Mike Porcel, From Censorship to Censorship

Mike Porcel has arrived from the hands of the young filmmakers who have lovingly told his story and his attempt to leave the country during the massive Mariel Boatlift.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 March 2020 — I had heard of him in the same terms that are used to describe a mythological creature. Those who listened to Mike Porcel told me about his lyrics, his mastery of the guitar and a voice that stood out among other troubadours, but my generation never heard him on the radio or saw him at a concert. All we knew was that he had existed, that he had been erased from our musical history and that his songs were taken from us.

This February, decades later, I heard Porcel’s name again. The censorship of the documentary Sueños al pairo (Dreams Adrift) at the Young Filmmakers Festival has once again hidden the work of this troubadour from Cubans. However, unlike in the 1980s when the cultural authorities could condemn any ‘uncomfortable’ artist to ostracism or social death, this new excising out of intransigence only serves to turn our focus to the author of Ay, del amor (Alas my Love) and Diario (Diary).

Porcel has returned through the front door, as well he should. Instead of through one of those cynical official tributes to those who were once excluded and vilified, the singer-songwriter has arrived from the hands of the young filmmakers who have lovingly told his story and his attempt to leave the country during the massive Mariel Boatlift. And they tell of the later silencing of his voice during the nine long years he was forced to remain in Cuba condemned to ostracism with the collaboration of the artistic guild that was complicit in his banishment from the stage.

The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) has treated “guest of honor” Porcel, as expected. Not only excluding the documentary from the young Filmmakers Festival, but also denying permission for the use of images of his work from their archives. The result is that, instead of a heroic Cuban under siege, for long minutes we see a vulgar people, disposed to lynch those who want to leave the “socialist paradise.” Many of those faces that we see in the execrable acts of repudiation, are spending their old age in Miami or living in Havana off remittances from that city.

The directors, José Luis Aparicio and Fernando Fraguela, manage with their work to confront us with our own responsibility, even those of us who were just children when Porcel’s voice was prohibited. Although the guilt is not inherited and many didn’t even know of the troubadour’s existence, the mere fact of having accepted and contributed to – with a lack of curiosity or fear of asking questions – the support of a partial version of our culture, with some names authorized and others forbidden, represents a collective burden.

Passing before the camera we also see some of the faces of the troubadours of that time, drinking buddies, the singers who added Porcel’s songs to their own repertoire, among them those who were silent or looked away when the stigma of “gusano” – worm – that word hurled by Fidel at those who wanted to leave – was placed on the artist’s life. Some of them contributed – out of envy, fear or mediocrity – to burying alive a man who, just before, they had hugged and wanted to appear in family photos with when his song En busca de una nueva flor  (In Search of a New Flower) became the hymn of the 9th Youth and Student Festival in 1978.

Sueños al pairo is a painful journey through the unhealed wounds of a nation. To this day, the Plaza of the Revolution has not offered a public self-criticism of those excesses in which it fostered the confrontations of Cubans against Cubans, protected by some in an alleged ideological superiority that, unfortunately, continues to be instilled in schools and promoted in the national media

The hordes of political intolerance still remain and, even today, they gather – out of economic opportunism – though they no longer act out against emigrants but they remain ready to destroy the life of a dissident, of a human rights activist or of an independent journalist.

The double-censored, the outlaw Mike Porcel, has returned to make us understand how little the limits have changed.


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