By Frances Robles
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
MIAMI — Cuban punk rocker Gorki Aguila is irreverent, vulgar — and bolder than any other performance artist in modern Cuban history.
His lyrics blasting the Cuban dictatorship are so strong, the Miami Herald can't print too many of them. The founder and lead singer of the 10-year-old group "Porn for Ricardo" walks around the streets of his western Havana neighborhood with T-shirts that say things like, "59: Year of the Mistake."
In a case that has drawn attention around the world, the 39-year-old rocker went on trial Friday on charges of "pre-crime social dangerousness" that could send him to jail for up to four years.
Wire service reports from Havana said the singer yelled "freedom!" as he was led into a courthouse. Diplomats, human rights activists, artists and journalists swarmed the municipal courthouse Friday morning awaiting the trial, which began some eight hours late. Some family, friends and political activists chanted Aguila's name as he arrived in a police car and was escorted inside the building, the Associated Press reported.
The trial was closed to the media and it was unclear late Friday whether the trial — ignored by the Cuban papers — had begun, or whether judges held a simple arraignment.
It came a day after his bandmates were briely detained during a concert in Havana Thursday night featuring singer Pablo Milanes, who had been urged by hundreds of artists, including Miguel Bose and Alejandro Fernandez, to publicly call for Aguila's freedom.
Aguila could become the first artist to face criminal charges for his resistance music since Raul Castro took over power from his brother Fidel two years ago. Castro took over after his brother's illness in a fanfare of reform, publicly saying it was time to air complaints.
Artists and intellectuals spoke out publicly about past wrongs, and Raul Castro officially welcomed it. But Aguila's direct attacks on the Castro brothers and his profanity-laced lyrics appear to have pushed the limits on what the Cuban government was prepared to accept.
Cuba watchers say Aguila's arrest sends a clear signal that while Raul Castro is open to public debate, he will set boundaries.
"It's one thing to say, 'the government makes mistakes' or 'this thing doesn't work,' said Uva de Aragon, of Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute. "Going directly after Raul and Fidel is something else."
De Aragon said Aguila's work is reminiscent of past protest artists such as Carlos Varela and Pedro Luis Ferrer, who in the '80s and '90s fell from the government's graces for writing songs that criticized the establishment. But those singers were never as daring as Aguila, whose most famous tune "El Comandante" says — over and over again — that Fidel Castro should quit performing oral sex on men.
The logo for his band is a Soviet hammer and sickle, but in the form of genitals.
"The commander wants me to work for a miserable wage," the song says. "The commander wants me to applaud him after he talks his s *** -. Tyrant."
"He is so brave," said Miami-Dade College spokesman Alejandro Rios, an expert on Cuban arts. "Nobody has ever done what Gorki has done — nobody. If you listen to his songs, they are really incredible and too much. They directly make fun of Fidel and his brother, Raul, and portray the Cuban government as an old gang of losers."
In the 1980s some visual artists came close, by doing things like making a floor mat out of Ernesto "Che" Guevara's image. Another exhibit featured feces on the daily communist party paper Granma — and the artist got six months in prison, Rios said. The Che rug exhibit was promptly shut down.
"Gorki's music is really good rock, if you dig that," Rios said. "If you like Billy Joel and Celine Dion, that's different."
Aguila works in a print shop and records his music in the modest apartment he shares with his father. He has an 11-year-old daughter, and is separated from her mother.
He never attended college, because he disliked the Communist Party's lock on the education system, said Laura Garcia, a Mexico City graduate student who wrote her doctoral dissertation on resistance movements like Aguila's.
Garcia said Aguila is just as profane in person as he is in his music, but she described him as an unusually affectionate man adored by his friends. People frequently stop him in the street and greet him, even when he is wearing a protest T-shirt, she said.
"He doesn't just wear those shirts in photos — he walks around like that," Garcia said by telephone from Mexico. "Gorki does not have a political project. All he says is that he wants to sing whatever he wants. The Cuban government could not accuse him of receiving money from Yankee imperialism and the things they accuse other political prisoners of.
"The government did not know what to do with him."
The group's web site stresses that the band is apolitical and does not accept funding from political groups.
Porno for Ricardo was formed 10 years ago as part of Cuba's then-burgeoning underground punk scene. The group's name was itself a sign of protest to symbolize personal freedom: Aguila has a good friend named Ricardo who likes porn, Garcia explained, but the dirty pictures his buddy so enjoys are prohibited in Cuba.
"I have gotten the sense that people really like our music, it is accepted," he told Radio Marti in a May interview posted on the station's web site. "They are things people would have liked to have said. ... Our lyrics allude to what people want to say when lights go out or they don't have anything to eat."
Banned from performing in public venues, he said his band plays for friends at abandoned theaters. They have recorded five CDs, including one titled "I Don't Like Politics, but it Likes Me."
Aguila was arrested in 2003 on what he says what was a trumped-up drug charge. His-four year prison sentence was reduced to two-and-a-half years after intense international pressure. But time in the Pinar del Rio prison changed Aguila — and his music — forever.
"His first three CDs are not really anti-government. They had elements of criticism, but using metaphors," Garcia said. "They mocked Russian culture, prostitution and what was happening in society. It was a strong social critique. But when he gets out of prison, he says: 'No more metaphors. We are going to call things by their name.' "
(c) 2008, The Miami Herald.
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