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Founders accuse Cuban government of 'kidnapping' mega-music festival

By Shasta Darlington, CNN
  • Rotilla was largely apolitical 3-day rave
  • Co-founder charges Cuba has barred organizers from meetings
  • Festival was financially independent
  • Government does not comment
  • Cuba
  • Raul Castro
  • Music

Havana (CNN) -- The founders of Cuba's biggest independent music festival accused the government of "kidnapping" their festival on Wednesday, saying the Culture Ministry had taken over organization of this year's event and barred them from meetings.

"They're kidnapping, stealing our festival," said founder and until-now executive director Michel Matos.

"It's not a simple case of censorship, of them shutting it down. It's an abduction," he said during a small press conference in his living room. "On the one hand, they're taking it away from us and on the other hand, they are organizing it themselves through official institutions."

The government was not immediately available for comment.

The Rotilla Festival, a hugely popular three-day rave on a beach outside Havana, was launched in 1998 by Matos and a handful of friends. Last year, it attracted some 20,000 people.

"Up until now, we were tolerated," Matos said.

Often referred to as "Cuba's Woodstock," the festival's focus has traditionally been on apolitical electronic music and DJs, although last year the main attraction was the polemic hip-hop group Los Aldeanos.

Matos said they collaborated with government officials on logistics and security and sometimes faced pressure.

"Traditionally, there was a dialogue with authorities, where they pressured us so that certain groups wouldn't participate and we cooperated so that the festival would be permitted," he said. "It hasn't always been comfortable."

Less well-known outside Cuba than some of the smaller, more political, rap festivals, Rotilla has long been a popular musical event for young people on the island.

The festival was financially independent, receiving funding from the Serbian electronic music festival EXIT and the Dutch and Spanish embassies. The bands and DJs played for free.

Matos said the Cuban government had taken over the festival without any warning or explanation.

When organizers came to a meeting on logistics and security with local authorities, they were met in the parking lot and told they were no longer the organizers, he said.

They have since been barred from meetings at the Culture Ministry, where he said plans are underway to stage a "Rotilla Festival" organized by the government on the same dates, but with a different lineup.

The bands are being offered $1,000, he said.