Sunday, August 31, 2008

The faint smell of decay

Now, for some good news from Havana ... and probably, even better news to come?

As I am sure you would have read elsewhere over the past few hours, Gorki Aguila, the punk rocker who has become a scathing (and regular) critic of the Castro regime, was freed by a Havana tribunal on Friday, local time.

The front man of a band called Porno Para Ricardo, Gorki was arrested about a week ago and charged with the peculiarly Cuban crime of "social dangerousness" and "perverting Communist morality" - a catch-all, trumped-up charge that has been used by the Castro brothers for decades to silence any form of social or political dissent on the island. The penalty? Four years in prison.

But when the musician arrived at the court house on Friday, in handcuffs, as you can see in the Associated Press photograph above, something unprecedented in Cuba happened - the regime buckled.

You see, the Communist Party prosecutors unexpectedly and without explanation dropped the charge of "dangerousness", obviously under instructions from above, and instead, asked that a 600 pesos fine be imposed on the musician for playing music too loudly. The magistrate dutifully agreed and then set Gorki free.

What happened?

Certainly, there was plenty of criticism from outside, with a host of well-known Spanish-speaking musicians criticising the arrest, encouraged in large part by the efforts of bloggers such as our old friends at Penultimos Dias and Babalu.

And there was plenty of media coverage outside Cuba of the arrest, too, resulting in a large number of foreign correspondents turning up at the court house on Friday, along with a small but vocal group of Gorki fans, some relatives and supporters.

But let's face it, criticism from outside and international media attention have never stopped Castro I or his brother in the past from doing whatever they wanted - normally, they have merely thumbed their collectives noses at critics.

This time, however, it was different: for the first time in recent memory, the regime displayed its weakness and its uncertainty, as you can read in this article published by the Daily Telegraph in London.

"While huge, fading red stars still cling to the shabby colonial palaces along Havana's elegant, palm-lined boulevards, Communist rule has started to crumble," the paper says, adding that the Gorki incident had exposed "the fragility of the ... dictatorship".

I think they may be right.


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