Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 15 May 2018 — Omara Portuondo, Ballet Nacional, Pablo Milanés, Haydée Milanés, Los Van Van, Teatro El Público, Aldo López Gavilán, Jorge Luis Pacheco, Orquesta Faílde, Teatro El Público, Orquesta del Liceo de La Habana… The top drawer talent went to Cuba, to the Kennedy Center, to the Artes de Cuba festival. The best and most reliable, the ones who can be trusted to not defect or say something inappropriate–because it would not be to their advantage to do so.
It matters not if Pablito Milanés, who has been whining lately, were to make some controversial statement, because this would only show that Cuba has changed, that we are completely transparent, and that dissent is allowed (of course it is!)—provided, that is, that the dissent is expressed as the Maximum Leader wanted: “within the Revolution.” *
As the journalist Yuri Nórido wrote, with utmost optimism, a few days ago in the Trabajadores newspaper: the Kennedy Center patrons will see for themselves that in Cuba, “questioning and committed” (we all know to what) art is made.
You will pardon my cynicism, but I do not trust the assurances given by Alicia Adams, the festival curator, that the Cuban government did not intervene into the selection of artists. With a regime like this one, I’m not buying that story…
What a coincidence that among the more than 250 performers selected by Adams—let’s say we believe that she alone made the selection—there are no independent artists (except the Mal Paso dance company, which, it is true, does not receive state subsidies)—and even less any of the writers, filmmakers, painters and other artists who are censored and condemned to be ostracized, such as those plastic artists who, at this very moment and while being harassed by State Security, are holding an alternative Bienal in Havana.
What a coincidence that among the artists in the Cuban diaspora—let’s not call it “exile,” that ugly word—who are fewer, were not included, for example, such virtuosos as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Could it be because they are openly anti-Castro?
By the same token, just to allay any such suspicions, the quintet of New York-based saxophonist Yosvany Terry, and the singer Aymée Nuviola, who lives in Miami, were at the Kennedy Center. Neither of them have ever made a peep against the regime, which Adams must have taken into account when making her selections. Because we wouldn’t want the festival to be politicized…
It’s not that artists must spend their lives making political statements, but in the case of individuals who have been forced to leave their country for reasons that always, one way or another, can be traced back to politics, it would well be worthwhile if, occasionally, when it’s relevant, they would declare themselves, speak plainly and leave off the subterfuge. They should follow the example of Alicia Alonso and Omara Portuondo, who whenever they have the opportunity to do so, they give witness to their unbreakable loyalty to castroism.
Speaking of Omara Portuondo, her fan Aymée Nuviola appears to be trying with her what she was unable to do, no matter how hard she worked, with Celia Cruz: to prosper in her shadow. Maybe she’ll even get to cut a duo record with the Diva of the Buenavista Social Club. And continue taking trips to Havana, where, to some people who don’t care about put-downs, snubs and payoffs, applause sounds sweeter than in Miami.
For the moment, the Cuban regime is winning another propaganda battle. With so many good artists at the Kennedy Center—the majority of them “educated in the art schools created by the revolutionary government,” as they insist on pointing out—anyone would think that the official culture in Cuba is a marvel, another “achievement of the Revolution.” Perhaps this, and not so much the building of bridges between Cuba and the US, is the objective of this Cuban art festival, the largest celebrated outside the Island.
*Translator’s Note: A reference to Fidel Castro’s “Words to the Intellectuals” speech of June 30, 1961, in which he set limits to the free expression of artists and writers: “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison