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Armando Chaguaceda: At 33, I feel sometimes old and tired; other days I wake up with the desire to strive, to be surprised and to persevere—with decency, affection, ideas and values. I was born in the town of Regla, with its provincial charm and custom of ignoring the sidewalks. I grew up atheist, surrounded by believing friends, in a family of Martí followers and enemies of dogma. I have assimilated my growing marginality, in relation to so many friends who have emigrated, fellow “fighters” of daily Havana life who, regrettably, have been added to the growing bandwagon of the “apolitical.” For 12 years I have combined my dying passion for politics and social sciences with teaching. I’m currently in Xalapa, Mexico, but I feel within me the imperative to return and do something in a Cuba too present, too uncertain, too beautiful, frank, harrowing and different. I hope I will.

A Cuban Musician’s “Daring” Public Statements

September 17, 2013 | Print Print |

Roberto Carcasses back in August 2013. Photo: from the Facebook page of the  band Interactivo.

HAVANA TIMES — The logic of control and exclusion of the Cuban government seems to be alive and well. Now, after a live performance by Cuban singer-songwriter Roberto Carcasses, where the artist dared accompany the legitimate call for the release of four Cubans currently imprisoned in the United States and the lifting of the embargo with demands for change on the island, the allergic reactions of some enthusiastic government supporters are mind-boggling, to say the least.

In the worst bureaucratic style, they are accusing Carcasses of expressing his ideas “at the wrong place and time”.

It’s as though official calls for public date, the subjects discussed in those spaces and the structures established to carry out such exchanges were not designed to operate as a chain belt for conveying ideas in only one direction: from the top to bottom.

These are issued as orders handed down to the population from a command post, supposedly after the public makes its opinion known to those above. This as though Cuba knew a horizontal system of debate, among sectors of the population connected by a vibrant and autonomous media.

Boldly displaying their double standards, those who would censor Carcasses today are the same people who applaud anti-establishment artists of the ilk of Calle 13 or Pussy Riot when they use any stage to make political demands, frequently with considerably more vigor than seen on the island (to the satisfaction of yours truly, I might add).

These guardian angels / demons are now telling the artist he has been “opportunistic”, forgetting he has expressed these same views on previous occasions and that the work he has been doing with fellow artists is a form of artistic experimentation that represents a search for greater autonomy, within a State-centered society that is politically dominating and culturally stifling.

Blatantly, almost insolently, they forget that a restricted freedom is no freedom at all, and that this is something expressed, almost a century ago, by a German communist who died for her ideas of justice and a truly democratic government.

Now that the musician has been punished and, as was to be expected, removed from all official institutions and billboards (which, in Cuba, is tantamount to disappearing from the country’s cultural map), developments once again bring to the fore a medullar problem which has existed for decades namely, the Cuban State’s fear of any kind of autonomy.

The problem, folks, is that these are the State officials who decide – on the basis of both law and force – who is and is not a person, and what is or is not a proposal, worthy of the appellation of “revolutionary.”

This holds for all forms and contents of every imaginable criticism, suggestion or initiative, made at a student debate, a public gay-pride activity or during the planting of trees in an empty lot.

These three examples are not accidental or metaphorical allusions: they were real initiatives, undertaken by Cubans committed with a happier, fuller and freer life, in the here and now of their homeland, Cubans who were not receiving funds from the CIA or the US Interests Section, initiatives dismantled by Cuban State agents in recent years through a mixture of preventive, punitive measures and brutal pressures.

Much remains to be said about this incident, which will likely be a topic of discussion for some time now. Or maybe not. Perhaps the repressive apparatus, relying on the indifference of the artist’s peers, will wear the singer down, contributing to the hemorrhaging of talent which undermines the country’s future more and more every day.

Incidents of this nature have at least one positive side to them, that of making us understand something more clearly: if that which we call the Cuban revolution is, as I believe it is, a contradictory legacy of myth and fact, censorship and resistance, oppression and freedom, something stemming from the authentic will of the people and spuriously administered on its behalf by State functionaries, we have to decide which side we stand on, particularly when, hiding behind the lyricism of the yellow ribbons that decorate the city today, we can discern, in all its crudeness, the strings that hold the best hopes and dreams of the nation.

Conservatism and right-wing ideology continue to gain ground, unchecked, throughout the country, along with State censorship and a market logic that subjugates all artistic creation.

It would be magnificent if, within the coordinates of the revolution (understood as a legitimate promise of social justice, democracy and sovereignty, people were to speak up when faced with ridiculous and atrocious situations like this one.

