Cuba: A Country Being Auctioned / Angel Santiesteban

Emilio's Daughter (1974), by Servando Cabrera Moreno, one of the works being auctioned off by the Cuban government.

These days the Cuban nation should be crying and writhing in its own betrayal. It gives the sensation of a country winding down, that sells quickly, like someone trying to extract every possible benefit before leaving.

For years it has been auctioning off its cultural heritage on the Internet. Works by leading artists who are not even alive to replace them. Creations that would be difficult to return to our country. This year important works by Servando Cabrera Moreno have been auctioned off for more than 600,000 dollars: A 1957 painting, “Figure with Bird,” “Cocoon” (1945), “Emilio’s Daughter” (1974), and “Kisses” (1966). Also “Last Journey” (1979) by Wilfredo Lam. Among the 44 artists were Tomás Sánchez, Mario Carreño, René Portocarrero, Amelia Peláez and Raúl Martínez. In recent years we have lost an important part of the pictorial wealth of the nation.

In other countries, when private collectors decide to sell, government regulations to preserve the cultural heritage, which is untouchable, establish that the State has priority over cases of interest. Owners have to accept three propositions. They can keep the work but not sell it. They do not have the right to take it out of the country. Also, if they keep a work considered to be part of the nation’s heritage in their house, an annual tax must be paid to the State. This seems a laudable idea to me. I believe that the place for the best paintings of every nation is in its museums, so that they can be admired by both nationals and visiting foreigners.

Theft and demagoguery

Yet lately we hear denunciations from Cuban government spokespeople lamenting the “thefts in the museums by the Allied troops when they entered Iraq.” Also, the world still mourns for the cultural works destroyed and sacked by the Nazi hordes in the invaded countries, a great part of which remain hidden.

But in Cuba it’s like we don’t have the ability to look at ourselves. Education was required for the sake of protecting the supposed Revolution of 1959, and that was no more than a way of allowing Fidel Castro to commit his outrages without being criticized. I realize that to try to do so would have been a grievous mistake. Confronting him would have immediately led to a fierce punishment. Trying to criticize, even constructively and for “revolutionary” honesty, is seen as suicide.

Few of that generation, none of those who today live in the country and participate in the official social life, confronted the designs of Tsar Fidel Castro, and in cowardice they remained silent so they would not be considered eligible for punishment. They preferred to be slaves, silent accomplices, incapable of dissent. They considered this appropriate for survival, and they forgot their place before their own consciences and before history, which will remember them as they were and still are today.

And they tried to transmit that education to the three generations that followed them. And because we don’t accept it they brand us as traitors, saying that we are complicit with an enemy we don’t even know, one that hasn’t tried to “buy us,” “capture us,” or whatever other accusations the spokespeople make on that insufferable Round Table TV show. They don’t still believe in the consciousness of Marti. Later, in personal conversations, they acknowledge that there are problems with the system, and on occasion they even discover a certain admiration for the opposing positions that their fears, in moments of rebellion, don’t let them develop.

Beneficial Intellectuals

So what can remain of a cultural milieu whose Cuban Book Institute sent a group of intellectuals to a Book Fair in Mexico without guaranteeing them economic support? Especially since they were sent to represent Cuba, to obey the orders of the officials who sent them,   and to attack whomever opposed the State. They looked like a “delegation of famine,” and as official writers they were willing to wave the little flags so they could continue being considered “trustworthy” by the regime and keep receiving handouts as mercenaries.

Outside Cuba I have attended the National Literature Awards, to beg from the organizers of international events, with the excuse that “Cuba is poor,” so they will assume that its people are as well, and they bury their pride and decorum. The “Revolution” asked so many to sacrifice; there were times when it made them grovel to ask for pardon for words or actions committed, and the politicians were not grateful and made them lose their shame. I would have to quote the Indian Hatuey, “If that is the revolution, then I’d rather not be a revolutionary.”

Intellectuals, despite not sharing political views, are immeasurably respected for their creative and spiritual work and, in many cases, for their social mission. But they assume an attitude of silence, despite having their souls wounded by seeing how the cultural riches of a nation are lost. The Historian of Old Havana himself, Eusebio Leal, who has returned to the historic center the pride and respect it deserves, is silent before the government’s robbery. The great poet, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Director of the House of the Americas, also remains silent before the depredation, and will leave this life with the blood on his soul of the young men shot for trying to escape in a boat. The President of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), the ethnologist and writer Miguel Barnet, also is silent, as he has always known how to be. They, among many who are respectable voices, should join together to defend the cultural treasures of the nation.

What shall we do with the yacht Granma? Sink it into the sea?

Why doesn’t the Government of Cuba sell the yacht Granma? I know some who would buy it, to destroy it or worship it – the fate of that barge would be their choice. Why not sell all the possessions of the Argentine Ché Guevara? He has many fans in the world who would buy his weapons and uniforms with economic generosity. Let them strip those heroic museums throughout the island, filled with their materials of war. They could be auctioned off! But the egoism of the regime and their lack of respect for the culture has been constant. They get rid of art because they underestimate it. It bothers them because it doesn’t reflect their epic or because its authors are homosexual. They see it only as a source of wealth, and before the economic crisis they prefer to lose the nation’s heritage rather than the symbols that support their ideology, its great farce and fraud. And all this happens before the cowardly silence of the voices called to guard this heritage.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats.

Translated by Anonymous and Regina Anavy

December 22 2011