Cuba might be a land of ration books and power cuts, but last weekend it hosted an electronic music festival, complete with three stages and even an approximation of a cinema tent.
Some 15,000 young Cubans turned up to the Rotilla Festival, trashing what was a pristine beach an hour’s drive out of Havana.
It was a very Cuban affair, with tents made of palm leaves, branches and bin bags. The toilets were notable by their absence. There was a rebellious feel to the event, despite the fact it could not go ahead without government approval.
Controversial hip-hop act Los Aldeanos headlined at 05.00 on Sunday morning, reinvigorating the crowd. “Days go by and I’m still locked up, censored,” spat The Aldeanos’ dreadlocked singer. “They watch me like a renowned dissident.”
Thousands of Cubans shouted along while there was also a definite sense of surprise in the crowd that you could say these things out loud at a mass event.
This kind of open criticism has been creeping into public spaces of late, signalling a growing acceptance of the need for debate within the one-party Communist state.
Aminta D’Cárdenas, 24, is part of Matraka, a three-person group that organised the festival. She says the fact that the festival went ahead might be a concession of sorts from the government. “It could be that they are trying to have a dialogue. It seems to me they don’t have much of a choice.”
President Raúl Castro has repeatedly called for a re-examination of Cuban socialism since taking over from his brother Fidel in 2006. In part, this has been played out on the letters page of the state-run newspaper, Granma. Over the past year, the usually Orwellian publication has printed surprisingly frank letters to the editor, criticising everything from shoddy service to the petty corruption that plagues the country. Its outspokenness is mirrored by the events at last weekend’s festival.
More significantly, the government has begun to release 52 dissidents, although the freed prisoners have been forced to leave the island. “The rhetoric has changed,” says Iván, a 27-year-old engineer, sat by his tent at the festival under the welcome shade of a tree.
But he is frustrated at the faltering pace of reform. “Raúl has been in power for four years and nothing has happened. In the rest of the world that is an entire presidential term. The only thing is freeing the dissidents. That is the only example of the government putting people ahead of the ideology.”