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Punk rocker's case linked to free speech in Cuba

Punk rocker Gorki Aguila, center, is escorted by police officers in Havana on Friday. Aguila, a blunt critic of Fidel Castro and the communist government, was detained for “social dangerousness.”

Associated Press

Punk rocker Gorki Aguila, center, is escorted by police officers in Havana on Friday. Aguila, a blunt critic of Fidel Castro and the communist government, was detained for “social dangerousness.”

Cuba's leading punk rock musician and a brazen critic of the communist regime walked free Friday, four days after he was arrested at his home in Havana as his group prepared to record a new album.

Gorki Aguila, leader of the band Porno Para Ricardo, was fined 600 pesos ($25, the equivalent of two months' salary) for a charge of public disorder. Aguila, 39, had faced the more serious charges of "social dangerousness." The law covers antisocial behavior deemed contrary "to the standards of communist morality."

Aguila's detention this week raised questions about the limits on freedoms in Cuba under the new government of Raul Castro, despite greater internal debate and economic reforms.

Critics of the government, as well as the band's fans, say his arrest is an attempt to silence his antigovernment lyrics. His conviction, though, appears to stem from the band's noisy rehearsals. It's not the first time Aguila has been arrested. He was jailed for two years in 2003 on drug charges, which he denied, claiming government entrapment. He was also briefly detained in June.

Cuban officials have not commented on the case.

Lyrics on the band's last album included strong political language guaranteed to test Cuba's limited standard of free expression. One song, titled El Comandante, includes vulgar language directed at Fidel Castro.

In another track Aguila sings: "I've lost my fear. I've already been a prisoner. I've only got a few bones left. From up here the tyrant is watching you."

The logo for the band is a Soviet hammer and sickle shaped in the form of genitals. Aguila wears a T-shirt with the words "59, the year of the mistake," to mark the date of Cuba's revolution.

Under Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother in February, Cuban authorities have tolerated more political debate, including professional forums to discuss changes.

"The best solutions can come from a profound exchange of differing opinions," Raul Castro said Feb. 24. "We do not deny their right to expression, provided they do it with respect for the law."

The number of political prisoners has dropped from 319 to 219 in the last two years, according to human rights activists.

"There's certainly a more vibrant debate going on in Cuba within the system, the operative words being 'within the system,' and this is a reminder of that," said Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute.

But government critics say Aguila's lyrics did more than offend Cuba's leadership. "They took him because nothing destabilizes hardliners more than a man in his most free state," wrote Havana blogger Yoani Sanchez.

Sanchez, who writes Generacion Y, was denied permission to leave Cuba in May to accept one of Spain's top journalism awards. Cuban authorities have also blocked access to her blog within Cuba, she says, though she has never been arrested.

Aguila's arrest sparked an Internet campaign calling for his release. On Thursday night Aguila's band members caused a commotion at a pro-government concert when they held up a sign with "Gorki" on it. The protest was broken up by state security officials, and the band's guitarist was detained for three hours.

Information from Associated Press was used in this report.

On the Web

To listen to the song El Comandante go to www.pornopararicardo.com

Punk rocker's case linked to free speech in Cuba 08/29/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 31, 2008 6:38pm]
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