If, however, silence is chosen and people continue to make excuses, as they have done for so long, then there is no longer anything we can do, save leave the comfortable and naïve domain of utopia to settle completely in the land of complicity and cynicism.


What's your opinion?

  • Dan

    Not that Cuba, like everywhere else, could not benefit from more grassroots input and control of decisions. However, Carcasses is naive, and fails to recognize the logic of the blockade. Why not lift it first, have the United States get off Cuba’s back, economically, militarily if not politically, first, and let the Cuban system rise or fall on its own merits. Then complete freedom of ideas would be warranted. But to have the US continually turn the screws on the Cuban economy, organize,finace and direct the “dissidents” and continue its unceasing efforts at “regime change” makes that nothing short of suicidal. The United States has always curtailed freedom of speech, usually with more sophisticated, indirect means, when facing much lesser threats.

    • Moses Patterson

      Dan, lifting the ‘embargo’ would only serve to encourage the Castros to continue the brutal repression of the Cuban people. By the way, there is no US military pressure being applied to the Castro regime. If there were, the regime would not have survived as long as it has. The Castros have no intention of allowing the “complete freedom of ideas” to flourish in Cuba, even without an embargo. To do so would fatally threaten the dictatorship. The rise or fall of the “Cuban system” is not dependent on US policy. Agricultural output, worker productivity and bureaucratic corruption are impacted nearly entirely by internal levers. If there is one freedom Americans share head and shoulders above the rest of the world, it is our freedom to speak our minds. Name one instance where freedom of speech was hindered by the US government and I will show a national protest in response. Go ahead, name one….

      • Dan

        Here’s 2. IWW being banned from using the postal service. COINTELPRO campaign against independant newspapers. The system is much to sophisticated to resort to direct censure. It can rely on the marketplace and the educational system, among less obvious tools.
        No military pressure ? In which universe ? Forget Playa Giron, Guantanamo, the Escambray. Look at Afghanistan, Serbia ,Iraq, ect. The USA was anointed by God to intervene “in the dark corners of the earth” (George Bush) to set things right for the cause of “Freedom”. Cuba clearly is a dark corner in Washington’s eyes. In fact after the Shock & Awe show in Baghdad, when the buildings and bodies were still smoking but before the resistance began, the US ambassador in the DR made a brash public statement about Cuba being next in line.
        I agree there are gigantic domestic issues with the Cuban economy, but to say that for one example, worker productivity has nothing to do with the availability of capital inputs is disingenuous. And what about the denial of the world’s #1 export market?

        • Moses Patterson

          The IWW wanted to send political mail using their non-profit status. It is AGAINST THE LAW!! Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, and other political groups PAY to send their propaganda. You are wrong again! The Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron) was a CIA-funded band of exiles, not US Marines. There is a BIG difference. Since then, there has been NO military pressure brought to bear on Cuba. Still wrong. Privately-owned farms in Pinar del Rio are five times more productive than state-operated farms, according to Cuba’s own CNE. Same capital inputs. Strike three genius. You speak of selling to Americans as if it is a right we have wrongfully taken away from Cuba. It is our sovereign right, not Cuba’s, to decide who we want to do business with. What does the sign say inside just about every business in America. “We reserve the right to refuse service…”. When Cuba complies with the stipulations set forth in US law, we will allow them to sell us their crap. If you want to help Cuba, take salsa lessons because your arguments are weak.

          • Dan

            The mail ban I referred to was in the 30′s. They were also arrested for handing out literature in public. And you think that it had something to do with current day non-profit mail ?!? You must not know nearly as much history as would first appear. Nor did you address COINTELPRO. Ditto on your reasoning re the military. No military pressure since Giron ? You might look up something called the Cuban Missile Crisis. Moreover, you don’t need an actual invasion. Are you unaware of all the military manuevers aimed at Cuba throughout the decades ? By your logic, the USSR never put military on the US and the US stopped putting pressure on the USSR after the invasion of 1920.
            Capital inputs don’t matter ? I see. So if Cuba is denied international financing to build an automated shoe factory. it doesn’t matter. They can turn them out just as cheaply and in the same quantity by sewing them by hand. No habla basura.

