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

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.


15 thoughts on “Individual Initiatives in Cuba’s Cultural Sector: A Thorny and Urgent Issue

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

    … I’m interested in your experienced clinical view

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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 ?.

  • 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.

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