Saturday, August 18, 2012

Unleashing music’s power for political change in Cuba

Posted on Friday, 08.17.12

Unleashing music's power for political change in Cuba

Last week the BBC ran a story, by reporter Sarah Rainsford, claiming
sources within the dogmatic and unyielding Cuban state-run radio had
declared that previously forbidden Cuban-American musical performers
such as Willy Chirino, Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz have been stricken
from the censored list and will now be played over the island radio waves.

The story spread like wildfire on the blogosphere. Incredible and
irresponsible headlines in several languages promoted the supposed act
of openness as fact. The Cuban government has not officially commented
on any policy changes regarding artists that can or cannot be played on
its radio stations. Moreover, as of yet, no banned artist has been
played on air.

This was just another hapless attempt to depict Fidel's dictator brother
Raúl as something other than what he is, a ruthless despot.

The topic of censorship, bans and embargoes has always taken on an
ironic spin when it comes to Cuba. For the last 53 years that the Castro
brothers have ruled communist Cuba much of the talk regarding the
island's lack of economic and political development has centered around
the U.S. economic embargo.

While I question the embargo's political effectiveness in helping Cubans
chart a democratic course, it's shortsighted and simplistic to blame
most of Cuba's ills on the "blockade," as the regime calls the embargo.
I am perplexed at the credence given to the Cuban government's official
litany of excuses for its abject economic failures.

Freedom of speech is one of those areas that is (and has been since the
inception of the revolution) nonexistent in Cuba, and yet much of the
attention has been placed on Cuban exiles' legal and peaceful protests
over certain Cuban musical acts performing in Miami. I have always
defended the right of Cuban musicians (or those of any other
nationality) to play here. It is part and parcel of living in a free

I also understand that some of these figures can be offensive and
hurtful to a certain sector of our community — one that I am not willing
to discard or belittle to gain favor with so called progressives. We
have a right to protest without violence. For the most part, that has
happened in Miami.

Staunch, outspoken supporters of the Castro revolution such as Cuban
performers Pablo Milanes, Paulito FG and Los Van Van have played in
Miami. Performers from the island make regular appearances on Miami
television programs when visiting the Magic City.

That's not so in Cuba where the music of Willy Chirino, Gloria Estefan,
Albita, Amaury Gutierrez, Paquito D'Rivera, Arturo Sandoval and Marisela
Verena is not heard or talked about on any of the government-controlled
communication outlets. They, along with legends like Celia Cruz and
Cachao, have been vanquished from the "official" cultural tapestry. And,
yet, little is made about this shameful exclusion.

The advent of the Internet (albeit stringently monitored and controlled
on the island) and the accessibility of flash drives have made it almost
impossible for the regime to continue to ban the "enemy's music." Thus
comes this recent leak from unnamed sources about the regime being
poised to play some of the banned exile artists' "appropriate pieces"
(meaning songs that do not mention human rights).

The Cuban people's greatest deprivation of political, spiritual,
cultural and economic freedoms has been cast on them by the Castro
brothers and their indecently intolerant philosophies. If Raúl Castro,
who many analysts (including some in Miami) label a reformer, wants to
take a positive step he should not only end the ban on Cuban airwaves
but also allow the artists to travel to the island and perform in their
native land.

On one of my trips to Cuba, I heard Chirino's music playing
clandestinely in Havana. The emotions I witnessed it unleash were
powerful. Music can be a catalyst for change. It can erode intransigent
mountains. It might even loosen the regime's tone-deaf totalitarianism.

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