December 13, 2002


Censorship against young poets and rap artists

Jorge Alberto Aguiar Diaz, Grupo Decoro

HAVANA, December ( - Following the Hip Hop Festival held in Havana in August, the Casa de Cultura in Alamar received an order from the Ministry of Culture to review the lyrics of rap songs before the start of any concert. "This is a preventative measure to avoid any act of disobedience not in accord with our revolutionary process," the director of the center said to justify the measure.

According to the comments of a city cultural official, the finale of the Hip Hop Festival was planned for La Piragua, an open-air, central location in Vedado, but due to the coverage by the foreign press and their reaction in the face of certain openly critical texts, it was cancelled and moved at the last minute to the amphitheater in Alamar.

At that time the retransmission of the closing concert was also planned for television, and although it was taped, it still has not been aired. "The thing that must be avoided is that the enemy manipulates a happening of that kind," another official pointed out.

The preceding comments belong to workers and directors of the Casa de la Cultura in Alamar, and were expressed during a conversation that I was able to hold with them on November 23rd in an activity of music and performances in which two artists were barred from performing.

Luis Eligio and Amaury are the two censored artists. The two are known in Alamar and in other locales in Havana for their participation in shows called "happenings", performances and poetry readings. Both youths have succeeded in starting the groups Zona Franca, made up of poets, and Omni, comprised of visual artists.

"Today's censorship is due to an act of protest that Amaury and I carried out on November 16th at the Mariano Rodriguez gallery in the Panamerican village," Luis Eligio explained. "That day we demanded our right to express ourselves as artists, and we declared our unease with the censorship our facility has received. So as a protest we dropped on the floor the picture tube of an old television set we were using in our facility."

What occurred later on November 23rd amounts then to a reprisal against these two artists, who were summoned to a meeting with the municipal board of culture to ask for an explanation for what happened on November 16th. "The institutions in this country do nothing more than insult the creative artists," Luis Eligio concluded. "In that meeting we were told we could not take part for now in any activity of any institution in the city."

Due to the cancellation of the reading and performance by Amaury and Luis Eligio, the activity on November 23rd was reduced to the presentation of three rap artists--who had to show their lyrics to the center's board of directors--and listening to recorded music. In the midst of the dance a visual activity was carried out where the public could write and draw on the floor with red paint. An adolescent just fifteen years old left his mark in a phrase of the writer Edmundo Desnoes which provoked comments: "Underdevelopment is the inability to accumulate experiences."

Alamar is one of the municipalities of the capital where there is a true underground movement of artists of all manifestations. The first Rap Festivals appeared here, under the direction and initiative of the musician Rensoli--today separated from the project--by the so-called Cuban Rap Agency..

Poets, painters, musicians, performers, troubadors, the majority under 35 years of age, have converted an area far from the cultural circuit and center of Havana--and where daily life is pure tedium in one of the worst architectural contexts in Havana--into a center boiling with creativity. Nevertheless, the artists are starting to be concerned. In the opinion of many of them, a new policy of censorship and exclusion is being conducted by the municipal Casa de la Cultura, the provincial board of community culture and the Ministry of Culture.

Last year I was invited to read poetry and prose in the gallery of the Casa de Cultura. I saw many young people with initiative and desire to create art beyond the political occasions. I thought then that such great optimism would be followed by an anguish and discontent that would paralize many creative artists. I didn't say anything to them so as not to seem a party pooper.

That night I read a story based on some of my experiences in Madrid during a trip to a congress of young Spanish writers. Afterwards I read poetry. The face on one of the organizers and officials of the center named Pablo was enough to understand that my reading upset the officials. In fact, Pablo withdrew from the space and when I finished he presented me with a book with a dedication in which he expressed his affection and connection to the nation and the government.

For me, no other warning was needed to know that a project of young people left out of the official culture could never be freely pronounced. After my reading, the poet Juan Carlos Flores, who had invited me to his monthly literary circle, lost his job and never again re-opened that space for readings and meetings between artists of Alamar and Havana.

One year later, many of those young people have lost their enthusiasm. I see in their eyes, in their expressions, and I understand from what they say that the passion has started to become alienated from them. Despair is the first symptom of the illness called internal exile.

Before leaving Alamar I saw an enormous poster situated in front of the Casa de Cultura that reads: "We are ready to continue for our revolution of ideas." And I remained looking at a youthful graffiti that can be seen on the side of the building for the zone 7 pharmacy. The drawing is the personification of some houses that, far from being happy, are crying.

Versión original en español


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