Mixing Politics at Live Concert in Cuba Gets Musician Banned

Robertico Carcassés, fundador de Interactivo. (Foto reproducida por autorización)

Robertico Carcassés, founder of Interactivo. (Photo reproduced with permission)

On September 12, the campaign to free “Los Cinco” culminated with a concert at the Anti-Imperialist Tribune, located near the United States Interests Section in Havana. For over three hours, artists belonging to diverse musical genres participated. Near the end, when the group Interactivo was performing, its founder, pianist Robertico Carcassés, improvised a chorus that made a critique of the Cuban government.

“We want our brothers to return and we want much more,” said Carcassés, referring to the four Cuban political prisoners that still remain imprisoned in the United States. The audience hummed, “I want, remember that I always want.” Carcassés asked again, “I want them to free the Five Heroes and María,” alluding to marijuana, a drug whose sale and consumption is illegal in Cuba today.

Later he added: “[I want] free access to information to have my own opinion” and “to elect a president by direct vote and not otherwise.” The improvisation ended with the phrase, “Neither militants nor dissidents, all Cubans with the same rights and may the blockade [of the United States towards Cuba] and the self-blockade come to an end.”

Although the performance was not interrupted, and was broadcast live entirely on Cuban state television, Interactivo posted the following on its Facebook page [es]:

Declaraciones de Interactivo en su perfil de Facebook

Interactivo's statements on its Facebook page

(…) Roberto dijo algunas cosas que seguramente ya todos conocen y nos citaron ayer a todos a una reunión al Instituto Cubano de la Música donde se nos informó que Roberto queda ‘separado del sector’ por tiempo indefinido. Quiere decir que no se puede presentar solo ni con Interactivo en ningún lugar estatal.

(…) Roberto said some things that surely everyone already knows, and all of us were called into a meeting at the Cuban Institute of Music where we were informed that Roberto is now “separated from the sector” indefinitely. What this means is that he cannot perform solo nor with Interactivo at any state facility.

When the post was deleted, minutes later, it had already been shared 40 times and had 36 comments. The group's performances in two nightclubs in Havana last Saturday and next Wednesday have been canceled, a fact this this author confirmed via telephone. A worker at Café Miramar said that “she did not know the reasons” behind the cancellation.

Reactions on blogs and social networks emerged immediately. Carcassés has been praised and criticized from a diverse audience. According to Cuban journalist Marta María Rodríguez, who interviewed Carcassés [es] in 2003 for the Cuban daily Juventud Rebelde:

No puedo, no quiero dejar de solidarizarme con Robertico (Roberto Carcassés) y con Interactivo. Es inaceptable no pronunciarse a favor de la libertad de opinión, de expresión, en cualquier circunstancia. Si permitimxs se censure a nuestrxs artistas, qué pasará con nosotrxs? Ya decía otro gran artista, James Mullen, que “La libertad, al fin y al cabo, no es sino la capacidad de vivir con las consecuencias de las propias decisiones”. Las consecuencias de Robertico serán suyas. Pero, las de permitir su censura sin pronunciarnos, más allá de nuestras ideologías, son todas nuestras.

I cannot nor do I wish to stop expressing my solidarity with Robertico (Roberto Carcassés) and with Interactivo [es]. It is unacceptable not to rule in favor of freedom of opinion, of expression, under any circumstances. If we allow our artists to be censored, what will happen to us? Another great artist, James Mullen, already said that “Freedom, after all, is nothing but that ability to live with the consequences of our actions”. Robertico's consequences will be his. But, the ones that come from allowing his censorship without speaking out, beyond our ideologies, are all ours.

Cuban Americans for Engagement alluded [es] alluded to recent statements [es] by the pianist about the United States blockade on Cuba.

¿Qué dice Robertico Carcasses sobre el bloqueo de EE.UU a Cuba? “Las relaciones políticas con Estados Unidos marcan el nivel de alcance que pueda tener nuestra música en el exterior, ya que ellos dominan la mayor parte del mercado mundial y practican un bloqueo ridículo a mi país, hace más de medio siglo”. CAFE desea que todos los que andan alabando a Carcasses por sus críticas al gobierno, legítimas o no, en lugar apropiado o no, discutan con el mismo vigor y actúen para quitar lo que el llama: “bloqueo ridículo a mi país, hace más de medio siglo”.

