Cuban Singer Says Sanctioned For Bold Lyrics

A well-known Cuban singer said Monday he has been punished for going off message at a nationally televised concert last week, when he called for direct presidential elections and more freedom of information.

In a note published on the Facebook page of his jazz-fusion combo, Interactivo, Robertico Carcasses said he was summoned by the Culture Ministry the following day and told he was barred indefinitely from performing at state-run music venues.

“That is, by being opportunistic I had hurt myself with my performance, given that I live and support my family mostly through shows in such places,” Carcasses wrote.

Reached by phone earlier Monday, he declined to answer questions and said the upcoming Facebook post would contain everything he intended to say publically about the matter.

The offending performance came during a Thursday night concert organized to demand the return of the “Cuban Five” – intelligence agents sentenced to long prison terms in the United States.

Featuring an all-star lineup of Cuban musicians, held outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana and beamed to televisions across the island, it was as much a national rally as a musical show.

Carcasses, 41, set tongues wagging in the capital with his improvised lyrics, in which he also complained about the difficulty of buying a car and suggested that different viewpoints from the likes of dissidents should be tolerated.

Other lines about bringing the Cuban Five home and urging Washington to lift its 51-year-old economic and financial embargo apparently weren’t enough.

“I was also told I had betrayed the relatives who went there to mourn their children and fathers who are behind bars, that my ideas had nothing to do with the objective of that politico-cultural activity and my words only benefited the enemy,” Carcasses wrote.

Cuban artists and intellectuals have a long track record of testing the limits of Fidel Castro’s famous 1961 words about what constitutes acceptable criticism: “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Musical giants like Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez have made similar or even more pointed comments about respecting dissidents’ right to free expression, though perhaps not in such a high-profile forum.

In April, Roberto Zurbano, a leading cultural official, was demoted after he wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times that criticized “blatant racism” on the island. However, Zurbano refused to speculate on whether there was a direct link, and complained about the newspaper’s translation and editing of his copy.

Raul Castro, who assumed the presidency from his older brother in 2006, has invited Cubans to debate his economic and social reforms and said unpopular opinions will not be punished.

Carcasses expressed regret at dragging his band mates into a difficult situation not of their making, over opinions that they may or may not share. He also apologized to the families of the Cuban Five if they took offense.

But he stood behind his comments, saying voting directly for president would not hurt Cuba’s Communist political system, only make people feel better represented.

Photo: /Cubadebate, Ismael Francisco/AP
People attending a concert as part of events marking the 15th anniv. of the U.S. arrest of five Cuban agents.

“The more I watch the video and reread what I said, I don’t see why my ideas can’t be reconciled with the Cuban Revolution,” he said. “If we are trying to improve our system it takes the courage to risk saying what we think.”