Moral Exchange / Ernesto Morales Licea

Apparently the uneven playing field in the euphemistic “cultural exchange” that is happening today between the United States and Cuba alarms no one.

Week after week, artists from this side of the ocean continue to arrive on American soil, filled with remarkable talent, an understandable excitement, and a willingness to return to the island that, until the last second, remains up in the air.

Week after week the new faces of musicians, comedians, and public and TV people from the island appear in the American media, without, in my opinion, generating a serious and significant analysis about the policy between the two nations.

How do I see it? Both are turning a blind eye, while artists from here parade across to the “enemy” nation, without, in fact, any national repercussions in Cuba, nor approaches or conditions on the part of the United States.

The Cuban press – what else can you expect? – is not aware of the considerable flow. With one exception: to praise the attitude of Silvio Rodriguez who, right in New York itself, demanded immediate freedom for the Cuban Five, elevating them into a category of heroes for some, while for others they’re considered textbook-case spies.

Anyone who has not passed across the Yankee’s stages lately, it is because they’re still in line, or because the authorities won’t grant them an exit permit because they are not considered “reliable.”

The number of the privileged is ever growing. From La Charanga Habanera to Los Van Van. The duo Buena Fe as well as the troubadour Carlos Varela and the multifaceted Edesio Alexander. All have appeared on TV shows, or have found space to promote their audiovisual products.

Before, long before, Paulo FG had gone to Miami with the safe conduct of his Italian citizenship, and had generated a Byzantine controversy with the televised statement of his faith in the Comandante.

We later learned, also, that Amaury Perez, not satisfied with showing off the rare privilege of a satellite dish in a country where this is against the law, spent a couple of days in Florida with family and friends. In passing, he granted an interview to the journalist Jorge Ramos, in which some of the later paragraphs came back to us with great interest.

The comedians Osvaldo Doimeadiós and Carlos Gonzalvo, also went to enjoy the nightclubs, television programs, and media headlines.

And so that the name “cultural exchange” will seem real, rather than a farce, the government of the island allows the American jazz musician Wynton Marsalis to perform in Havana, with national acknowledgment. The American Ballet Theater will also arrive shortly.

This imbalance of quid pro quo is simple mathematics. An aspect even more striking, however, is that seen in the circumstances in which, under President George W. Bush, this kind of exchange was permanently dropped from the agenda, to the point that everyone has forgotten who most craves to be part of the “exchange.” Everyone has forgotten the artists based in Miami.

Despite constant requests to sing in his homeland, there has been no “exchange” with the talented Amaury Gutiérrez, nor with the salsa dancer who, hands down, has been emblematic of Cuban dancers: Willy Chirino. Nor have Bebo Valdes and Arturo Sandoval been allowed to take part.

There have been no exchanges with Pancho Céspedes, or Alexis Valdés, Daisy Ballmajó, nor even with film celebrities such as Reynaldo Miravalles and Carlos Cruz.

The list is endless. Everyone could add a new name, a new figure, who would shudder with excitement at the prospect of returning not only to sing or act in their homeland, but to simply reconnect with their origins.

And this implies irresponsibility and insensitivity involving the governments of both nations which, for the first time, agreed on a bittersweet point: to deny Cuban artists living in Miami a chance to reunite with their original audience.

Each government has played its part in the conspiracy:

The establishment on the Island praises and magnifies that Silvio sang at Carnegie Hall, to denounce the “unjust imprisonment of the Five,” and to confirm his unbending attachment to the Cuban Revolution. However, in one of the contradictions inherent in that system, official spokesmen say they could not admit Willy or Estefan to the Cuban stage, because these characters would come with a political agenda and provoke people. An amazing and awesome way to bite your own tail.

For its part, the Obama government has enabled a ghostly exchange without conditions or demands for equal opportunities. And this, in politics, is an unforgivable defeat.

How do we understand that the author of “Unicorn,” a paradigm of the Cuban revolutionary process and the brilliant musician of all official events, gets — applause please — his necessary visa, but that this does not, in exchange, imply a trip, for example, for Pancho Céspedes to visit his own country? Why instead of negotiating the characteristics of this exchange, is what has happened so far a virtually unconditional acceptance of “shipments” from Havana?

Gray, too gray, clarifying the reality.

Moreover, the most execrable of the Cuban “cultural invasions” to the United States is the adaptation of their discourse and the morality transplant than many undergo, once they land in Miami.

It turns out, if we pay attention to the statements that the singer-songwriter (turned television presenter) Amaury Pérez offered Jorge Ramos in that controversial interview, the son of Consuelito Vidal is an intellectual who, despite his revolutionary commitment, is noted for his criticisms and discrepancies with the official model of his country.

On this program, we Cubans learned that Amaury disapproved the White Letter, but signed the Black Letter by phone, supporting the execution of some of his fellow citizens, and argued for serious changes in the way of this country is led.

On his return to Cuba, the Amaury whom I admire for his boundless charisma and a willingness to always dialogue, also returned to his political silence and intellectual docility.

Another case of fear was that of David Calzado, director of Charanga Habanera, when he outdid himself in opportunism and, like a chameleon, changing his skin with ease, “varied slightly” the lyrics of one of their popular songs during their U.S. tour.

Instead of satirizing the suffering of the nostalgia, the longing of those who today do not live with their families, with the chorus that goes, “You are crying in Miami, I am enjoying Havana,” the turncoat decided to conquer the Tyrians and Trojans with, “You are enjoying Miami, I am enjoying Havana.”

Back home, in his comfortable capital, the song would never be sung that way, under pain of censorship.

So then, in what measure has there been a real exchange, and how far has a relaxation between the two governments reached, but only in a one-directional way: bound for the United States?

Without a sensible and sober policy in this sense, such a segregated and limited cultural exchange between the two opposing governments cannot be just.

I welcome the visits of my brothers to the nation Martí also visited and Varela protected. I support everyone, honest and opportunistic, mediocre and talented, Los Aldeanos and Sara González, Isaac Delgado, Manolín and Paulito FG, to express their art in any country in the world without ideological constraints putting a brake on their expansion.

But I support it, as a fundamental premise, because the opportunity to perform on stages beyond the seas should open the door for all, not only to the virtuous on this side of the water, much less should it be a privilege for those who change their morals whenever they change the ground under their feet.

October 21, 2010