Cafe Impresso

A New One-Way Cultural Exchange Between Cuba and the U.S.

As in the 1990s, the United States is ready to open a new one-way cultural exchange with Cuba. Very soon, one of Cuba's most prominent official singer/composer, Pablo Milanés, will tour 13 U.S. cities. He will be followed by a number of artists and writers from the Caribbean island. When will Gloria Estefan sing in Cuba? It might never happen. When will Cuban American actor Andy Garcia be allowed to make a film in Cuba? It might never happen. The late Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz, died in 2003 with no chance to visit her beloved Cuba after more than 40 years in exile. She was even denied a visa by the Cuban government to attend her mother's funeral in 1962. Young Cubans know her music by CDs smuggled to the island by relatives. She has been censored there for half a century. And she is still censored, six years after her death.

Estefan, Garcia and Cruz are not the only Cubans in such a situation. In 2005, Guillermo Cabrera Infante died in London where he lived for 40 years in exile. At the time of his death, Cabrera Infante had been for many years Cuba's most prominent writer. In 2008, Cundo Bermudez died in Miami. Also for many years, he had been Cuba's most prominent painter. They were never allowed to return to Cuba. Paquito D'Rivera, Cuba's most important alto saxophonist, clarinetist and soprano saxophonist, has been living in exile since 1981. The list of Cuban artists, writers and scholars who live or have died in exile during the last 50 years is a very long one. Why? Unfortunately, Cuba has been ruled by a Communist government headed by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro since January 1, 1959. The Castros' government owns everything in Cuba, from publishing companies, the film industry, news organizations and orchestras to libraries, bookstores, museums, art galleries, factories, schools and hospitals. In fact, it is the only employer in the small island with a population of 11 million.

In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton opened a cultural exchange program with Cuba. Americans and Cuban Americans were allowed to visit Cuba, and some Cuba's government-sponsored artists and writers were allowed to tour and work in the United States. Some of them were true propaganda machines. Americans or Cuban Americans critical of the Cuban government were not allowed to enter into the island.

In 2004, after the Cuban government ordered the execution by a firing squad of three black youngters who tried to hijack a boat to flee Cuba and sentenced 75 dissidents to up to 28 years in prison, President George W. Bush suspended the cultural exchange with Cuba and imposed restrictions to trips and Cuban American remittances to the island. This year, President Barack Obama relaxed such restrictions to the levels they were before 2004. Obama has also renewed immigration talks and is about to open new cultural exchanges between the two nations in hope his actions encourage the Castros' regime to release political prisioners, restore some fundamental freedoms and respect human rights. The Castros have shown no response at all.

For a cultural exchange to be serious, it should be a two-way, free exchange. With such a Castros' record, may the United States expect a free cultural exchange with Cuba?

Common sense would say no.

(Hernández Cuéllar is Publisher and Editor in Chief of Contacto Magazine, a bilingual publication he founded on July 1, 1994 in Burbank, California. He has also worked as a news writer for Spain's international news agency EFE in Cuba, Central America and the United States, and Metro Editor of La Opinion of Los Angeles, as well as an instructor of journalism at the University of California Los Angeles, UCLA.)

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