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cockamamie cuban culture crackdown

Post #211 • February 11, 2004, 8:43 AM • 7 Comments

From the BBC (via Bloggy): US blocks Cuban Grammy nominees.

US authorities have refused to let five Cuban Grammy Awards nominees travel to Sunday's ceremony in Los Angeles. Musicians up for best tropical Latin album award - including veteran star Ibrahim Ferrer - have not got visas. Ferrer, 77, told press in the capital Havana: "I am not a terrorist. I couldn't be one. I am a musician."

From Arts & Antiques magazine (via ArtsJournal): Crackdown Ends U.S. Collecting Trips to Cuba.

An American traveler in Havana spent nearly $10,000 last November buying paintings from Cuban artist Sandra Ramos. The buyer received the proper documentation from the artist, and when she arrived at U.S. Customs in Miami - her artwork neatly boxed as carry-on luggage - she was whisked through without any problem.

The buyer belonged to a group of collectors on a licensed cultural trip with The Metropolitan Museum of Art. But with the Bush administration's recent crackdown on travel to the island, such trips have now become a thing of the past. The administration has canceled most licenses for culture-related Cuban travel, and the Treasury Department recently stepped up prosecution. Americans who are caught taking unlicensed trips to Cuba from, say, Canada or the Caribbean now face hefty fines, reportedly up to $10,000.

Why is this happening? NBC summed it up nicely:

Some of Cuban President Fidel Castro's most ardent opponents have criticized the Bush administration for not doing more to bring about democratic change in Cuba. Florida, a vote-rich swing state, is one of the states Bush has visited most since becoming president. The votes of Miami's Cuban-American community could be crucial in the 2004 presidential election.

American foreign policy towards Cuba is impossible to reconcile with policies it has towards the rest of the world. Its centerpiece is a forty-year-old embargo that has no defenders outside of South Florida except a small contingent of conservatives who are willing to make an exception to their belief in free trade when it comes to Castro. Most of the planet thinks that the embargo is a bad idea. It causes worse problems than hardships for the arts, but arts aficionados ought to remember that their interests are being thwarted by a policy that remains in place only because Bush wants to maximize his chances of being re-elected. (To be fair, John Kerry isn't going to take a stand against the embargo either.)

Comment

1.

Val Prieto

February 11, 2004, 9:15 PM

Are you of the notion that art is a true and free and unadulterated expression of the artist's thoughts or feelings? If so, then your concern with cuban art should not be the embargo that prohibits it sale and import, but with the government that prohibits it's fruition.

While there may be many Cuban artists whose works are showcased for the world to see, there are also quite a few whose work is banned, confiscated and or destroyed simply because the expression of the artists truth does not coincide with the truth of Castro's revolution.

It's fine to criticize the embargo and such, but criticizing it without offering some kind of alternative serves no purpose.

2.

Kathleen

February 11, 2004, 10:01 PM

I think a good alternative to the embargo is to remove the embargo. That way, all of the cubans who currently have to go through Canadian companies to ship money or gifts to thier families can simply send money or gifts to thier families, and better yet, they can go visit thier families to see if they are all right! US businesses can operate in Cuba without all of the current subterfuge, and better spread US culture and products, possibly helping to hasten the demise of the dreaded regime.

3.

barry

February 11, 2004, 10:42 PM

Val, I fail to see how the USA's punishing of artists, and reducing their visibility here, can be a good thing. We preach engagement with most regimes, and a country that does business with Saudi Arabia, China, and Uzbekistan seems perverse to treat Cuba as such a special case.

On Uzbekistan:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,12271,1125098,00.html

4.

Jack

February 12, 2004, 2:39 AM

Bad move, Franklin. Leave politics to the politicians. As you note, all politicians will cater/pander to any interest group they feel they need to get elected. The fact that Bush, Kerry or any other pol would do so is completely predictable, and about as newsworthy as a Hollywood divorce. There are more useful things to discuss in this particular forum.

5.

