14ymedio, Havana, 1 July 2019 — Miguel Díaz-Canel used his closing speech to the IX Congress of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) to recall the controversial Words to the Intellectuals delivered by Fidel Castro in 1961 and to call for fighting the “cultural mercenaries, those willing to lynch how many artists and creators who support the Revolution.”
In his words, the Cuban leader warned that “creation is not going to be limited, but the Revolution that has resisted 60 years by knowing how to defend itself is not going to leave its institutional spaces in the hands of those who serve its enemy.”
The year 2019 began marked by an open controversy in the art world over Decree 349, which regulates artistic expression on the Island. The new regulation, which came into force last December and has not yet been applied to its full extent, caused a a schism between Cuban intellectuals who openly support it and those who consider that it censors art, especially because it regulates who can and can not be considered creators, and because it interferes with the dissemination of art in private spaces.
Díaz-Canel defined Cuba as a country “riddled with journalists by the most influential media on the planet” and said: “Fidel [Castro] knew to warn of the risk of losing our greatest strength: unity, identity, culture, with the colonizing avalanche that advanced in the times of globalization.” The president expressly referred to “massive access to new technologies, promoted by modern merchants.”
Social networks also had a place in the words of Diaz-Canel, in the midst of an increase in the presence of Cubans on Twitter and Facebook, where, in recent months, there have been frequent criticisms of the management of the Government, demands for improvements in services and, more recently, an intense campaign for the state telecommunications monopoly to lower the prices of Internet access.
On that issue, the president again praised Fidel Castro for being aware that these accelerated development technologies would be “a powerful weapon of education and multiplication of knowledge” and he created the University of Computer Science (UCI), under the direction of State Security.
The president, coinciding with the 58th anniversary of the Words to the Intellectuals, recalled the meetings in the National Library that gave rise to a cultural policy within strict ideological limits and also to the creation of the UNEAC. “If, 60 years ago, the attempt to fracture the visceral union between that vanguard and its Revolution, that is, itself and its people, was defeated, later and many times over the years, the adversary would uselessly endeavor to do so,” he proclaimed.
Díaz-Canel also took up the controversial words pronounced by Castro on that occasion to define the limits of artistic production [“Within the Revolution, everything, against the Revolution, nothing”]. “I’ve always been worried that from those words a couple of phrases are extracted and they are raised as a slogan,” said Diaz-Canel. “Our duty is to read it aware that it is still a document for all time.”
The president recognized in his words the outgoing UNEAC president, the writer Miguel Barnet, who held the office for more than two decades, and congratulated the newly elected Luis Morlote Rivas, a cadre without an artistic career who previously served as vice president of UNEAC, after being president of the Hermanos Saíz Association and who is currently a deputy of the National Assembly of People’s Power.
Morlote represents the new litter of faces that are taking positions within national institutions, of proven ideological loyalty and a discourse totally aligned with the Communist Party. Among his most combative actions in recent years was his presence in the Parallel Forums of the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama, 2015, where he was part of the shock troops against Cuban activists.
In his first words as president of the government organization, Morlote said that at the UNEAC Congress it was demonstrated that “there is a UNEAC committed to the Revolution, with the thoughts of Fidel and Raúl, and of all those who continue their work.” For his part, Barnet was recognized with the position of honorary president of the organization.
“I do not have a work as big as el Turquino [Cuba’s highest peak], but after 22 years in the Executive of the UNEAC and eleven in the presidency I can say: do not believe that it has been a sacrifice, I have surrendered and I will continue delivering, because for me most important is the cause, this great Revolution that has brought us this far,” said Barnet, accepting the new position.
During the speech, Díaz-Canel was interrupted several times by long standing ovations from the artists, and many of his phrases received brief applauses and approvals from the voices of some artists.
The National Council of UNEAC was also elected, composed of Alicia Alonso, Leo Brouwer, Alfredo Diez Nieto, Ambrosio Fornet, César López, Eusebio Leal, Chucho Valdés, Graziella Pogolotti, Martha Rojas, Omara Portuondo, Pablo Milanés, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Rogelio Martínez Furé, Rosita Fornés, María Teresa Linares, Fina García Marruz, Silvio Rodríguez, Nancy Morejón, Jesús Ortega, Verónica Lynn, Pedro de Oraá, Jesús Chucho Cabrera and Miguel Barnet.
The Cuban art sector is undergoing a rapid transformation with the emergence of new technologies, the growth of cultural consumption “a la carte” and the expansion of the private sector. If, before, the creators needed to be integrated into an institution to record a record, publish a book or perform in a show before the public, now there are recording studios, video clip professionals and private bars where they can do these things without government intervention.
Decree 349 attempts to regulate the phenomenon and return to cultural institutions the ability to decide everything from what music is heard in those particular places, to what art can hang on the walls of the independent galleries that have sprung up all over the country.
Díaz-Canel also did not miss the opportunity to refer to the United States and linked the funds destined to promote democracy on the island with the protests of recent weeks on the Internet.
The president accused the current Trump administration of asking “those who wish to access the privileged preserves of the empire to give an account of what they do or say on social networks,” an idea repeated in recent days by officials and official spokesmen against the users of the state monopoly Etecsa who are demanding a reduction in the pricesit charges to access the internet.
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