Individual Initiatives in Cuba’s Cultural Sector: A Thorny and Urgent Issue

February 17, 2014 | Print Print |

Ernesto Perez Chang

Cuba Book Fair 2014.  Photo: Juan Suarez

Cuba Book Fair 2014. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Small-scale editing and publishing work is not among the self-employment initiatives the Cuban State has authorized. No similar or related work can be done on a self-employed basis.

Writers and editors depend on the State, but the latter does not guarantee a steady income or the possibility of freely undertaking any individual initiative (like a journal, for instance, or a space for open debate).

Cuba’s publishing sector is no longer capable of reflecting the country’s intellectual reality in a dynamic and up-to-date fashion. The reduced publication plans, the industry’s shortcomings, the volumes of materials printed for the educational sector, the precarious financial situation of book publishers and the different value judgments that surround the sector – from aesthetic to ideological criteria – do not paint a rich or promising picture of our arts. Nor is such a panorama portrayed sincerely, much less to outsiders. This invisible reality has absolutely nothing to do with what gets published under the auspices of the Cuban Book Institute and other institutions.

Existing publications aren’t exactly promising either: each is the mirror image of the other, indistinguishable, devoid of personality, a genuine disaster which does not even meet the basic requirement of a cultural journal, that of being a unique voice in a chorus of different voices.

If the government has authorized foreign investment in other sectors, if several commercial spheres have been lifted off the ground with the help of foreign capital, of Cubans who have established themselves in Miami or Madrid, then, why are individual cultural initiatives prohibited?

Not even digital alternatives (web pages, blogs, e-zines and others) are authorized as a means of promoting individual efforts. The majority of these, when not set up and maintained illegally, are abandoned or ruined because of the masked ways in which the authors try to avoid the distrustful, inquisitive and dangerous gaze of officialdom.

These prohibitions do not stem exclusively from a lack of technical infrastructure. Those who are in control do not trust individual initiatives divorced from official policies – they even fear and combat them like they would their worst enemies. The suspicion with which authorities monitor projects – even those produced within State companies themselves – reach heights bordering on paranoia.

At a time when the island’s publishing houses are beginning to question how profitable many of their publications are, individual initiatives should be considered, particularly if it is true that the State hopes to guarantee the freedom to fully develop our culture, unfettered by any filiations or ideological control.

The country would not face any risks on accepting the development of multiple cultural projects, be it so that individuals can express themselves, help develop culture or earn an income without having to depend on the State to do so.

If the government has authorized foreign investment in other sectors, if several commercial spheres have been lifted off the ground with the help of foreign capital, of Cubans who have established themselves in Miami or Madrid, then, why are individual cultural initiatives prohibited?

If it has been acknowledged that our publishing houses are heading towards a crisis that could have very serious repercussions on the development and circulation of the country’s literature, why is the exploration of individual alternatives restricted? Why is the issue avoided during discussions in official spaces?

Why is the exploration of individual alternatives restricted? Why is the issue avoided during discussions in official spaces?

This is not a paternalistic attitude but a form of strict and unjustified control. Limiting the sphere of action of Cuban intellectuals to the ambit of the State could be interpreted as a kind of ultimatum: “if you don’t like it, pack your bags and publish abroad.” That should not and cannot be the solution.

Developing a true and free literature is impossible if everything written must be scrutinized by institutions. When I speak of literature, I am thinking of individuals expressing themselves as they wish, wrestling with power, questioning authority, cornering each of the different statutes that govern culture, with or without specific commitments, as they prefer, from a position of genuine individuality.

Journals and opinion and debate groups are the ones that have taken culture to new heights through debates and questioning in the course of Cuban history. At times, such initiatives were born of personal sacrifices and hardships, and were impelled by a single aim, the most laudable there is: to exalt the nation out of one’s free will alone.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    Even revered American icons such as Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan, and Caesar Chavez have been the subject of less than flattering articles, books and documentaries produced and published inside the US. True literary freedom will be evident in Cuba when projects critical of the Castros are published and marketed within Cuba. Digital technology has lowered publishing costs dramatically. As e-book sales increase, printing costs have actually gone down around the world. Marketing and promotion, however, remain the biggest cost component to book publishing. Given the small market in Cuba, there is really no reason why publishing should fall off dramatically based on costs. There is likely other reasons why fewer books are being published

    • John Goodrich

      Books critical of the Castros being published or sold in Cuba at this time make as much sense for Cuba as would publishing and selling books critical of FDR during WWII.
      During WWII, the U.S faced an existential threat from the Axis Powers and today the Cubans face an existential threat from the U.S. economic war on it which was explicitly put in place to overthrow the Cuban Revolution .
      Once the U.S. economic war on the revolution ends , Cuba will prosper and luxuries like books will be freely available.
      Of course, people like you want the war to continue so that you can point to Cuba as a failure when times are hard there.
      Your thinking is sociopathic if not psychopathic.
      ZNet has a Chomsky interview today in which Chomsky defines people who think as you do . ( Monday 2/17)

