A Disheartened Silvio Rodriguez Understands Why Young People Are Leaving Cuba

The singer Silvio Rodríguez in an archival photo / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 26 March 2024 — “I understand the young people who leave,” replies Silvio Rodríguez bluntly when asked about the wave of migration from Cuba. The singer/songwriter, as usual, then tempers his answer. “There is only one life and the situation in Cuba is quite difficult. We have had to replace generations while under siege. Cuba’s greatest achievements, such as our schools, are still operating though with great difficulty. Our hospitals also are also up and running, though with fewer staff, resources and medications,” he adds.

An interviewer with El Español, an online news site headquartered in Madrid, tried to put Rodríguez on the spot with his questions but the singer-songwriter, despite being a veteran of many battles, once again made clear that he was unwilling to veer too far from the official line. Laying blame for the source of Cuba’s ills, he says, “We cannot forget that very unjust imperial sanctions weigh on Cuba, which has been condemned for decades – at least verbally – in the United Nations. Though the United States government claims there is no blockade because they sell us frozen chicken, the truth is that the economic pressure has been doing what that U.S. undersecretary [of state] predicted it would do sixty years ago: produce discontent through economic strangulation,” he points out.

“Cuba’s greatest achievements, such as our schools, are still operating but with great difficulty. Our hospitals also are also up and running, though with fewer staff, resources and medications”

Perhaps toughest question is one related to international affairs, when the interviewer raises the issue of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He asks Rodríguez if it is not possible for him to criticize Vladimir Putin, whose actions “stand in stark contrast to communist values.”

“When you put it that way — ‘the Russian invasion of Ukraine’ — I’m also not happy about that either,” responds Rodríguez, who then falls back on officialdom’s standard rhetorical arsenal, citing the Maidan Revolution, the conflict in the Donbas and the eventual admission of Ukraine into NATO at the behest of the United States. “I don’t understand why Western Europe didn’t draw closer to Russia,” he says.

Rodríguez is more cautious when talking about Spain. Though he confesses to a preference for Pablo Iglesias and José Carlos Monedero — two of the founders of the country’s left-wing Podemos party — he notes that he does not like to “express opinions about other people’s houses.” He adds, however, that he believes the Spanish left has moderated its positions to counter the growing popularity of the extreme right, also adding that he appreciates that the country “is defending the Palestinian people, who need international solidarity now more than ever.”

But the interviewer does not let him change the subject. Rodríguez emphasizes that, though many Israelis do not agree with the way their leaders are handling the Palestinian question, the United States has decided to support “those who want to hold onto the entire territory, obviously so that it can serve as a launching pad in the region.”

“When you put it that way — ‘the Russian invasion of Ukraine’ — I’m also not happy about that either”

The artist denies the interviewer’s suggestion that there is “a reactionary right-wing wave” in America. He sees it as a global phenomenon that has been fueled by the pandemic which, he believes, created a global crisis that the right seized upon to criticize progressive governments. More strikingly, he talks about decadent empires and a battle for economic domination while he bemoans that there is “zero room for China and Russia,” two of the world’s three world economic superpowers.

Regarding the ideology itself, Rodríguez downplays the fact that the right has “taken up the cause of freedom,” as the interviewer tells him, pointing out that it is a different idea from that concept. “It seems to be a conditional freedom because, essentially it’s about the strong being able to dominate weak with impunity while believing that times have changed, he says. “[In the past] it was cool to want to be ’the man of the house’. If you said that today, they would accuse you of being, at best, misogynistic.”

Rodríguez, who has launched several diatribes against the island’s current government, avoids openly criticizing its president, Miguel Díaz-Canel. “Wouldn’t it be more difficult today to be a troubadour for the revolutionary regime, stripped of the heroic nature of the uprising, of its victory and its charismatic leaders?” he is asked. “I suppose,” he says, “but “not as difficult as being a journalist for capitalism since it is so obvious that this system is more interested in the arms industry and the philosophy of dispossession than in the common good.”

“Pablo and I never had an argument over ideology. Of course, sometimes we had different opinions about something”

The interviewer asks if it is not harder to defend a bureaucracy than a charismatic leader such as Fidel Castro. “Agreeing on principles such as sovereignty and social justice does not make someone an idolater,”  Rodríguez replies, confident that he did not admire the late president more than he should have.

There was also some space in the interview for a conversation about music. Though he says he does not like reggaeton, Rodríguez does not want to disparage it, admitting there are some brilliant young musicians on the island. He focuses mainly on his dead friends, especially Pablo Milanés, whose presence, he says, he feels all the time. “Pablo and I never had an argument over ideology. Of course, sometimes we had different opinions about something.”

As for the future, he is optimistic despite the currently hostile climate. “There is love. Abuse from fake elders continues to outrage and that feeling, when it is for the common good, will always be worth it, even more so if it is accompanied by action. Finally, believing you are young at age 77 could be a bit pretentious. As Clint Eastwood said, don’t let that old man in when he’s knocking at the door.”


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