14ymedio, Havana, 4 August 2021 — Silvio Rodriguez believes the protests of July 11 mark a before and after point, not another chapter. “It’s something serious that causes us to reflect and, I hope, to take immediate action,” says the Cuban singer-songwriter speaking to the Spanish newspaper El País in an interview published on Tuesday. He makes it clear that he continues to support the revolution and does not dislike the single party system but says, “It must be very open, inclusive, ecumenical, even if it has strategic goals.”
In the interview, Rodriguez and the newspaper’s Cuba correspondent, Mauricio Vicent, focus their attention on economic factors and the US embargo in a discussion about recent demonstrations that took place in more than forty different locations on the island. At no point do either of them use the word ’libertad ’ (freedom), which has become the byword for young street protestors and on social networks since July 11.
The artist takes a middle ground throughout the conversation and defends it unambiguously. “The centrist thing doesn’t scare me. It’s the extremes I can’t accept.” His very moderate criticisms of the Cuban government are mixed with accusations against the United States and demands for change in the current Cuban system.
“In Cuba we are experiencing a growing state of social stress that I am aware cannot be blamed solely on the blockade,” he explains. “For years economists, political scientists and citizens have complained about economic measures that were supposed to have been adopted but inexplicably never took effect. All these delays are also responsible for what has happened.”
Rodriguez believes it is inevitable that political change will accompany economic change and acknowledges that plans on paper have not yet been put into practice, though he attributes this to the party’s old guard, to which he belongs. “One presumes, since there has been no explanation, that these changes were delayed by currents of thought more attuned to the old socialist manuals than to reality. They’re also being slowed by a well-off, sluggish bureaucracy,” he says.
He attributes the July 11 protests to a social malaise caused by a complicated economic environment made even worse by the pandemic and measures taken by the former US administration, which have not yet been reversed, that are exacerbating the embargo.
Though he believes the demonstrations cannot be ignored, he rejects accusations they are simply acts of vandalism orchestrated from abroad. While he acknowledges having seen violent incidents, he considers them to be isolated events: “I do not subscribe to the overly simplistic description of the protesters, even though videos do show some acts of vandalism within the broadly diverse crowds.” He points to specific cases of fake videos, some of which were shared on his own blog, Segunda Cita, that mobilized some government supporters.
In terms of the subsequent repression, the singer says he rejects all forms of violence but denies there has been a significant amount. “The demonstrators walked through the main streets, passed by municipal government offices, walked past party headquarters and even past the police. There wasn’t any repression, though later, in other cities, there definitely was. Because it’s Cuba, repression gets amplified, though we know that those who are pointing it out witness much more brutality in their own countries,” he says.
Rodriguez claims the summary trials are a holdover from a 19th century Spanish law. He justifies their use by claiming that the legal system was overwhelmed within a few hours. After having consulted, he says, with a lawyer, he learned this type of proceeding is typically used for minor crimes that only involve fines. “When you are talking about prison, it becomes more critical because of the need for guarantees,” he says. On his blog he has called for the release of the peaceful protesters.
The artist claims that for years he has tried to convince the government to make seemingly inconsequential changes — he cites the modernization of recording studios — that were not carried out even when economic conditions were better, suggesting authorities’ resistance to change. However, his criticisms are tempered with a mention to the technological limitations imposed by US sanctions.
Rodriguez, who used the interview as an opportunity to criticize certain decisions such as the sale of essential goods in hard currency stores, asserts the solution to the country’s problems lies in talking to those with differing opinions. “We all have the right to to be respected, listened to and cared for,” he says, especially given the discontent on the part of young people, who are being called upon to change the country and solve its problems.
That is why he is calling for dialogue, without failing to mention, of course, the country to the north. “Do we not hold discussions with the superpower that treats us badly in word and in deed? What would be so difficult about discussing things among ourselves? We must listen to all voices, and even more so to our own.”
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