From Black Sheep of Exile:
The boys from "Porno Para Ricardo" sent me this letter for immediate publication. [Charlie Bravo]
Our Best Years
By Ismael de Diego
The first time I saw Gorki was in prison during the shooting of Havana Blues. It was in a big cafeteria, with several cement tables that were built into the floor. At one end were family members pressed against the entrance door, their eyes fixed upon another door, made of steel, at the other end of the dining hall. The only voices heard were those of the guards instructing us not to enter until the signal was given. There we remained for a while until the inmates began to file through the steel door. They were searched one by one and stood about 40 meters from us, so I had time to try to guess which of them was Gorki. When he came through the door I did not recognize him at first. I saw only a familiar face, the empathy one feels for a potential friend, the stamped blue shirt and disillusioned expression. It was only when we sat down and I could see him up close that I recognized him. He didn't resemble the euphoric and provocative image that he projected in his concerts. He looked tired. "This is like a theatre," he said, "you get on stage to sing and represent a certain character, but when you get off everybody still expects you to stay forever in character." He felt like shit and the feeling was contagious. I knew he didn't belong to that place and the visit left me with a sensation of injustice that permeated my body. I realized that anyone could land there by just making himself too much of a nuissance and I asked myself just how weak and sickly this government must be to feel threatened in any way by a musical group.
On learning the charges against him, the falsified evidence used to convict him, and the harsh and completely unjustifiable sentence handed down in his case, I was reminded of what I had been told about the UMAP concentration camps and the idiotic medieval witch hunts of the 1970s, which so profoundly affected generations of Cubans. Generations that today are convinced those persecutions are a thing of the past simply because they are not the ones targetted anymore. I always thought that it was the people, not the sysem, not Pavón, not Quesada, not even Fidel, that were to blame for that tragedy, the people that allowed it to happen, that approved of it, that were silent when they could have spoken out against it because they were afraid, or for whatever other reason. I asked myself just how abusive a government can become whose people never protests its abuses and, in accepting them, helps to prolong them. And I pondered just how alone and vulnerable a man is when no one wants to get involved however just the cause. This is now happening to our generation, which has always been kept prisoner on this island and never permitted its own voice. In order to be authentic and generate a real identity, culture must be spontaneous and born of the impetus to express oneself. An imposed culture, a morally or politically correct culture, used as a statistic with which to impress or win political points, is a deranged evasion of the creative instinct that inevitably leads to an indifference to culture itself. It is not for aught that our culture becomes less ours and more American, Puerto Rican, European or whatever else happens to be in vogue at the moment. In all Cuba there is not a single stage, not a single microphone where any idea can be expressed that has not been previously reviewed and approved, all the theatres, movie houses, dives, hovels and arbors belong to the government and it restricts their use through arbitrary laws that serve as an infallible filter for all dissent. If you don't belong to their official organizations you are barred from all these venues. I do not know what revolutionary principle can justify such an absence of freedom.
The artists and intellectuals who believe that they reflect our reality in a critical form and are granted access to the means of communications can only retain it by becoming spokesmen for the system. Their opinions, then, no longer reflect in the least the shortages, misery and incredible lack of freedom which are the staples of our daily lives. Those who refuse to modify, sweeten or transform their discourse in order to become a part of the system and earn the right to perform somewhere and earn a living doing what they want to do, are condemned to anonymity, persecution and indifference. It would appear that honesty and commitment to one's own truth have no place in country, asleep and apathetic, which has decided that to look the other way is the most intelligent and correct thing to do. What a "cultured people" such attitudes have created! If anyone thinks that there are no reasons to incarcerate Gorki, he is wrong: the reasons are obvious. For a long time now deception has been nothing more than a crude and transparent manipulation in Cuba. If anyone thinks that telling more lies is not a clumsy solution which reveals the government's pathetic political incompetence when confronted with dissenting opinions, they are mistaken: we are all aware of its lack of commitment to the truth. Not to oppose these kinds of abuses makes us accomplices to that intolerance. This is something that should concern us all because we all have a stake in liberty. The liberty to be ourselves without being judged or conditions imposed upon us cannot be enjoyed unless it is first won. I don't like to resort to quotations, but Benjamin Franklin said it better than I could:
"Those who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security."
History is there to tell us how the leaders of the Revolution dealt with our parents' generation. It remains to be seen what their relation will be to ours and how much longer we will allow them to steal our best years with silence as our henchman. Meanwhile, Gorki sits in a cell at "La Quinta" waiting for them to invent some reason for him to rot in the jail where I first met him, waiting for them to stop him from ever singing again.