Gorky Aguila and Lia Villares, members of Cuban rock band Porno Para Ricardo, were detained Wednesday afternoon upon returning to Cuba's Jose Marti Airport. The activists, who arrived separately, were coming back from Miami, where they performed shows at Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center.
Lia had already crossed over to baggage claim when an official immigration officer approached her. He asked for her passport, took it, and left. Shortly after, three other customs officials came. They asked for her passport again. But, Lia couldn't provide it. The four officials, three women and a young man, returned.
"And they all tell me, 'When your luggage comes, you're going be taken to a room for a routine check," says Lia. "But, this routine check is obviously not routine. It's very selective."
Lia insisted that she knew her rights, that she"didn't feel comfortable alone in a room with [them]," to check her publicly if they had to. But, they checked her anyways. All of her bags were run through x-rays a second time. Inside she had catalogues from Danilo Maldonado Machado aka El Sexto's gallery exhibit, her band's CDs, and of course countless t-shirts with bold lettering, "ABAJO QUIEN TU SABES."
"They said I can’t enter the country with anything that is against revolutionary morals," says Lia. "Well, what law does "ABAJO QUIEN TU SABES" break? Who is that referring to? As long as I don’t mention a name, it's not going against any law."
The authorities didn't respond and left her in silence until they confiscated her "contraband" items and gave her a receipt saying she will be notified within 30 days if she can retrieve them. Lia is not hopeful. The artist, who has been a member of Porno Para Ricardo since 2014, is an active blogger in Cuba's generation zero, a canon-defying literature movement, and has been detained by immigration before.
"The first time I traveled in 2003 they took my laptop with all my writing," says Lia.
Maldonado, a good friend of the band, immediately took to Facebook and filmed an hourlong live video of his reaction to the news.
"If anyone knows of where Lia Villares is, let us know," he says, wiping away tears. "My brothers, if we live through this, let's get rid of these dogs in power. Free Lia Villares."
Lia and Gorky's music is known for criticizing and satirizing the Castro regime without holding anything back. Gorky, the frontman of the group, was arrested in 2008 in Cuba for “social dangerousness.” At the time, Cuba was in the throes of its "Cuban 5" campaign, hailing five Cuban spies who infiltrated America as heroes, demanding their immediate release. On the island, Gorky's ironic arrest garnered national attention including a New York Times story. He was eventually found guilty of the lesser charge of “disobedience” and fined $600 pesos, about six weeks' salary. But that hasn't stopped the band from speaking its mind. Porno Para Ricardo's 2013 song "El Comandante" directly chastises the Castros, telling them not to "eat so much dick."
Just last month, the group performed at Maldonado's opening night at Miami Beach's Market Gallery to a packed crowd. The exhibit showcased work Maldonado produced while imprisoned in Cuba's Valle Grande for ten months. Porno Para Ricardo supported Maldonado's liberation campaign with a song and music video, "Libertad Para Danilo." They performed the song at the exhibit.
"Danilo's ten months in jail strengthened him. The experience has left him with the courage and force to keep doing his art," said Lia at the opening. "This is an important moment for us."
Maldonado is now in Guatemala, where he is completing a large-scale mural for Universidad Francisco Marroquín. His exhibit at Market Gallery will remain open until March 19.
This news comes at a critical moment for U.S.-Cuban relations. President Obama's visit to the island has been delayed for a month, and negotiations are still being made to avoid dissonance between the two countries.
"The real worry now is when Obama visits and we have a security forbidding us from leaving the house," says Lia. "Or during the Rolling Stone concert, they don’t let us get there, or arrest us before. Tomorrow is the march of Damas de Blanca, and police do the same thing, they stop anyone from demonstrating."