      • Informed Consent

        Sociopath: a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

        …Sounds a lot like you. Someone willing to overlook and even approve of the abuses the Cuban people have been subject to because of their ideological beliefs. Some of these abuses include, but are not limited to:
        - Arbitrary arrest
        - Inability to associate freely
        - Inability to freely access information
        - Inability (until just recently) to travel abroad
        - Inability to freely elect a government
        - Inability to freely move within Cuba without permission
        ….etc

        • Walter Teague

          As an experienced clinician, one of the first things you learn before you attempt to pass judgment on and diagnose someone else’s mental state, is to carefully examine the objectivity and subjectivity of your own thinking. You call yourself “informed consent”, a concept important in providing Medical rights. The primary source of subjective error when labeling or accusing others, is denial of your own bias and Prejudice.

          You accuse John Goodrich of being paranoid. Your argument seems to rest on his supposedly ignoring of the evils the Cuban government today. In order for your diagnosis to be accurate, John Goodrich has to be shown to be delusional about the evils of the US government toward Cuba. It turns out that you are capable of drawing up a one sided list of Cubas faults while blatantly ignoring the long reality of US government crimes and aggressions, continuing even now against Cuba and any efforts to achieve improvements in the social and economic conditions inside Cuba.

          Until you can acknowledge these, you are the one clearly out of touch with reality and suffering from a clinical condition.

          Reminds me of the cop who complained the demonstrator was bloodying his club!

          • Informed Consent

            …well as a mater of fact he is delusional. You should read his posts predicting the end of capitalism in 15 years and the rise of hyper intelligent computers:

            “By 2045 the AI will have the knowledge of a billion Earth civilizations at which point no one can say what will happen. All this to say that within 15 years or so, those smarter-than-us machines will replace most human workers and thereby doom capitalism ”

            ….If that’s not delusional thinking, I don’t know what is!

            As for crimes and aggression… I do not see the blockade as such. And although I was in favor of ending this, what I then thought, non constructive policy, I have now changed my mind. After I read the recent UN report on the atrocities taking place in North Korea (I knew of them before but the first hand accounts I read were just ghastly) and knowing the Cuban regime provides not only moral but military support, I find that we must indeed keep the embargo in place.

          • Moses Patterson

            Given the repressive tactics used by the Castros who, without US engagement, are forced to operate on the cheap, imagine how much worse they would be if they had more tourist and trade revenues!

          • John Goodrich

            No to totalitarian country stints on the gear needed to repress.
            Cuba has the gear it needs and the U.S. spends in excess of one trillion dollars to repress much of the world .
            I heard yet another article on today’s NPR morning broadcast about another Florida politician calling for an end to the embargo .
            It doesn’t look good for the people who want to continue punishing all the Cuban people for defying U.S. wishes to re-implement capitalism .
            You need to speak to your handlers at State and tell them to get a program going that will remind Americans how in important it is to prevent Cuba from being the economic success it would be absent the U.S. economic war on Cuba.
            You can tell them to remind themselves of how we lost Vietnam and every other country in the area went communist ……oh wait a minute…they didn’t.
            Besides you know deep down that Cuban style “socialism” doesn’t and can’t work because it goes against human nature so the embargo isn’t really necessary is it ?
            Cuba will collapse any day now….any day now….yup, any day now…..any day now…..yes indeed, .any day now……as soon as Fidel retires…..any time soon… maybe another five-ten years ..maybe after Raul retires…any time now…
            In your dreams, Moses.

          • John Goodrich

            Disinformed Consent ,
            FYI,
            The Chinese have a computer that operates at 12 petaflops .
            The human brain operates at 1000 petaflops.
            The rate of computer growth is determined by Moore’s Law and is a doubling every 18 months.
            That means that machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence in 10 years or less.
            That’s rock-solid science . It will happen and exactly in that time frame.
            The results will be a rapid acceleration of the automation of the workplace which no manufacturer can opt out of because capitalism demands ever-higher profits each year and cutting labor is the only way to reduce costs and raise profit levels.
            You have never studied this phenomenon yet you reject it out of hand .
            Why am I not surprised ?.

          • Informed Consent

            Your delusion borders on the pathological. See what I mean Walter.

            … I’m interested in your experienced clinical view

          • Griffin

            Walter, did you miss the fact that it was John, in several posts now, who labels those who disagree with him as sociopaths? Your caution to informed consent should be addressed to John.

