For a Culture Without Custodians / Miguel Iturria Savón

Alfredo Guevara

In Cuba we barely acknowledge the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, on October 12, 1492, and his arrival on our shores on the 24th, as if the conquest and colonization by Spain were an outstanding bill and not an event from the past of historical and cultural significance. Officially, National Culture Day celebrates the start of the war of Independence — October 10, 1868 — and the entrance of the patriots into Bayamo on the 20th in that same month and year.

Such a bellicose perception distorts the country’s cultural heritage, burdened by the bureaucracy of the State, political ideology and the creation of a system of stars, subject to the network of monopolies that control artistic and literary production.

In the culture that preceded the Revolutionary destructuring process of 1959, influenced by the redesign of relations with the United States starting in 1902, and the migratory waves of Spanish and Caribbean who came in search of jobs and boosted the production and trade of the island , turned into one of the most prosperous nations of the continent.

In the mid-twentieth century Cuba faced socioeconomic changes that bankrupted traditional values: the advance of the so-called mass culture, based on the expansion of radio, TV, film, in education and the media. Urban architecture was driven by public and private, mainly in Havana and Varadero, investing in tourism sites, where the hotel industry and real estate took the lead, which generated jobs and alternative collateral.

With the socio-political changes spontaneous manifestations of culture were interrupted. The affiliation with the socialist model in Eastern Europe led to the system of government agencies that monopolized the areas of artistic creation. The Cuban Book Institute, the National Music Center, the Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), the Council for the Performing Arts, the Institute of Radio and Television, the Center for Art and Design and groups like the National Ballet , Contemporary Dance or the Folk Assembly directed artistic production based on political and governmental interests.

The ICAIC, founded in March 1959, exemplifies the ideological control over the culture. Its founder, Alfredo Guevara, castrated the creative intellect of Cuban filmmakers. This character was essential in the long film industry of the tyranny, in whose controversial way statism was imposed and the critics of the New Cinema excluded, within which Gutierrez Alea, Humberto Solás and others survived.

The bureaucratization required creators to conform to the network of state centers. The officials issued rules, instituted censorship and stressed submission through the award system, including editions of books, recordings and foreign travel, which favored the opportunism and unleashed persecution upon and the exodus of those who challenged the canons of power. In this context, the affiliation to the Union of Journalists of Cuba (UPEC) or UNEAC (Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), became collateral, as artists and writers are legally deprived of personality and tied to the schema.

From the colloquialism of the poetic we turned to poetry of the slogan, the narrative of violence, socialist realism and scriptural grayness that mythologized the Leader and his legion of “heroes.” Purges, epiphanies, trading in praise and even a National Movement for the Nueva Trova to reject the troubadour tradition begun by Pepe Sanchez in the nineteenth century and continued by Sindo Garay and Miguel Matamoros.

You had to march or dance in tune to the rules and precepts of the Leader and his party, at least until 1990, when the lack of economic resources caused by the fall of the Soviet bloc accelerated the crisis of the monopolistic institutions and the exodus of artists to other nations.

Alfredo Guevara, founder and former head of the ICAIC, receiving an award from Raul Castro

Perhaps the best of the official culture is the art education system, as it favored the education of trainers and arts schools tripled. The promotion of community culture and festivals of fans encouraged the emergence of cultural centers, museums, galleries and public libraries, installed in old cinemas, closed schools and new locations.

The imposition of rules and the bowing to the power affected musicians and actors, dancers and visual artists, writers and journalists. The dependence is emphasized in the media and provincial and community institutions also subject to local government bodies.

By submitting intellectuality to the rules of power through punishments and rewards that encourage opportunism and degrade the privileged, a market in perks was created based on dogmas and affiliations. The interplay extends to the new technologies and the shares of power allocated to the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, whose subsidiaries determine the feasibility of projects, editions and travel abroad with very little subtlety.

Despite the passage of time, the exodus of artists and involution of the country, the regime insists on imposing limits on the culture, converting its elites in appendages to the state bureaucracy. Silence and complicity favor the supposed unanimity to the detriment of the differences and freedom that characterize the expressions of art.

October 31 2011