Recent events suggest that Cubans might feel freer to speak out than they have in the past.
By Geoff Thale and Ana Goerdt, Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF)***
Cubans have long been careful about what they say and where they say it. However, recent events suggest that Cubans might feel freer to speak out than they have in the past.
On September 12, during a concert honoring the Cuban Five that was broadcast live throughout the island, Cuban singer Robertico Carcassés of the jazz group Interactivo improvised lyrics calling for free access to information and the election of the president via direct vote.
Carcassés’ words were unusually frank for a nationally televised concert. But they were especially unusual for an event related to the Cuban Five (Cuban intelligence agents who were arrested in Miami in 1998 and subsequently sentenced to long prison terms; they are considered heroes in Cuba). The Ministry of Culture, which controls music venues and recording, responded by banning Carcassés and Interactivo from state venues until further notice. The incident seemed to confirm that the Cuban government has no interest in tolerating public criticism.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story.
Ordinary Cubans, who were able to see Carcassés’ comments on television, had wide-ranging and nuanced reactions. Blogger Fernando Ravsberg commented that average Cubans “are divided into those who see Carcassés as an opportunist who ‘stole the stage during the concert for the Cuban Five,’ those who regard him as a courageous artist who ‘put everything on the line,’ those who think he ‘exercised his rights in the wrong place,’ and those (the majority) who simply find the whole thing rather boring.” What is perhaps most striking is that many Cubans object not to what Carcassés said, but rather to the forum in which he chose to say it.
Artists and intellectuals mixed criticisms of the government for punishing Carcassés with critiques of the singer’s choice of venue. Well-known Cuban musician Silvio Rodríguez summed up this sentiment on his blog, writing, “As a Cuban citizen Robertico has the right to say what he thinks. I would have preferred that he would do this in another concert, in a record, somewhere else, because the struggle for the freedom of [the Cuban Five] is sacred to the Cuban people.”
But Rodríguez also took action. To protest Carcassés’ suspension from government-owned venues, Rodríguez invited the singer to perform at two of his own concerts last month. In extending this invitation, Rodríguez was directly challenging the state—government censors would have had to cancel Rodríguez’s performances in order to enforce the suspension.
In the end, as Rodríguez reported on his blog,… (Feature continues here: Is Cuba Lightening Up on Dissenters?
Editor’s Note: This commentary is a joint publication of the Washington Office on Latin America and Foreign Policy In Focus.