Cuban punk rocker escapes 'social dangerousness' conviction with £15 fine
A Cuban punk rocker who was put on trial for his subversive lyrics has
exposed the fragility of the country's Communist dictatorship by walking
free with only a £15 fine.
By Angus McDowall and our correspondent in Havana
Last Updated: 10:14AM BST 31 Aug 2008
Gorki Aguila, the lead singer of Porno para Ricardo, was accused of
"social dangerousness" for songs that ridicule the former president
Fidel Castro as a "walking coma".
The crime, and that of "perverting Communist morality", would normally
incur a prison sentence of several years.
However, in the glare of international scrutiny, the state's shadowy
prosecution service decided to drop the charges and merely impose a fine
for playing too loudly.
As Mr Aguila walked free, he promised to continue criticising the
leadership and insisted that nothing could be gained by staying silent.
While battered Buicks and Chevrolets spluttered around pot holes in the
road outside, waiting punk fans and human rights activists cheered the
In their eyes he represents a new generation of angry, disenfranchised
Cubans who are no longer prepared to put up with state restrictions on
"Gorki is a free musician who expresses his art," said Porno para
Ricardo's guitarist Ciro Javier Diaz Penedo after the trial.
Other young people outside the courtroom spoke in scathing terms about
the government in a new sign of the changing times.
Just five years ago, Mr Aguila was imprisoned for two years for
"offences against the Cuban revolution".
But where his politically explosive lyrics used to incur instant
reprisals, the regime is starting to understand that the world outside
is watching – and with Cuba's revolutionary economy at a standstill,
outside opinion matters.
While huge, fading red stars still cling to the shabby colonial palaces
along Havana's elegant, palm-lined boulevards, Communist rule has
started to crumble.
The economy, for decades supported by Soviet subsidies, only survives
because of generous investment from China and the oil-funded gifts of
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
For 46 years Cuba has endured an American economic embargo that has
imposed rationing of even basic items on every family.
Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader who seized power on new year's
eve in 1960, was forced by ill health formally to relinquish his office
to his younger brother in February.
The moustachioed Raul Castro still sports the army fatigues of a
revolutionary cadre, but at the age of 76 he has seen the writing on the
wall and accepted the need for some reforms.
He hopes to create a Caribbean version of the Chinese model of
development, involving limited economic reform and a more watchful eye
on the outside world.
For Mr Aguila, 39, the lighter touch means the difference between prison
and freedom. His records are still banned in Cuba, but behind closed
doors his music is tolerated.
Outside the Municipality Court in Playa, Havana, Mr Aguila's young fans
cheered when they heard the verdict.
"This government won't let people talk about the bad direction of the
government and the special privelage some people have," said a young man
near the court. "Even if it's through music they don't accept it." An
incongruous group of punks, American diplomats, foreign reporters,
secret policemen and human rights activists had been forced by a
rainstorm to huddle together as they waited outside.
"The authorities have just made a Hollywood star," said a man called
Miguel, sheltering from the rain.
In the past, Mr Aguila has called Che Guevara a "murderer" and the Cuban
revolution a "fraud". He has also professed to admire George W. Bush.
The band's most recent album – a mocking reference to Cuba's aged
Politbureau called Geriatric Central Committee – included the lyric:
"And millions ask God to stop his heart/his life is shared pain/the
sooner he dies the better/these years of hunger and shadows all have
your name Fidel."
Some lyrics are even more scathing. One uese a pun on Fidel's former
title of el comandante to instead refer to the coma andante or "walking
"It is not about the lyrics of a song but a way to punish somebody who
criticises the system," said Luis Aguila, the singer's father.
In another song, called The International, the band make disparaging
reference to communist party parades.
The band's logo even takes an irreverent dig at the communist hammer and
sickle; instead of the traditional hammer representing the workers,
there is a huge phallus.
For years, Porno para Ricardos – which means "porno for Richard" – was
better known outside Cuba, where the soft, rhythmic ballads of local
Latin singers inspire greater fervour than head-banging punk rock.
However, the band's subversive edge and brushes with the law have given
it a new following among disaffected youth, eager to taste the forbidden
fruit of political rebellion.
The famous blogger Yoani Sanchez, who won Spain's top journalism prize
the Ortega y Gasset award for writing about life under the Communist
regime, has taken on Mr Aguila's case.
Her support, and that of Elizardo Sanchez, a renowned human rights
lawyer, have propelled Mr Aguila to international fame, turning a media
spotlight on his case.
With at least 200 more political prisoners behind bars in Cuba, and with
short term detentions still common, however, their work is only just