This post marks the seventh entry for the current Roots of Hope blog theme: Seeds of Change. To read previous entries, see What comes next: study abroad and youth-led change in Cuba, How Cell Phones Can Shake a Nation, Begin from the Beginning: the need for open dialogue, and From New Orleans to Havana.
By Alex Freeman
More than a month later, the takeover of the Rotilla Festival in Havana still comes up in my daily life. Absolute freedom is not something I expect granted to the cultural circles of Cuba, but the erosion of the Rotilla Festival was unexpected. And yet as music festivals die in Havana, they’ve grown in the US. My summer will be bookended by two music festivals, Bonnaroo in central Tennessee and Virgin Mobile FreeFest in between DC and Baltimore.
The first, Bonnaroo, was a convergence of music, culture, art, and 80,000 people from across North America. It was a pure celebration by people who only wanted to enjoy their time away from home in a place unlike any other. And the founder of Rotilla festival, Michel Matos, wished to provide the same cultural Mecca to all those who could make it. According to their press release, the Rotilla Festival “promotes and exposes the great majority of the demonstrations of the Cuban artistic vanguard. It is of a non-lucrative character, completely free and open to the public.”
Angered at the destruction of the Rotilla Festival, the press release rightfully lashed out at the people and institutions that warped the meaning of their event into a State charade. The Cuban government transformed the three-day escape that the Rotilla Festival had provided for more than a decade into a lackluster charade of the Revolutionary spirit.
“We, organizers and authors of the Rotilla Festival, and I myself, its director and founder, DENOUNCE the theft, plagiarism, and kidnapping that this attitude represents for all the young people of this earth that we today represent. We denounce the excessive and stubborn censorship that is being exerted against any cultural activity that DOES NOT originate in the so-called institutions. We denounce the harassment to which we are constantly being put through. We denounce the surveillance and the subtle or direct threats to which we are subject daily.”
What once was a break from the norm for Cuban youth was transformed into more of the same.
In a few weeks, I will be attending Virgin Mobile FreeFest. Amidst 40 acres of green forest, dozens of bands will perform, artists will present their work and fans will celebrate. Much like what Rotilla Festival once was, FreeFest is free and meant as a break from the norm that you can’t get anywhere else.
The fact that the Rotilla Festival existed in the first place is a sign that some seeds of change have taken root in Cuban culture. There is the demand for a mental respite from the constant strain of daily life. Thousands of Cuban youth can attest to the awesome power that a music festival holds and were disappointed to hear that the Rotilla Festival was reorganized. But the seeds of change are already planted inside each and every patron who had attended the Rotilla Festival in the past decade.
So I’m grateful that I can attend festivals that are meant for celebration of my freedoms rather than my State. And I hope that the youth in Havana can have that opportunity again one day soon.
Alex Freeman is a senior at Northwestern University majoring in Political Science and International Studies. He spent the summer interning with the Cuba Study Group keeping up on Cuban news and attending meetings and discussions in DC about Cuban and Latin American affairs.