          • Moses Patterson

            The Cuban Missile Crisis? You’re joking right? Surely, you do not claim “victim” status for Cuba in this issue. They were pointing missiles at the US! Hell yea you are going to catch hell! Castro even solicited a nuclear first strike on the US knowing full well it would result in the annihilation of Cuba. A real genius move. As a result of a bargain with the Soviets, the US agreed to not invade Cuba. We have kept our end of the bargain.Time and again Cuba has obtained the international financing it seeks despite the embargo. Besides, it was Fidel who willingly defaulted on the IMF and World Bank loans owed by Cuba. During the period that Cuba nursed at the Soviet teet, Fidel mismanaged more Soviet rubles than the entire Marshal Plan budget. What does Cuba have to show for it? Even if Cuba got the Brazilians to pay for the ‘automated shoe factory’ and the Chinese to send the raw materials to make the shoes, and the Venezuelans to buy the shoes in exchange for the oil, they would still find Cuban workers stealing shoes out of the back door and Cuban managers taking bribes to look the other way. The Director of the Shoe Factory would be spending one week a month on Isla Margarita in Venezuela to “discuss business matters” with the Venezuelans. Come on, Dan. Heck, just last week someone stole a giraffe and four monkeys from the Havana Zoo! A GIRAFFE! The “embargo” is not Cuba’s problem!

          • Dan

            “We have kept our end of the bargain.” Except for that little Operation Mongoose thing, right ? And, at least the shoe factory would stay in Cuba. There are none left here. They were all bought up by billionaire LBO artists, stripped of their value and employees and moved off-shore to Haiti or China where they can pay starvation wages and send $100 a pair sneakers back to drug dealing teens in the US who will never have a good job or dignified life. See how easy it is to shoot holes in this system too?

          • Moses Patterson

            Operation Mongoose began in 1961, long before Castro decided to commit military suicide during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. There have been no military actions against Cuba since the cessation of tension with the Soviets and the removal of the missiles from Cuban soil. If you choose to compare the natural disappearance of low-skilled labor jobs from US soil to lower wage-paying countries like Haiti or China to the morally corrupt and mismanaged business practices commonplace in Cuba, go right ahead. You have the right to be stupid. (So explain the stolen giraffe?)

          • Dan

            The US continued to dump weapons to its mercenaries in the Escambray until 1966. The point , which you are not too good at seeing, is that Cuba has been subject to direct and indirect military aggression for 50 years. That would have an effect on the economy as well as civil ilberties in any country in the world. But then anyone who implies that corrupt ans mismanagement, while endemic in 3rd world Cuba, does not pervade Wall St., is just not a serious individual willing to consider facts rationally and should stick to stories about stolen giraffes.

          • Griffin

            Dan you are confused. The Cuban Missile Crisis was not an example of US military pressure on Cuba. It was an example of Soviet military pressure on the US. Cuba was stuck in the middle, and much to Fidel’s chagrin, he discovered that his Soviet benefactors didn’t consider him worthy of inclusion in their plans. When the confrontation between Kennedy & Khrushchev heated up, It was Fidel’s infamous “Armageddon Letter” to Khrushchev, in which he demanded that the USSR launch an all out nuclear attack on the US, which convinced the Russian leader to back down and withdraw his missiles. He realized his Cuban ally was a madman and could not be trusted with nuclear missiles.

            After the crisis, the US stuck to their commitment never to invade Cuba nor to help any other party do so. True, the US did continue covert operations against Cuba, just as the Cuban intelligence agency conducted covert operations against the US. As a matter of fact, the Cuban’s were remarkably good at it and ran rings around the CIA & FBI for years.

            It was Castro who pulled Cuba out of the IMF and cut the country off from international banking system, long before the US imposed the embargo. The US only imposed the embargo after Castro seized private property in Cuba. He knew his actions would provoke an embargo, which by his calculations at the time, served his purposes by isolating and polarizing the Cuban people. The embargo has indeed hurt the Cuban people, but the responsibility for it coming into existence lies with both Castro & the US.

            Now ask yourself, why would any foreign bank want to lend money to the Cuban government after they had seized all foreign owned assets? One does not lend money to the thief who just robbed you.

    • Griffin

      So you admit that to allow freedom of ideas would be suicidal for the Castro regime? That is a very clear admission that the regime is against the wishes if the Cuban people.

      Only by denying freedom and human rights can the dictatorship survive.

  • Griffin

    It is a measure of how extreme and repressive the Cuban system is that such mild lyrics can cause such an uproar. Roberto sung that he would like direct elections for president, freedom of information to make up his own mind, an end to the US embargo and to the internal embargo, and for the persecution of dissidents to stop. Are these outrageous demands? No, these are the standard values of peaceful & democratic societies around the world. Only in a totalitarian police state would such ordinary words be viewed as a threat to the regime.