Cuba’s Cultural Policy: Reaping What You SowNovember 8, 2013 | Print |
HAVANA TIMES — I don’t doubt Cuba’s Council of Ministers thoroughly evaluates its decisions before taking any concrete steps, but, sometimes, it does not clearly explain these decisions to the public. Many of us are still struggling to understand why the government thinks it necessary to “immediately” shut down 3D home theaters or computer game locales.
Nowadays, people’s reactions are not as silent as they were some years ago: now, there are hundreds of blogs expressing support for or discontent about the government’s measures. Cuban journalist Elaine Diaz’ Polemica Digital (“Digital Debate”), for instance, is anything but diplomatic:
“The Executive Council of the Council of Ministers, exercising the faculties vested upon it and the ones it takes upon itself thanks to our enabling silence and tolerance, realized, months after these businesses were opened, that they constituted a source of employment and a space for cultural recreation – that they were outrageously illegal and could not be regulated.”
It’s true these private home theaters were never authorized by the government, that they were a spontaneous initiative by the people, in view of the absence of a State offer in this connection. The same thing happened with blacksmiths, but the government’s reaction then was to legalize the trade and sell them the supplies they needed.
3D cinemas, however, have more powerful enemies than do blacksmiths. The Chair of Cuba’s Film Institute, Roberto Smith, was categorical on this issue: “I don’t believe a commercial activity that violates the revolution’s cultural policy can ever aspire to legal recognition.”
Vice-Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas, however, made clear that “our aim is not to restrict these offers, but have them promote cultural products of a higher quality”, as these movie theaters screen materials of “extremely poor taste.”
Up until that point, it seemed as though there existed a balance between those who called for the prohibition of private 3D theaters and those who sought to legalize them and regulate their activities in order to guarantee the screening of films with a certain degree of cultural, esthetic and recreational value.
The Seed of 3D Film Theater Programs
I have a goddaughter who frequented 3D movie theaters and, from what she told me, I know that many of the films shown there were cheap trash, but certainly not any worse than some of the violent and frivolous movies aired on national Cuban television.
Cuba’s cultural policy would first need to be applied to the country’s mass media. Cuban television itself fed into the demand for that type of frivolous cinema by broadcasting Hollywood movies for decades (and only because it can do so free of charge).
Now, as was to be expected, it’s paying the high costs of this. The founder and director of Cuba’s Film Institute, Alfredo Guevara, used to say Cuban television was so bad that, in order to change into a vehicle for culture, it would first have to commit “suicide.”
What’s more, the island’s radio stations never grow tired of playing salsa songs with lyrics like those that advise young women to look for an old sugar daddy who’ll take them shopping. This is just one example of what is being sown, culturally.
In addition, pirated movie “banks”, where Cubans rent films and television shows from around the world, have existed in Cuba for many years. Who controls whether these materials promote ethical values or, at least, trivial but healthy forms of entertainment?
Many families in Cuba pay to receive cable programming picked up by illegal satellite dishes, to watch programs made chiefly in Miami, including high-budget, poorly-scripted soaps, vulgar talk-shows and news programs that run puerile, anti-Castro pieces.
Young Cuban journalist Javier Ortiz stated he “had no idea private 3D home theaters could make our authorities worry so much” and added that if the government “wants to shut something down because of its inconsistencies, it best shut down its own cultural policy.”
Intellectual Victor Fowler has warned us about the dangers of a cultural policy that ought to be public and at the service of the people but which “becomes autonomous and becomes an end in and of itself, hovering above the changes that have taken place over time.”
Cuba would do well to adopt a more coherent cultural policy that is “at the service” of the nation, a policy which, instead of forbidding certain things, should spread to all aspects of life to promote ethical and aesthetic values, both common and those that are specific to different generations of Cubans.
There is no shortage of intellectuals capable of creating many different magnets that can attract citizens, from a very early age on, and transform them into consumers and promoters of their own culture and the best of the world’s culture.
My wife was a poor, orphaned country girl who was brought to and educated in Havana. When she was 10, they took her to the Garcia Lorca Theater, where she cried her eyes out during a performance of Giselle. That first show was enough to make her a ballet lover for life.
My kids, by contrast, have only received academic instruction. At some point in time, we stopped sowing the seeds of culture, and that’s not something you can revert in one fell swoop. We have to furrow the earth, spread millions of seeds and care for them patiently and regularly, until the nation can reap the harvest it longs for.
(*) An HT translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.