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El Crítico – Music as a subversive instrument in Cuba

El Crítico: Music as a subversive instrument in Cuba
02/06/2015 2:38 PM 02/06/2015 10:08 PM

HAVANA
During his years behind bars, Angel Yunier Remón Arzuaga staged a 27-day
hunger strike and refused to wear the prison uniform. Now, as the rapper
known as “El Critico” returns to his music, he plans to do so with a
strong message against the Castro regime.

After an almost 14-hour trip from his native Bayamo — the city in
eastern Cuba that was the cradle of the national anthem and independence
from Spain —“El Crítico” and dissident Alexander Otero recently
celebrated their freedom in a bar in Old Havana. They were on a list of
53 political prisoners the the United States requested released as part
of an effort to normalize relations between the two countries.

Just two weeks after being released for launching a war of words against
the Raúl Castro government, they are ready for renewed combat.

Remón is the only musician on the list of freed political prisoners. His
crime was to write “Down with the dictatorship” on the door of his house.

A member of the hip-hop group “Los Hijos que Nadie Quiso” (The Children
No One Wanted), Remón charged against the regime’s official propaganda
as if wielding a machete — forcefully and unapologetically:

“I did not invent the acts of repudiation/ I did not sink the tugboat 13
de marzo/ I did not assassinate Boitel/ I’m not responsible for the
Mariel…”

His “freedom” has conditions. Anything the 31-year-old performer may do
that the government sees as outside the revolutionary standards will
have consequences. But he’s planning to bring his music of
dissatisfaction to Havana.

“I believe that this dialogue will be very positive and satisfactory for
the Cuban people,” says Remón about the diplomatic talks between Havana
and Washington, in his first interview with a Miami newspaper.

“And it will be beneficial for our people, because we’ll have a chance
to exchange ideas with people who live in a democracy.”

For his part, Otero, 38, who displays a tattoo on his right arm saying
“No to the Castros,” says that the mistreatment he suffered during more
than 18 months in prison will not deter him from continuing to demand
improvements for the island.

“They beat me very hard several times in prison, to the point that they
almost gave me a cerebral ischemia,” Otero says. “They beat us for our
critical stance to a system that doesn’t tolerate different voices. What
we now hope is that, with these negotiations with the United States, we
Cubans may express ourselves without being beaten for thinking differently.”

THEIR CRIMES

Remón and Otero were arrested March 26, 2013, on charges of contempt of
authority and resisting arrest. That morning, Remón says, he had been
the victim of an act of repudiation. The front of his house, in Bayamos’
Ciro Redondo neighborhood, was daubed with tar and asphalt.

The masked men who soiled his house were not identified, and Remón’s
complaints to the leaders of the neighborhood Committee for the Defense
of the Revolution (CDR) went for naught. Shortly thereafter, he wrote on
his door, “Down with the dictatorship.”

“People gathered to see what had happened to me and all of a sudden an
agent pounced on me,” says Remón, who is a coordinator in Bayamo for the
opposition group Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

“But then the agent claimed that I attacked him first, so they took me
to jail.”

Hearing about the incident, Otero went to defend Remón. He even shouted
complaints about the authorities’ abuses against the dissidents.

“We demand that the Cuban government give way to the new generations,”
Otero says that he shouted on the street that day. “Because a Cuban who
steals from the government is innocent; because a man who steals from a
thief is forgiven for his sin; because this is a corrupt government.”

Shortly thereafter, both were sent to the Las Mangas Prison in Bayamo.
Between October and November 2013, El Crítico staged a hunger strike in
support of his demand for an oral trial.

After the hunger strike, which was replicated on Miami’s Calle Ocho, the
Cuban courts in October 2014 sentenced Otero to five years’ imprisonment
and El Crítico to eight.

The beatings by guards made prison a torment, they said. On occasion,
Remón was forbidden to receive visits from relatives. He was hard put to
control his anger.

“Alex [Otero] and I did not obey the disciplinary rules to which common
prisoners were subjected, such as wearing gray uniforms,” Remón says.
“We dressed in white, but several times we were punished and made to
wear only our underwear.”

“I don’t repress those who think differently/ I didn’t imprison 75
innocents…”

Thanks to UNPACU’s active media strategy, El Crítico’s denunciations
from prison reached the Internet and YouTube. His case had enough
international repercussion that the United States advocated for him to
the Castro government.

CROSSING BORDERS

El Crítico is not an isolated case in a growing trend of the
politicization of the arts and culture in Cuba.

In more than two decades, the hip-hop movement in Cuba has crossed the
borders of the speech tolerated by the authorities and has broached
controversial topics ranging from racism and police harassment to the
dangerous questioning of Fidel and Raúl Castro’s authority.

Increasingly, musicians, writers, audiovisual producers and plastic
artists seek to move the island’s political “floor,” despite the serious
consequences.

Artist Tania Bruguera, who spends most of her time outside Cuba, has
been barred from leaving the country since December for trying to stage
a street performance with an open microphone at Revolution Square.

Another protest rapper, Maikel Oksobo (El Dkano) was recently sent to
prison on charges of “pre-crime dangerousness.” They join graffiti
artist Danilo Maldonado and writer Angel Santiesteban, autor of the book
of prison tales, The Children No One Wanted, which inspired Remón to
name his rap duet, created with Yudier Blanco Pacheco.

“Look how many crimes you have shelved/ this is my crime: to talk about
what you keep silent.”

Unlike other artistic expressions, which need training and resources,
hip-hop was born in Cuba from the concerns of young people in troubled
social environments and economic hardship, such as Remón, whose house
burned down.

When he was barely 18, he was imprisoned for stealing clothing from a
store and sentenced to six years. There, he says, he honed his critical
spirit, which is now reflected in the lyrics of many of his songs.

“My record was dirtied by those who harass us; my prison record comes
from the prison of my education. Bayamenses, we’ll see hope or steal
it,” sings El Crítico in The Reality of Bayamo.

Remón, who has been writing protest songs since 2012, says that he plans
to sing in Havana and, later, on the international circuit.

“When I came out of prison, I was very happy to reunite with my family,”
says Remón, “but at this stage of negotiation between Cuba and the
United States, I plan to remain an activist in the struggle for
democracy and social justice in our country.”

Source: El Crítico: Music as a subversive instrument in Cuba | The Miami
Herald The Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article9403688.html

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