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    From the Cuban Underground, a Punk Rocker’s Protest Reverberates

    September 6, 2008
    The Saturday Profile
    From the Cuban Underground, a Punk Rocker's Protest Reverberates

    SOME people march to protest their government. Gorki Luis Águila
    Carrasco, the lead singer of a Cuban punk rock group called Porno para
    Ricardo ("Porn for Ricardo"), vents his discontent by gyrating at a
    microphone, clutching an electric guitar and spewing out some of the
    most off-color, ear-splitting lyrics around.

    Amid the string of expletives that he bellows in his underground
    concerts in and around Havana are bold criticisms of Fidel and Raúl
    Castro, the past and present leaders of the island. So outspoken has he
    become that the authorities recently charged him with "social
    dangerousness" and hauled him off to jail.

    Turns out, though, he will sing again. After his detention drew
    international outrage, including a condemnation from the Bush
    administration, the Cuban authorities dropped the charge, which could
    have led to four years in prison. Instead they convicted him of public
    disorder and fined him 600 pesos, or $28 — more than a month's salary in

    "I feel even more hate for this tyranny," Gorki, as he is universally
    known, said to reporters after he was freed. He then likened his release
    to walking from a small jail cell into a larger one.

    With a mane of curly black hair that is as wild as his persona, Gorki is
    by no means the only outspoken artist in Cuba. Other rebellious singers
    and painters, though, are more discreet when it comes to the upper crust
    of the Cuban leadership. They criticize the system in a way that does
    not get too personal.

    Not so Gorki, who rails against Cuban Communism, scoffs at the
    revolution and lambastes in no uncertain terms Fidel Castro, who turned
    82 last month, and his younger brother, Raúl, 77, the longtime defense
    minister who took over the presidency in February after Fidel fell ill.
    And Gorki does all of it in a near scream.

    "The Comandante holds elections, which he's invented to keep power," he
    says of Fidel Castro in "El Comandante," one of his signature songs.
    "The Comandante wants me to go vote so he can keep [expletive] my life."

    In a shout, he sings: "The Comandante wants me to work and he pays me a
    miserable salary. The Comandante wants me to applaud after he's spoken
    his delirious [expletive]. Don't eat [expletive], Comandante, for you
    are a tyrant and no one can stand you."

    Gorki has received backing from more traditional critics of the
    government, such as Elizardo Sánchez, who leads an unauthorized human
    rights group that Havana tolerates, and Yoani Sánchez, an outspoken
    blogger who wrote recently of Gorki, "he sings, sways and shouts in his
    bloody rock lyrics what others mutter with fear."

    THE Cuban government has remained quiet about Gorki's recent legal
    troubles. Some supporters have spoken up, though. Walter Lippmann, an
    American who runs an e-mail news service that collects material critical
    of Washington's embargo on Cuba, recently wrote, "He helps clarify the
    precise meaning of the word 'punk' in the term 'punk rock.' "

    Gorki's recent jail stint was not his first. In 2003 he was convicted on
    a drug charge and spent nearly two years in custody. He condemns that
    arrest as a setup by a young woman who pretended to be a fan but really
    worked for state security. In that case, he emerged from custody even
    angrier than before.

    A self-taught musician and the father of a preteen girl, Gorki, 39, once
    told an interviewer that he grew up listening to American and English
    rock, particularly Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and the Clash. "My dad
    never liked rock 'n' roll," he said, "and since he knew that this type
    of music brought me problems, he used to advise me to listen to other

    His mother, an outspoken critic of the government, and his older sister
    left Cuba years ago for Mexico. Gorki married while he was in jail in
    2003 so that he and his wife could have conjugal visits. They are
    separated now but share time with their 12-year-old daughter, Gabriella.
    "I try to tell her who I am, why I say the things I say," he said.

    A decade ago, he organized Porno para Ricardo — named for a friend who
    loved pornography but could not get enough of it because of a government

    At a recent concert Ricardo himself, a 50-ish man who dresses like a
    transient, arrived pushing a bicycle and carrying a half-empty bottle of
    rum. He quickly became the life of the party.

    Gorki's words are not the only rebellious thing about him. He had his
    nose pierced and often wears a T-shirt that calls 1959, the year of the
    Cuban revolution, a "year of error." He was named after Maxim Gorky, the
    Russian author and founder of literary Socialist Realism.

    The band's raucous rehearsals take place in the small apartment in the
    Playa neighborhood of Havana that Gorki shares with his 75-year-old
    father, Luis. The place is devoid of furniture, and the room in the back
    where the band gathers has egg boxes on the walls to help reduce the noise.

    Concerts are held on the sly. Word of the next performance is spread
    through text messages or whispers. A few months back, it was in a remote
    location on the outskirts of the capital.

    The group arrived at 5 p.m. to warm up. A few hours later nearly 100
    people had gathered, most of them young counterculture types who knew
    the words to song after song.

    One of the teenagers in the crowd, who wore a Nirvana T-shirt,
    identified himself only as Daniel and said he was an aspiring punk
    rocker himself. Porno para Ricardo is one of the few bands in Cuba that
    has the guts to tell the truth, he said.

    The group played for about two hours, taking one short break to allow a
    band member, Herbert Domínguez, to vomit off to the side — the result,
    it appeared, of too much rum.

    "I am against everything that limits my personal liberty," Gorki
    declared in an interview this year. "The level of unpopularity of the
    Castro tyranny is so great. It's obvious. You breathe it. It's dense.
    But the people are afraid."

    GORKI does not appear afraid. His recent songs include one called
    "Dinosaurs," which refers to the Cuban leadership. Another, "El
    General," lambastes Raúl Castro as a farce. After his release from
    prison, he told a reporter that he was at work on a follow-up to "El
    Comandante," the song about Fidel Castro, which will be called "El
    Comandante II."

    Although Gorki is the front man, his fellow band members — Ciro Díaz
    Penedo on guitar, Renay Kayrus on drums and Mr. Dominguez on bass — are
    similarly rebellious. As a logo for their group, they use a Soviet
    hammer and sickle transformed into a pornographic image.

    While Gorki was in jail, Mr. Díaz attended a concert of Pablo Milanés, a
    noted and far more conventional singer-songwriter, to press for his
    bandmate's release. He and some friends unveiled a banner that said
    "GORKI" and began shouting the singer's name. A dozen or more men in
    plain clothes moved in quickly, according to witnesses, pummeled Mr.
    Díaz and another man and whisked them away to a police station for

    That episode prompted a response from the Bush administration, which has
    made no secret of its disdain for the Castro brothers.

    "We condemn the regime's violent attack on peaceful concert-goers and
    arrest of Mr. Águila," Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who left
    Cuba as a boy with his family in 1960, said of Gorki. Mr. Gutierrez said
    the authorities' actions violated the United Nations International
    Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Raúl Castro signed just
    days after replacing Fidel in February.

    Left unsaid by Mr. Gutierrez was whether he had ever listened to Gorki's


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