Sun, Sep 07, 2008 - Page 14 News List

SUNDAY PROFILE: From Cuba’s underground, a punk rocker’s protest reverberates

Despite arrests and intimidation, Gorki Aguila and his band continue to criticize Cuba’s leaders

By Marc Lacey  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

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Some people march to protest their government. Gorki Luis Aguila 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 Raul 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 US President George W. Bush’s 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 US$28 — more than a month’s salary in Cuba.

“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, Raul, 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 Sanchez, who leads an unauthorized human rights group that Havana tolerates, and Yoani Sanchez, 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 British 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 bands.”

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