Jerome du Bois

February 12, 2004, 5:15 AM

Sorry to offend Jacks sensibilities, but you brought it up, Franklin. After Castros crew takes their cut, Cuban artists on the island still rake in about 300 times the monthly salary of a Cuban doctor. Theres a guy named Manuel Vasquez Portal who has a message for Sandra Ramos, Ibrahim Ferrer, Castro, Kathleen, Bloggy Barry, Jack, and you. He put it in a letter to his daughter, which had to be smuggled out of one of Castros Prisons. Its just a short passage:

Aguadores Prison, October 1, 2003
Sra. Yolanda Huerga Cede

My Puchita:

My birthday will be on the 9th. I will not be able to enjoy your company, and Gabriel, who already misses me, will not be able to wake me up, with his eyes beaming for joy, to remind me that I'm getting older. When will we be able to enjoy these basic pleasures that we were used to, and which have been denied to us by the injustice and ferocity of a deadly regime?


To this question, I cannot but answer the same way I always answer those who ask me when this hateful regime will be over: This will end when Cubans wish it. If we suffer under a tyranny, it's only because we put up with it, and so we deserve it. Until the Cuban people, in spite of the government's repression, decide to be free, we will continue to be slaves. As long as we continue believing the regime's barrage of propaganda, we will continue, like mesmerized toads, living in the muck.

To which I add only two things, pending future postings in my bailiwick: Not all comemierdas live in Cuba. And to Cuban artists: Down tools until everyone is free.

Sincerely,

Jerome du Bois

6.

Franklin

February 12, 2004, 8:52 AM

Val - Re: "your concern with cuban art should not be the embargo that prohibits it sale and import, but with the government that prohibits it's fruition" - I am concerned with both, but the embargo is maintained by my elected officials and I have more influence over it than the deplorable behavior of the Cuban government. My concern is that the former has had paltry effect on the latter. Re: "It's fine to criticize the embargo and such, but criticizing it without offering some kind of alternative serves no purpose" - I offer free trade and travel as the alternative.

Kathleen - Yep. We've had a forty-year experiment with the embargo, and Castro's behavior is as repressive as ever. I say we try a forty-year experiment in free trade and travel and if it doesn't work out, we can go back to the embargo.

Barry - Engagement seems to be the rule, and I too don't understand why we make an exception for Cuba beyond the political expediencies.

Jack - Occasionally the artistic and political worlds intersect and I feel moved to comment on them together. "The chronicles of an artist in the world," remember?

Jerome - If the ultimate responsibility for the oppressive government lies with the Cuban people, I think we are more likely to stimulate their appetite for democratic and mercantile values by allowing free trade and travel than by forbidding it. Re: "Down tools until everyone is free" - I disagree. Art is an affirmation of life that transcends politics. Let art be made, even in the face of tragedy and horror. I think you would do the same.

7.

ILO

February 12, 2004, 7:01 PM

Val is right and Franklin's reponse it right too. Not letting Mr. Ferrer come here is silly and Cuban govt officials are certainly bastards for repressing expression.

Artists here though, should make more of an effort to see art that the Cuban govt does not espouse and to see who is in jail. There are some pretty good poets behind bars there.

The embargo may seem hypocritical, but if you think we should drop it because we engage in commerce with China, you should have been against the embargo on pre-Mandela South Africa and you should be insisting on doing business with the bastards repressing Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.

We are better with a case-by-case foreign policy than applying the same measure to everyone.

Furthermore, the embargo on Cuba is soft. It is unilateral and it has a bunch of holes. It allows for humanitarian aid, authorized travel (rarely rejected by the Treasury), telecom, agribusiness, wire transfers. Until 92, it allowed US corporations in other countries, like Cargil in Argentina, to sell to them.

You know what the embargo demonstrates? That big business in this country does not dominate every single aspect of our foreign policy. That's right.

For all you leftwingers: if you think this flimsy embargo is the root of all trouble in Cuba, you are saying that a country must engage in commerce with the United States in order to prosper. You sound like a damn Republican.

ILO.

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