Cuba State’s Message to Unpaid Artists: ‘Get to Work!’

Most of the economic income of many artists has come from informal paths. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 14 March 2022 — Cuban musicians who work for state institutions have not been paid since January, although many of them have already returned to the stage after the stoppage forced by Covid. The last payment, that month, consisted of the support in arrears for November and, partially, that for December, granted by the Government as compensation for the lack of action due to the pandemic.

No authority explained to the artists at that time why they reduced the payment and no one explains to them now why they have not been paid for two months. “We don’t know when and we don’t know if they’re going to continue paying, but get to work!” an employee from the Programming department replied rudely to Ernesto, a trumpeter in a group who asks to hide his real name for fear of reprisals, when asking for the umpteenth time a question that has him on the verge of despair.

“Artex has already opened, the Houses of Music are already working, they can no longer be protected any longer,” the official continued by way of explanation.

The truth is that, according to Ernesto, the places that have already opened their doors are not enough. “We are thousands of musicians, singers, comedy technicians and dancers,” he tells 14ymedio. “It is absurd that with so few sources of employment we can work as before, and to work in tourism you have to have leverage or a godfather and many hotels are also closed or do not have guests yet,” he continues, referring to the only sector where, although a minority, artists have been able to continue exercising.

In any case, despite the fact that the restrictions that prohibit dance performances and concerts have already been lifted, state institutions, such as museums and territorial directorates of culture, do not have the liquidity to hire artists.

“Even before the pandemic, it was practically impossible to work without paying bribes,” Martha, a solo singer who also requests a pseudonym, tells this newspaper. “In many places, the same corrupt culture officials who hire us charged us a percentage that used to be 10%, and even more, to let us work.”

Corrupt practices were “an open secret,”she asserts, although now, she says, not even those officials have money to pay. “How are we going to feed our family?” the singer asks desperately. “This is the only thing I know how to do.”

Despite not receiving payments by any means, many singers are invited to work in different spaces for free.

The reasons why musicians and singers agree to it are varied. “I’m going because they’ve asked me to and I don’t want to waste years, but they’ve told me they don’t have money to pay,” says Roberto, a guitarist, who also complains about the situation, like his other colleagues: “I’ve got a month working for free and the company that represents me doesn’t have an answer for me either”.

“I have been working with Culture for years and they have already called me to work, but without payment,” confirms Martha. “I’ve already done three shows and there’s no sign of money, they just say there’s no budget.”

Roberto doesn’t understand “our Ministry of Culture”: “Do they comb their hair or do they do little papers? On the one hand they don’t pay more support, and on the other hand they don’t put the budget to hire us, so what are we supposed to do? Wasn’t culture the first thing that had to be saved?” he says, paraphrasing the late president Fidel Castro.

However, the present situation is not new. Already at the end of the year, the artists were left without the payment agreed to with state companies to replace their salaries during the pandemic.

According to several singers and dancers consulted at the time by 14ymedio, the resolution that the authorities had to issue to renew the payment from November was not signed until the last week of December, and the banks were no longer working for the festivities of those dates.

To authorize the payments, in May 2020 the authorities implemented several resolutions from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, and some specific resolutions issued by the Ministry of Culture. However, more recently, these regulations had to be reactivated periodically.

This aid is the only thing that artists have been receiving for two years, when theaters, clubs and houses of culture closed. Although before covid-19, most of the economic income of many artists came from informal paths, this monthly support was vital during the months of restrictions and border closures.

Life is slowly returning to the stages, but not the money for musicians and singers. “The place where I work is full of sheltered people, because a building collapsed and they have put them there without a date to relocate them to another place,” says Martha about the place where she worked before the pandemic. “Now I can’t find another job, the budget for culture is practically nothing at the moment.”


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.