Cuban Hip-Hop Wins Its Toughest Political Fight

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This past Tuesday, as President Obama notoriously took the hand of Raul Castro at a memorial to Nelson Mandela, the Cuban government simultaneously cracked down on political dissidents on the island. What happened was a sharp contrast to the fluffy words President Raul Castro spoke at the memorial, as well as an illustration of why Cuban-American politicians are so adamant about discussing the sorry state of human rights on the island.

Tuesday, December 10 marked annual activities planned by Cuban dissidents for the anniversary of International Human Rights Day. Throughout the day, close to 100 were detained across the island during planned events, according to reporting from the Miami Herald. And an estimated 16 were left bleeding after police raided the home of a member of the Christian Liberation Movement, a small government opposition group.


Yet on the same day, the hip-hop scene of the island does seem to have won a small battle.

In Havana, organizers of the fifth edition of “Puños Arriba," a Cuban hip-hop awards show, were told that their show could not go on at the planned original venue, one that could house about 2000 people. Instead, they were informed, they would need to move it to a venue that could fit a mere 200.

Unfortunately Matraka Productions, the organizers of the event, had been in similar situations before. Two years ago, the state seized control over the Rotilla Festival they helped organize. That festival stood apart as the largest counterculture festival on the island.

Fearing that the same fate of the Rotilla Festival might befall the hip-hop award show, about 80 rappers and musicians began protesting around noon outside the Cuban Institute of Music. Those present also feared that losing the venue would also mean wasting months of promotion, along with dealing with the technical problems that the new venue would bring.


Speaking to, organizer and director of Matraka Productions, Michel Matos, said that the government was scared that the hip-hop event could get out of hand. "The worst thing would be that someone says something that they consider anti-revolutionary, but that kind of thing is just spontaneous. Hip-hop tends to be critical and against the system," he said.


"We should be coming in to the agreed venue and finalizing the event," he protested. "Transferring the venue is just an excuse to shut down the event."

Protestors held up a sign reading "Culture is a right of the people."

The protest reached its peak when staff of the institute said that they would only negotiate with those who were members of the Cuban Rap Agency. (Across the island, performers have to sign up with various official agencies in order to perform in public.)


According to the Havana Times, the protesters responded, “Either you speak to everyone, or you speak to no one." They went on to demand that either the government let the show go on, or instead take every last person to jail.

After hours of demonstrating, staff of the institute came out and said that they were misinformed, and that the event could go on as planned. Matos said that it was all worth it. "We are happy. A little bit entranced, but confused. I think we have gotten a lot of experience out of this today."


On another positive note amid a widespread crackdown, powerful dissident Guillermo Fariñas said that this was the first time he was not arrested as he marked a celebration for Human Rights Day since 2002.

In the unlikely event that you are reading this in Cuba, the event is taking place Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Trompo Loco circus tent on 112 and in between 5th and 3rd Avenue on the beach.


Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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