            Commenters such as Moses, informed consent & myself, are perfectly capable of recognizing the sins and crimes committed by the US. We are also capable of recognizing the sins & crimes committed by the Castro regime. However, commenters such as yourself, John, Dan & others are incapable of even hearing criticism of Cuba, let alone admit it is true. Anytime a crime by the Castro regime is mentioned, these people launch into diatribes against the US and either deny the crimes committed by the Castro’s as CIA propaganda or defend it as necessary because of malicious US intent.

            At the risk of engaging in armchair psychoanalysis, the responses of the pro-Castro apologists display quite a lot of projection, displacement, splitting, paranoia, narcissism and other psychological ticks very common among Leftists.

          • John Goodrich

            Just to be clear and to repeat myself for what has to be the 5th or 6th time: I am an anarchist .
            That means I believe in bottom-up democracy and no formal government.
            As such it is impossible for me to support the governmental form in Cuba . What I support is their resistance to an evil even greater than their totalitarian government and economic form and that is capitalism and imperialism as represented by the U.S. government.
            The U.S. war on Cuba’s economy has the aim of overthrowing Cuba’s socialist-STYLE economy just as the 1918 U.S. invasion of the Soviet Union was intended to do and just as the 75 or so other U.S. interventions have sought to do in countries around the world since that time.
            I consistently criticize Cuba’s lack of democracy but consider the U.S.’s imperialist war on the Cuban people to be the more egregious problem for the Cuban people.
            You choose to say that the U.S. is not perfect which to my way of thinking having studied U.S. foreign policy for well over 45 years is analogous to saying that Hitler had his faults but otherwise was well-intentioned
            You either have no background or education in U.S. foreign affairs or choose to ignore that history because you can’t handle the horrible truth .
            You probably loved Ronald Reagan and hate Fidel to this day .
            In 1983 Ronald Reagan told you 13 separate lies about why he was ordering the invasion of Grenada and in a following speech Fidel Castro pointed out every one of those lies.
            U.S. officials later admitted that Fidel was telling the truth and that Reagan did not .
            All this to say that you don’t have the slightest clue as to world affairs and especially not about US. foreign policy nor just how evil it is.

        • John Goodrich

          In order to support capitalism and imperialism as you do, you have to ignore the billions who suffer from their effects.
          That is the definition of sociopathic .
          Because imperialism involves the cruel deaths by starvation and curable diseases , to not care about these victims or to consider them as mere accidental victims gets down to the psychopathic : criminally insane.
          How do the things listed in your post stand up to six million people starving to death in the capitalist world ?
          Your priorities are fucked up .
          You value profit over human lives .
          You want to punish all the Cuban people including children and babies because they refuse to go back to capitalism .
          The Cuban government at its worst does not come near the inhumanity and brutality of the sort of capitalism the U.S. enforces upon the rest of the (weaker) world.
          Again, pick up a copy of “Killing Hope” or just go to the website and read what the U.S . has done to the world.
          You won’t do this because as the saying goes:
          “Telling the dumbed-down U.S. public what the U.S. has really done to the world is akin to telling them of your UFO abduction except that they are far more likely to believe the latter .”

          • Informed Comsent

            You really have no idea of Cuban history do you? Death and starvation don’t mean anything to you except in the context of Capitlism. yet the one thing communism excels in is death (see comments below) ..so don’t tell me about Cuba and killing hope. I lived the reality!

      • Griffin

        During WW2, there were books, newspapers and politicians critical of FDR. The US continued to hold elections and the people continued to exercise their
        Constitutional rights and freedoms.

        Cuba became a repressive Stalinist dictatorship because that was the kind of system the Castro brothers wanted. The US embargo was the response to, not the cause of, the Castro dictatorship.

        There were many fine Cuban writers who were imprisoned, banned, exiled or destroyed by the regime.

        • John Goodrich

          In a word: bullshit.
          You cannot cite /reference any anti-FDR criticisms in the corporate media during WWII.
          Things like that may be done now but not during that era.
          Let me explain something you should have learned in high school: U.S. foreign policy has been predicated upon the prevention and elimination of socialist/communist/democratic movements around the world beginning with the 1918 invasion of the Soviet Union .
          It continued with things like the invasion of Vietnam to prevent the 1956 elections, the overthrow of the democratically elected governments in Chile ( 1973) Guatemala (1954) Iran in 1953, the invasion of Grenada, the overthrow of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and roughly 75 more interventions not to overthrow dictatorships or to install democracy but ..as these 75 instances all show , to prevent democracy and install dictators .
          A recent worldwide poll of some 68,000 people found that the #1 threat to peace in the world is considered to be the United States .
          You need to get your head out of your backside and into some books on history and U.S. foreign policy that go beyond high school level and which are not written by the right.
          You believe fictions.