Persecuted political artists defy Cuba crackdown
Havana, Cuba –
Walking up the stairs to the apartment of Gorki Aguila, lead singer of
the Cuban punk band Porno Para Ricardo (PPR), the scene is anything but
striking – greyish-white doors with tan borders.
But when you reach the last one on the right, Aguila’s door, you are
greeted by a sickly green paint-job bordered by a muted pink. Nothing is
normal with the outspoken frontman.
“This is a space free of communism,” Aguila, 45, firmly informed Al
Jazeera as he began an interview at his home, which also serves as a
do-it-yourself recording studio. It was built because “nobody will
record us. We’re completely independent. The Castros can’t lay a finger
in here,” he said, referring to the Cuban government.
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PPR doesn’t mince words when it comes to vocalising opposition towards
the Cuban leadership. The band’s repertoire includes songs addressed to
former President Fidel Castro, with lyrics saying he’s “a tyrant” that
no one can abide.
While the government may not have a finger inside, it maintains a
watchful eye outside. Standing in the Cuban heat and humidity, Aguila
motions towards an out-of-place security camera pointed in his direction.
“They installed that to monitor us after
we gave a concert on this balcony,
” he said nonchalantly.
“They want you to be afraid. If you raise your voice, [the authorities]
want you to know they can do whatever. They watch you, they harass you,
and then they arrest you.”
‘Big Brother’ everywhere
The punk rocker has been arrested multiple times. In 2003, as his music
was becoming more political – partly because of the experience of his
daughter going through what he calls “indoctrination” in Cuban schools –
an undercover policewoman asked him for narcotics. When he delivered, he
was promptly arrested.
After serving a two-year sentence, he became even more anti-Castro.
Three years later, he was arrested again on the charge of
“dangerousness”, a tool that allows Cuban authorities to pre-emptively
apprehend those whom they suspect will engage in rebellion.
Activists and dissidents including Damas de Blanco , a group that
organises marches with the loved ones of political prisoners, campaigned
for his freedom and he was released shortly thereafter. “More determined
than ever” to speak his mind.
Aguila had an altercation with police this past May, while placing
posters around Havana “promoting the release of [his] brother-in-arms”
Danilo Maldonado, a Cuban graffiti artist and human rights activist who
goes by the name “El Sexto”.
Maldonado was deemed “the most persecuted artist” in Cuba by the Cuban
Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press. The group reported the
Cuban Political Police, a special division that deals with dissidents,
has arrested Maldonado on multiple occasions in order to impede his
artwork and demonstrations.
His protests are known to be unforgiving of the Castro regime, and the
latest was no different: On Christmas Day 2014 Maldonado painted two
pigs green, wrote the names “Fidel” and “Raul” – the names of Cuba’s two
revolutionary presidents – on their sides, intending to march them to
the centre of Havana.
However, the artist was apprehended shortly after leaving his home. For
the last eight months, Maldonado has been held in a Cuban prison without
To Jose Luis Martinez from
the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), this proves that
surveillance on the socialist island is omnipresent.
“Big Brother is everywhere,” said Martinez, using the Orwellian concept
of a governmental all-seeing eye that monitors dissidents.
“A lot of the surveillance is done either by neighbours or state
security monitors, who could just show up across from your house and
monitor your activity all day,” he said. “We know of activists having
their cell phones cut off during demonstrations. The government keeps
track of anyone it considers dangerous.”
FHRC sponsors 26 political prisoners, the majority of whom are in jail
for expressing their opinion and advocating for democratic change,
according to Martinez.
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In recent years, the
profile of Cuban art has risen,
as well as its artists. Private galleries are now legal, and some hope
to see a rise in business as detente between the United States and Cuba
Most of these artists are not making political waves, as Article 39 of
the Cuban constitution
states that “
artistic creativity is free as long as its content is not contrary to
Rafael Almanza, a 58-year-old poet and visual artist who resides in
Camaguey, told Al Jazeera not all art must be political. “Maybe [an
artist] isn’t drawn to protesting against the government, and no one has
to. What’s important for an artist is sincerity.”
But the poet said as long as artists continue employing
governmental permission to open small-scale businesses, sell artwork,
services, and other goods to improve their quality of life, they are
engaging in a form of protest.
“This is the antithesis of the Cuban government; it’s an admission that
their way is incorrect,”
Almanza supports the efforts of Aguila, who has continued campaigning
for the release of Maldonado in spite of continued arrests and
harassment, going as far as to
record a music video for the cause.
Back at his apartment,
the bushy-haired singer Aguila said he has no choice but to strive
towards freedom of expression, in spite of constitutional limits.
“If I think that the government [deserves criticism], I should be able
to say it however I want. The problem is that there is only one ideology
allowed, the pro-Castro ideology. But Cubans are very diverse in their
Aguila said he feels lucky to perform with PPR and experience youth
“The truth is that for many young people, no matter what they say, their
only hope is to leave. I’ve left and I’ve come back because I want
Cubans to have the same opportunity to express themselves here as kids
do in other countries.”
Follow Creede Newton on Twitter: @creedenewton
Source: Persecuted political artists defy Cuba crackdown – Yahoo Maktoob