Cuban musicians support protests and government softens stance Miguel Diaz-Canel News


Havana, Cuba – The communist government of Cuba has long promoted and revered its musicians, and in return many songs were written about the early ideas and glamor of the revolution. Lyrics such as “Better to sink into the sea before betraying the glory we have lived” by Pablo Milanes still bring tears to Cuban eyes.

However, violence in Cuban streets since Sunday has caused a strip of the island’s most famous musicians to publicly criticize the Cuban state, as the government seems to soften its line toward protesters’ demands, lifting some restrictions about food and medicine.

Los Van Van is Cuba’s most famous salsa band, named after Fidel Castro’s 1970 call to people to go to the sugar cane fields in an effort to make the island self-sufficient.

On Tuesday evening, the Grammy-winning group posted a statement on Facebook: “We support the thousands of Cubans who claim their rights … We will always support people, whoever they are, whatever they think.”

Adalberto Alvarez, pianist, conductor and composer and at 72, a gentleman from the island’s former dance schools, said: “The images I see of violence against a people who go out to express what they feel peacefully make me wrong … Which side am I on? I’m with people. “

The members of the Elito Revé Orchestra, except for the mythical one, wrote: “Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.”

These proclamations are almost as unpublished as the demonstrations that began in the city of San Antonio de los Banos on Sunday and quickly spread throughout Cuba.

Thousands of people, who mentioned exhaustion with power outages and lack of access to food and medicine, occurred in 40 different places.

In some places, the demonstrations became violent, with rocks thrown and cars turned upside down. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel appeared on television to describe the protesters as “vulgar, indecent and delinquent.”

Images of government forces – police, black wasps and Interior Ministry personnel dressed in civilian clothes – grabbed protesters from the crowds and dragged them, shocked the entire country and caused the artists to speak out. .

Spanish singer Miguel Bose (L), Puerto Rican Olga Tanon (C), Juan Formell (3rd R), head of Los Van Van from Cuba, Juanes (2nd R) from Colombia and X-Alfonso (R) from Cuba greets the crowd at the end of the 2009 Peace Without Borders concert [File: Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images}

And once some of the biggest names had made their views clear, others followed like a flood. X Alfonso, the musician who founded Fabrica de Arte, the most popular nightspot in Havana, spoke, as did Cimafunk who wrote Me Voy, the biggest hit of recent years.

“Not all of us have to think alike,” said Haila Maria Mompie, a salsa singer who has fronted government projects. “Today we should come together, the ones inside and the ones outside… in order to support the truth and to all of those who suffer.”

Like many of the musicians, she asked for restraint on both sides of the Florida Straits, given comments in the last few days from Miami politicians that all options, including military strikes, should be considered. “[We should not be] trying to kill each other like beasts, ”he said.

In other countries, such a response could be expected from the arts. However, in Cuba speaking out against the government often leads to silence. Sixty years ago, last month, Fidel Castro set out his expectations of intellectuals and artists in a famous speech. “Within the revolution, everything,” he said. “Against the revolution, nothing.”

It was an attempt to consolidate this idea in the constitution of Cuba in 2019, according to decree 349 which seemed to require the prior signature of any artistic event by a state institution, which caused the first signs of new dissent in the Havana.

Government supporters marched in front of the Spanish embassy in Havana, Cuba, on Sunday, July 11, 2021. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in several Cuban cities to protest the lack of food and the high food prices [Eliana Aponte/AP Photo]

More than 300 arts-related youths gathered outside Cuba’s culture ministry on November 27, 2020 to protest a police crackdown on a group of dissident artists on hunger strike. “It gives the feeling that these protests are possible,” one of the attendees said at the time.

Since then there has been a periodic and continuous suppression of artists, including the famous performance artists Tania Bruguera and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, whose recent hunger strike ended up confined to a state hospital.

The last demonstrations arose from more general problems. Due to the lack of mechanical parts, which the government says are not available due to the 60-year embargo on the United States, Cuba is struggling to generate enough electricity. In some areas of the country, this has led to an extensive power outage.

This is accompanied by a terrible shortage, as the government struggles to pay its bills and import food, due, he says, to the effect of the pandemic on the economy and what it calls the U.S. “blockade.” . Protesters in San Antonio de los Banos spoke of “blackouts and lack of medication.”

Many protesters sing “Homeland and Life”, which means Homeland and Life. Patria i Vida is the name of a reggaeton song by Descemer Bueno, Gente de Zona and Yotuel, artists who have worked in Cuba in the past but now live in Miami. He attacked the regime with the letter “It’s over”. The title reproduced the old revolutionary slogan of Homeland or Death, Homeland or Death.

Since Sunday, it looks like the government has been restrict the Internet, although as of Thursday this was relaxed.

The Cuban government blames protests for U.S. interference. “We are living a new chapter of unconventional war,” said Rogelio Polanco Fuentes, a senior official of the Communist Party of Cuba.

The anti-government protests in Cuba on Sunday, July 11, 2021 were the largest the island nation had seen in nearly 30 years. [Eliana Aponte/AP Photo]

On Tuesday, state media announced a 36-year-old man, Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, had been killed in violent protests Monday night in the Havana suburb of La Guinera, saying the Interior Ministry “regretted his death,” but noted that he had a history of criminal activities.

According to Amnesty International, more than 100 people involved in the demonstration, allegedly arrested, remain missing.

On Wednesday evening, the government was admitting that protesters could have some legitimate concerns. That set aside restrictions by the amount of medicine and food that travelers could bring to the island (until now arriving passengers were restricted to 10 kg (22 pounds) of medicine in luggage). The government has also waived customs charges for these items from July 19 through December 31.

Diaz-Canel said: “Maybe we should apologize to someone who, in the midst of the confusion that arises in events like this, may have been confused, may have been mistreated.”

The new tone continued to strengthen on Thursday morning: “May Cubans never lack unity, respect and love for life,” the president tweeted.

COVID restrictions mean that very few flights arrive in the country, so it is unclear what effect the lifting of the restrictions will have.

Not all Cuban artists have turned away from the authorities. Silvio Rodriguez, often called the Cuban Woodie Guthrie or Bob Dylan, said the demonstrations had been “prepared and encouraged by the imperial regime.”

For artists, the pandemic has been a very hard time. It has been more than a year since they were separated from the public and income, as places like La Tropical, La Bombilla Verde, Diablo Tun-Tun and El Mejunje went dark.

Rafa Escalona, ​​director of the music magazine AM: PM, told Al Jazeera that the appearance of the musicians’ statements was important. “The most remarkable thing [the musician] better, ”he said.

He had previously made a joke on Twitter: “At this rate, with his usual policy of censoring any artist who deviates from the government’s official speech, I don’t know what Cuban radio and television will broadcast from now on.”

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