In Cuba, Official Culture Loses Ground in the Face of Dynamic Private Offerings

The budget dedicated to the restoration of heritage properties is insufficient, which has accelerated their deterioration. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 October 2023 — Cuba’s officialdom celebrates the Day of Cuban Culture by declaring the existence of a new enemy: the “cultural colonization” promoted by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). The oxygen that the “new economic actors” have given to the sector contrasts with the situation that – not without reluctance – the local leaders describe this Friday: unpayable debts, millions of pesos lost, the impossibility of restoring heritage buildings and the stampede of intellectuals and artists.

Taking advantage of the anniversary – established by the regime in 1980, following the myth that the national anthem was written on October 20, 1868, by Perucho Figueredo – the official press reviewed the state of culture in several provinces. With varying degrees of sincerity, the officials agreed on one point: the situation is, at the very least, “complex.”

Jorge Félix Lazo, director of the Cultural Sector of Sancti Spíritus, said that for his office it is a “challenge,” despite the fact that the province has about 500 registered musicians and 92 writers, to offer something attractive to young people, victims par excellence, he insisted, of “cultural colonization, which goes unnoticed before our very eyes.”

The problem, he conjectured, is that people are not capable of “changing their thinking,” despite the fact that the province has a university and 24 cultural projects. “It’s a shame that they haven’t taken advantage of them,” he said sadly.

The few advances made have been by the small private businesses, which make up for the work that the state sector is unable to assume, he admitted

The few advances made have been by the small private businesses, which make up for the work that the state sector is unable to assume, he admitted. But “loosening the reins” – as Lazo eloquently describes government control – has been taken advantage of by businesses that have succeeded in “managing artistic talent and even have sponsored activities and events.”

“But our mission is to lead them, not to leave them alone, to prevent the violation of cultural policy, of which there is only one,” warns the leader, who sees a top-up review of the private businesses to be necessary. “We have had stumbling blocks, because we cannot allow our spaces to lose their essence and be just for dancing and consuming drinks. The role of our institutional system is unchanged.”

Despite his inflexibility, Lazo recognizes that alliances with the private sector are the “road to salvation.” His example is the municipal library of Fomento, which digitized its catalog thanks to a MSME. It was a simple operation, the official said, not like the urgent restoration of the now-closed Museum of Colonial Art, at the moment impossible because it requires “a million-dollar figure” to be carried out.

The most notable failure – which Lazo describes as “unexpected” – is that of the Music and Entertainment Marketing Company, which closed in 2022 with more than 364,000 pesos in losses. Lazo’s justification is that the institution failed not only at the provincial level but also at the national level. The leader predicts that the same thing will not happen this year and that “the dissatisfaction of the artists” can be alleviated, since “the direction has changed and measures have been adopted.”

In opinion columns published in official magazines and provincial institutional meetings, intellectuals and artists affiliated with he National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) have recorded that the economic aspect of their work is – and has been for a long time – more than alarming. The request for a “scheme” that allows the profits of the sector, no matter how small, to be reinvested in it, has been a constant in the assemblies of the organization.

The intellectuals and artists affiliated with UNEAC have recorded that the economic aspect of their work is – and has been for a long time – more than alarming

The writer and cultural commissioner Ricardo Riverón, of Villa Clara, explained in the magazine La Jiribilla that the financial ups and downs of the Island have caused a “litany of disagreements” between officials and artists. “The most recent of all, very bitter, is over cinema,” he stressed, alluding to the claims of the independent Assembly of Filmmakers of Cuba, which arose as a result of the unauthorized broadcast by its director, on Televisión Cubana, of the documentary La Habana de Fito, by Juan Pin Vilar.

For Riverón, Cuba is moving towards a process of cultural crisis  similar to the one that the Soviet Union went through, which could have, he warns, similar results. “At the end of the last century, glasnost [openness] did more damage than perestroika [restructuring]: the economy in Russia and other countries recovered, but the socialist ideology had to face the long devaluation of its moral capital, which today is rowing against the tide. The persistent loss of its political attractiveness and mobilizing capacity is still with us,” he insists.

Returning to the solutions of the Special Period – in particular the “decentralization of decisions” of the sector, which Riverón aspires to return to local leaders – could be the light at the end of the tunnel, the official theorizes. However, there is a great danger: the Internet, whose access “has been for us almost the equivalent of a glasnost,” and which generates more “cultural colonization,” he regrets.

Riverón agrees with Lazo in the same fear: for the State, it is intolerable that there be a “discredit” and a “dismantling of institutionality,” because with it, “the socialist conception of society will go away; there is no doubt about that.”

Translated by Regina Anavy 


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