Silvio Rodriguez, The Dissident

My first and last encounter with Silvio Rodriguez, a great music artist and master of poetic forms, who, thanks God, belongs to our Cuban nation, took place in 1972. We met at our common friend’s place. He was a poorly dressed youngster with sad eyes, arousing pity. In spite of his artistic talent, he was banned from the radio and television, perhaps because one of his songs went like this: “If only something happened that would soon remove Fidel Castro… May at least death take him away!”

He was known for being a rebel and a rebel he was, with his mane of hair in the style of John Lennon and his extreme thinness caused by lack of proper nutrition. Like any true artist, Silvio Rodriguez was bold. So bold that despite having empty pockets (and disregarding the fact that he would end up crying), he would bet a bottle of rum on conquering an engaged woman.

Almost without realizing it, I have followed his musical and political career for forty-two Aprils and I must admit that I think that I was sometimes able to spot his true nature – that of a dissident.

One day in the early 1990’s, right in the middle of the “Special Period”, when we, the Cubans, nearly starved to death, I met his father. I remember the old man sitting at a small joiner’s bench in his house at the crossing of the San Rafael and Gervasio streets. He was every inch a person I liked chatting with, and as I was passing the door to his house almost daily, I always stopped by to see him. In spite of that, I never met his beloved son, the artist. Silvio was too busy with the adventures that the Castro regime prepared for him.

Today, after almost half a century, Silvio Rodriguez has finally realized that he has been living in a dictatorship. Passing through desolate and dirty neighbourhoods, he saw poor people, victims of the dictatorship, and he knew that his songs were giving them at least some hope. He felt sorry that he couldn’t feed them with his songs, that he couldn’t repair their houses or fill their pockets with money to allow them to live decent lives. At that moment Silvio realized that “the people in Cuba are really screwed up.” That’s what he has recently said. As screwed up as he was when I met him at the place of my friend Mercedes.

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