argument by holding up the Secretary of Commerce’s statement of support for Gorki Aguila, along with some of his lyrics.