Sunday, September 7, 2008


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.

Maybe so.

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, “6:00 p.m., 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.

Bottom line:

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 Cuba.

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.


Henry Louis Gomez said...

I'm sure it was the noise level that got him into trouble and not the fact that he calls a fidel a "come pinga" in his songs. /sarcasm

Please Phil, your logical gymnastics at trying to defend the regime's actions are comical. Quit while you're behind.

There's a reason why Gorki and his band have to rehearse in his father's apartment. It's because there is no room in Cuba's officially sanctioned music scene for such harsh critics of the regime and you know it. That's why Gorki's music has to be sold in an underground way, it's why they have to throw "flash concerts" where they plug in and play before they get rousted.

Just more of the same from the regime.

But you are right things are changing. The regime is vulnerable. Some of the international media outlets in Cuba are starting to report some semblance of the Cuban reality. All of that is no thanks to Raul...

Or you.

Anonymous said...

Peters is an expert on Cuba -- the New York Times says so.

Ernesto said...

Errático comentario, Phil. Tardío, moralista, poco informado y superficial.

Anonymous said...

with experts like this, the regime do not need any more fool to lie to

Anonymous said...

After 50 years of siege mentality what a surprise the govt reaction. The only thing to take from this is he wasn't jailed and build from that; criticism for moving in the right direction only fosters more intransigence. And those who don't want change win. (Those who are critical should move from their glass houses)

Anonymous said...

Bottom line: I don´t like Gorki's lyrics, so I don't care if Castro crushes him.

Phil Peters said...

Henry, if you read what I actually wrote, you’ll see that I fully accept that the unanimous version may be correct. If that single line of thought is the only one acceptable to you, and speculating about another possibility amounts to “defending the regime’s actions,” then we don’t have much to discuss.

Anon, don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.

Ernesto, apart from that, I hope you enjoyed the piece.

Anonymous said...

Phil unleashes his inner Tipper Gore. ;-)

Vana said...

No one denounced or complained about the noise, it has been going on for years, the regime wanted to get it's hands on Gorki because he tells the truth, it was the international pressure that freed Gorki, not the tyranny, if it takes a Gorki to be the Havel of Cuba so be it.

Anonymous said...

Remember when you wanted to meet Gorki and asked me for an introduction but you told me that you would not take a CD and a letter that I wanted to give you for him?
Remember what I said, that maybe you should not meet him?

I think that I was right when I decided that you didn't deserve to meet a man who has the cojones to stand up straight against that regime.

Phil, this article amplifying what the regime says about Gorki is just low.

Had you met him at that time I would not be surprised if I saw you know trying to jump onto the bandwagon.

Ah, what a moralist.
Do you have anything to say about the morals of Raul Castro?

This jewel of a paragraph you typed says everything about you:

"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."

Do you really believe that a few nights in jail can intimidate a real man?
What's your next piece of advise for the regime about intimidating Gorki, waterboarding perhaps?

Thanks, but no thanks, Mr. Peters.
So you condemn Gorki, and we are to supposed to be blessed with your "friendship"? It sounds more like arrogance, (false sense of) superiority, and more.

Anonymous said...

A very corageous and balanced analysis that is not carried away by moralism, superficiality and fanaticism. I dont see why it would be late. It is an analysis after the fact that looks at the facts.

And Mr. Peters, I hope you go to Havana and meet Gorki or who ever you want. You dont need those crazy gatekeepers that, for one, have not set foot there in their adult life...

Fantomas said...

Phil , I'm sorry man yo have no place IN A FREE AND DEMOCRATIC CUBA


theCardinal said...

Phil, I normally back you but despite your protests to the contrary you practically stuck up for the regime on this one. This the most disappointing piece I have ever read from you. I agree with Henry about once ever 31 days...I look forward to 30 days of disagreeing.

Anonymous said...

I can see how it might be hard to find a place to rehearse if the Cuban govt doesn't sanction you; but that doesn't mean your neighbors don't still legitimately hate the noise. I think the govt wanted to intimidate him and neighbor complaints gave them the reason to.

This musician is no Havel of Havana. I'm a little shocked that everyone would rush to defend a guy whose songs feature the debasement - and murder- of women. He's sick. I won't suggest he shouldn't have the right to sing this garbage, but if he were here in the US all of you would play Tipper Gore and call him just a punk.

Where is the outcry when a book gets banned from a school right here in the USA?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:35
The song in question does not advocate for women assassination, one needs to be a little too wanton to condemn the singer for that. The song talks about a famous case in Havana, a real murder case in which a woman was assassinated in the Colon Cemetery, by her lover. But how would you know that.... Of course Peters could have done his homework, but decided to use ONE song to condemn the artist.
Ever heard of freedom of speech?
Do you think that it's only applicable to Anglo Saxon Americans and not to Spanish speaking Cubans in Cuba? Well, it's a universal right.
Now, you might want to limit the right of the artists to get whatever they want from real life and sing about it. Remember Maxwell's Silver Hammer? Would you accuse Lennon and McCartney of promoting killings with a hammer blow to the back of the victim's head? Would you say that "She left through the bathroom window" encouraged young girls to run away from home?
Or that "happiness is a warm gun" is an anthem for nuts with guns conquering happiness with the smoking barrels of their pistols?
That's your prerogative.
I hope you criticize with the same zeal the lyrics of gangsta rap, which really talk about killing cops and raping women, pimping and so on, but somehow you don't seem to be the type. As per the neighbors accusations, read the numerous blogs and the press, and ultimately listen to the interviews available online with Gorki's father, band members, and others; the accusation comes from a woman called Heidi, who doesn't even live in the same building. Gorki's next door neighbors testified that they weren't bothered by the music, his lyrics, or the noise. This is all the doing of the regime which in its best tradition fabricated yet another case. Maybe government intimidation sounds right for you, given that you hate some sort of music. Do you use the police to intimidate your neighbors? Just asking. From me, you get a lot of outcry when censorship is applied, but from you... what I am getting is that censorship is ok, as long is practiced by the tyranny of Cuba.