What does Robertico Carcassés say about the U.S. blockade on Cuba? “Political relations with the United States mark the level of scope that our music can have abroad, since they dominate the majority of the world market and practice a ridiculous blockade against my country from over half a century ago.” CAFE wants all of those who praise Carcassés for his criticisms of the government, legitimate or not, appropriate or not, to discuss these expressions with the same vigor and to take action to get rid of what he calls: “a ridiculous blockade against my country from over half a century ago.”

On blog Capítulo Cubano [es], Vizenso Basile considers the following:

No se trata de juzgar las peticiones de Robertico. Carcassés ha ejercido su elemental derecho a la opinión y sobre esto no cabe la más mínima duda (…) No ha dicho nada de subversivo, contrarrevolucionario, ni de otro planeta. Al contrario, ha abordado quizás las cuestiones que -hoy día- más pueden interesar a la población de la Isla. Un cambio en los medios de comunicación, la abertura completa a un internet que no cueste más que pepita de oro, un sistema presidencial en vez de uno parlamentario (aunque sobre esto pueden haber distintas dudas y opiniones), una reconciliación nacional que elimine anacrónicas divisiones debidas a las contingencias históricas del siglo pasado. En una sola palabra, el autobloqueo, ese bloqueo interno, a veces absurdo, que sintetiza, contiene y genera muchas contradicciones, reconocidas en varias ocasiones por los mismos dirigentes de Cuba.

It is not about judging Robertico's requests. Carcassés has exercised his fundamental right to an opinion and there is not even the slightest doubt about that (…) He has not said anything subversive, counterrevolutionary, nor out of this world. On the contrary, he has addressed perhaps the questions that – today – may most interest the island's population. A change in media, the complete opening to an Internet that does not cost more than a gold nugget, a presidential system instead of a parliamentary one (although regarding this there may be distinct doubts and opinions), a national reconciliation that eliminates anachronistic divisions due to historical contingencies of the previous century. In a word, the self-blockade, this internal blockade, sometimes absurd, which synthesizes, contains and generates many contradictions, recognized on several occasions by the very leaders of Cuba.

Later, Basile points out:

Lo que ha ocurrido es que Carcassés ha hecho peticiones sagradas, casi imprescindibles en la Cuba de hoy, pero en un lugar equivocado y en el momento menos oportuno. Esto es lo que ha pasado el 12 de septiembre. Y la cuestión problemática es la consecuencia de su actuación. Roberto se ha convertido en el héroe mediático del momento, en el que desafía al régimen.

En otras palabras, Roberto -consciente o inconscientemente- ha robado espacio a la causa de lo Cinco y ha dejado en un segundo plano el principal objetivo de una -hay que repetirlo- gigantesca y espontánea movilización popular. No se trata de juzgarlo, criticarlo o condenarlo. Solamente se trata de analizar las consecuencias mediáticas de su gesto, quizás genuino y necesario pero que ha dado un pretexto más a la prensa internacional para manipular y silenciar las verdades de Cuba. Más allá de esto, nada más y nada menos. No se pretendan aplausos, ni represalias.

What has happened is that Carcassés has made requests that are sacred and almost essential in the Cuba of today, but he did so in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is what happened on September 12. The problematic issue is the consequence of his actions. Roberto has become the media hero of the moment in which he challenges the regime.

In other words, Roberto – consciously or unconsciously – has stolen space from the Los Cinco cause and has left the main objective of a giant and spontaneous popular mobilization – which must be repeated – in the background. It is not about judging, criticizing, or condemning him. It is solely about analyzing the media consequences of his act which, while perhaps genuine and necessary, has given another pretext to the international press to manipulate and silence the truths of Cuba. Beyond this, nothing more and nothing less. Neither applause nor retaliation is expected.

An article published in Progreso Semanal [es] considers that “the outcome of this saga will reflect the limits of official tolerance in a context in which the very Raúl Castro has called to debate – in the right place at the right time and in the right way – and to the defrosting of certain issues.”

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