Monday, September 24, 2012

Cuba’s Cultural Policy: Sledgehammers and Speeches

Cuba's Cultural Policy: Sledgehammers and Speeches
September 21, 2012
Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — The strategy for determining and controlling education
and culture in the country as being based on political principles
(understanding that I'm referring to unconditional support as stipulated
by the government) can clearly be seen from that well-known speech
"Words to the Intellectuals."

Nevertheless I was reviewing other materials and found another speech
from back then dated April 30, 1971, (in Spanish) at the closing
ceremony of the First National Congress of Education and Culture.


Referring to the analysis of this event, according to el Comandante:

"The issues that raised the most heat, the most passion and the most
unanimity, those which caused the most clamorous applause, were
precisely those issues that addressed ideological questions, political
questions, revolutionary questions, and that revealed how revolutionary
ideas, patriotic ideas, internationalist Marxist-Leninist ideas have
penetrated deeply into the heart and conscience of our people,
especially in a large number of our educators. [We can see] how the
teachers who were sent here as delegates were a true reflection of this
thought, these ideas, these vertical and radical positions in politics,
which is crucial."

I have taken on the task of underlining the lines of the text that I
consider frightening. Following that time, future generations would
receive programmed instruction without the smallest option for
questioning, which would end up making them limited in their ability,
knowledge, analytical abilities and comprehension of many facts.

How then can you speak of our country's educational level being at that
of the First World? And also to boast about being cultured (and I'm
speaking of education, not the educational system. I'm talking about the
cultural level, not about being highbrow).

I found many more phrases, ones as alarming how as these:

(…) But one must maintain a very specific standard about the priorities
of our Book Institute. And that standard can be summed up in these
words: In the books published by our Book Institute, the first priority
should be educational books (APPLAUSE), the second priority should be
educational books (APPLAUSE), and the third priority must be books for
education! (APPLAUSE). This is more than clear. (…) Sometimes certain
books have been printed. The number doesn't matter. As a matter of
principle, there are some books that shouldn't be published, not one
copy, not one chapter, page or letter! (APPLAUSE)

This shows the very high levels of censorship that was faced (and still
is) by publications on our island, whereby if you're not a writer
committed to the revolution then your work will be ostracized. Even
beyond commitment, it will depend on the interpretations and decisions
by certain officials who base these on certain models of what should or
shouldn't be read by Cubans. This reminds me of the Holy Inquisition.


Respect for intellectuals and artists, and the degree of their promotion
or the allowed visibility of them and their work is subject to their
political stance, beyond their actual abilities as creators. We see this
unfortunate situation in a sentence by "Big Brother":

"Our assessment is political. There can be no aesthetic value without
human content (…)"

What human values is he talking about? Those defined by him?

There's no human value in Paradiso, the novel by Lezama Lima? – who went
for so many years without being published and who was finally
recognized. There's no value in any of the work of Virgilio Piñera? –
who was also passed over but is now praised to the point of satiety.

Is there no human value in the novels by Reinaldo Arena? Or those of
Guillermo Cabrera Infante? Or in the poetry of Heberto Padilla?

To give more recent and less known examples, is there no value in the
work of Faisel Iglesias or Luis Orlando Pardo Lazo, only because the
leaders of the revolution didn't/don't appreciate them?

How much literary and artistic work have we been deprived of? I'm
referring to Cuban work, not to even mention international work.


Disrespect and contempt for intellectuals is manifested in these lines
from the speech:

"And of course, as agreed to by the Party Congress, Do we have little
competitions here to serve in the role of judges? No! To serve in the
role of a judge one must be a true revolutionary, a true intellectual, a
true fighter! (APPLAUSE).

"And to get back to the subject of winning a prize in a national or
international competition, one has to be truly revolutionary, a real
writer, a poet of truth (applause), truly revolutionary. This is clear –
and clearer than water. Magazines and competitions are unsuitable for
phonies. They will only accommodate revolutionary writers.

"How have these people been receiving awards, writers of garbage on many
occasions? Because more or less regardless of the technical level of
writing or one's imagination, we as revolutionaries value cultural works
in function of the values they embody for the people (…) In contemporary
times, who's considered an intellectual? There's a little group that has
monopolized the title of intellectuals and intellectual workers."

"When I say intellectual rats, it's clear that we hardly mean all
intellectuals. No! There too, [the rats] are in the minority! But like
sailors say, rats try to standout in their miserable role of passengers
on boats that sink in the stormy seas of history."

But this is a speech from 41 years ago. The terrible thing is what
happened then is still happening now with these attacks against culture,
which now not only depend on the levels of unconditional support for the
regime. Now the paranoia goes along other channels, such as the issue of
an artist having to do what they are told and not dream of trying to
become rich.


It could be that you support the revolution, and that you have even been
recognized and honored by it, but that doesn't suffice if you appear to
them to be profiting. Two irrefutable and distressing examples of this
policy of harassing creators was the whole campaign unleashed in the
1990's against "PM Record" studios, owned by singer-songwriter Pablo
Milanes. This continued until it finally made him decide to shut it down.

There was also the closing of the workshop of artist Pedro Pablo Oliva,
in Pinar del Rio last year, due to government actions stemming from
certain statements made by the painter.

And now, the entire brotherhood let loose on disrupting a thriving
business: "El Cabildo," a private company de 130 employees in the city
of Havana. This was founded by Ulises Aquino, a renowned baritone who
also founded the Opera de la Calle (Street Opera) in 2006.

El Cabildo was a pioneer effort to put artists to work in their own sort
of cabaret. Aquino, with the assistance of the Ministry of Culture,
coordinated the licensed activities of three restaurants and set up shop
in a previously abandoned facility where Cuban customers paid a 50 peso
admission price (equivalent to about $2 USD), while tourists were
charged $10 from Sunday through Thursday, and $25 for the weekend
cultural program.

I quote from the Reuters article where it was reported:

"But Aquino Guerra had the misfortune of El Cabildo being noticed and
Reuters writing about it with a grandiloquent headline: "In Cuba, An
Opera Singer Building an Empire." As a result, 10 days after that
article appeared, on July 23 the director of Labor of the Playa
Municipality issued resolution 29/2012 resending the authorization of
Ulises Aquino Guerra to operate as a self-employed worker.

"It was found that that he was charging a $2.00 cover (or 50 pesos in
national currency) during the show by the Street Opera Company, which
was subsidized by the Ministry of Culture, and that those revenues were
being used for personal gain (among other illegal activities)."

This measure was responded to publicly and forcefully by the artist in
an open letter that circulated on the Internet and to the Director of
Labor of the Playa Municipality. In it he gave the details of the
company and criticized the arbitrary manner in which inspectors burst
into the facility in the middle of a performance. But nothing happened,
no licenses were returned and El Cabildo has ended. Perhaps soon
(hopefully not) the Street Opera will also close.

If you're an artist, a Cuban intellectual, and want to live without
problems, then shut up, nod and don't make any more money than what they
determine. This way your work will reach the masses, you won't be
labeled a rat, and they won't shut down your workshop or your business.
This way you won't feel the manner in which culture is being
sledgehammered in the name of culture, that battering that dates back to
old speeches.

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