Anonymous said...

Si el objeto de las letras de Gorky no fuese Fidel, sino Bush, entonces a Gorki no le hubiese pasado absolutamente nada y el gobierno le diría a los vecinos que aguantar la música alta de Gorki es un deber revolucionario.


Alex said...

Phil, I have to strongly disagree with you on this one. For what I know of Gorki and his history with the regime, it's clear he is his own man, not being set up by any nefarious forces. (Havel wasn't "set up" by anybody either). He sings what he sings out of conviction and I don't see any reason to doubt it.

The comparison with Havel, an much more incisive politically motivated writer, is arbitrary and can be there only to malign Gorki. He's a punk musician with all the irreverence and envelope-pushing the genre entails.

leftside said...

It needs to be pointed out that Bravo and Gomez have a personal relationship with the "artist" Gorki. They ought to explain it. Who maintains Gorki's website, who sells his CDs? Who has handles his PR and carefully promoted the image of a censored rebel, which was broadcasted around the world verbatim without a fact check or semblence of journalism in sight? While we are at it, we can ask them about their views of violence in relation to Cuba.

Gorki's own website features multiple mentions of being spoken to about the decibel levels - by neighbors and the authorities. He was clearly warned, but with his ego fed by by his US backers, he probablty decided to thumb his nose and risk arrest, knowing full well it would be misunderstood and made into a propoganda moment for those with radical plans for the island. Even with the laughable outcome, they probably think they still won the battle because there were far fewer stories sent around the world about the outcome. A high-school buddy of mine had heard of the arrest but not of the result. Perfect.

Anonymous said...

Henry does not have ANY relationship whatsoever with Gorki or Porno Para Ricardo.
I do.
I help maintain their website.
By the way, there are some free MP3 available in the website and soon there will be another website which will feature free music by the member of the band, in case you care. I suspect you don't.
His CDs are sold and all the proceeds go to the band, you don't work for the IRS so I don't have to give you more details, but here you are:
An independent company prints the CDs
They are mailed to whoever buy them, regular USPS, or rush, depending on how fast the customer wants it. The CDs are sold for 9.99. From that figure discount the cost of printing covers, pressing the CDs, mailing to us, and mailing to the client and you have just a meager symbolic amount that goes to the band, and then you have to discount the fee that certified agencies as Western Union charge to send the proceeds to the band. Ah, and I suppose you have to be grateful to Bush and Co. that we can only send a limited amount of cash to the band per year.

Of course, you could have ask that at the bands website, but following the toilet logics of your communist brain you have to ask here with the hope of discredit the band or what you call "their handlers" when the only ones with handlers are commie groupies as yourself. Mind you, the ones who love communism without suffering it.
PR: the website. If we were as good at PR as you suggest, the band would not be constrained to rehearse in a makeshift studio or being verboten in Cuba, we would have landed some good Latin American and Spanish gigs for them, and maybe some in Miami -given that we are so good that we would be able to convince your idols to let them out of Cuba. You asked the same questions in Along the Malecon, but you have to ask them again. These were my answers again.
Violence in relation to Cuba:
The communist government of Cuba is violent against 12 million human beings.
Fact checking, ask CNN, AFP, EFE, and all the other agencies that have visited the band in Cuba. They can give you a thick file on their findings. The same is valid for the Nobel Institute, and Free Muse, not to mention Amnesty International.
Censored rebel: if they go after you and they ban you from performing in the public space due to your political views, then you are a censored rebel.
A per your second paragraph, it is so high schoolish that it doesn't merit comments.... but let's say....
Would you condone the silencing of liberal acts in the United States just because they don't cheer for Bush? Because I don't. For me they have their God given right to dissent, from Bush and from whoever is in power. But for you.... since the target is the dictatorial government of Cuba -which is sacrosanct for you- they ought to be prosecuted.
Now that I answered all your questions, you are free to go have a life. A nice one.

Henry Louis Gomez said...


I have to agree with C.B. I have ZERO relationship with Gorki Aguila and Porno Para Ricardo except that I bought 3 of their CDs last year.

My activities with BUCL in the case of Gorki Aguila were nothing more than those of a group of people that are concerned about human rights. Gorki is a public figure and we decided to denounce his arrest and kangaroo court proceedings. We never spoke for anyone other than ourselves. I am very happy that Gorki was released from jail and know it had nothing to do with any efforts I tried to organize but more to do with the hard work of people on and off the island like Yoani, Ernesto Hernandez Busto and Charlie Bravo who put the media's feet to the fire.

Phil, even your "moderate" supporters are calling you out on this one. La cagaste. You let your true stripes show a little too much.

How are those Nickel prices?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Henry. We need to be crystal clear with all these people who love nothing more than murky waters. I mean, the sole fact that there's a repetition all over that there's a "Miami millionaire machine behind Porno Para Ricardo" reads exactly like what the twats at the police station asked Gorki; so I venture thinking that some connection there might be, like in handler and handled.
And now that you have their three CDs, let me invite you to be on the chase for the next one. What an irony, using this post on this blog to promote Porno Para Ricardo's work.
For the record, as Henry himself can attest, we have a less than warm relationship, but I give the man chapeau for his honesty and when he's right, well, he's right.
So, I think that to the dismay of some commentators this doesn't qualify as a Miami conspiracy to give Raul Castro a bad case of hemorrhoids.