Cuban Artists Reach US Audience While Castro Winks

Article excerpt

BEFORE leaving office, former President Bush tried to force Cuba into a democratic path by tightening the economic embargo imposed some 30 years ago. His move late last year brought cheers from anti-Castro forces in the United States.

In the meantime, Castro may be winning a battle of sorts in a very different field: that of culture. Cuba is squeezing its way into the US through the back door. At the same time, it has been forced to tolerate an invasion of "imperialist American art" through the air waves and via pirate recordings. In fact, Cuban musicians, painters, sculptors, even writers who have not broken with the regime are a growing presence in the US these days, helped by many loopholes in the legislation.

Sometimes it looks as though their presence is achieved with a wink of the eye from officials at both the US State Department and Havana's Foreign Ministry, despite all recitations of mutual bans and restrictions. At a recent Art Miami 93 fair in Florida, for instance, officially-sanctioned Cuban artists like Jose Bedia, Ana Albertina Delgado, Consuelo Cantaneda and Ruben Torres Llorca prominently displayed their works in a space occupied by the Mexican gallery Nina Menocal. Most of them reside in Mexico part of the year, so their works regularly enter the US as Mexican cultural goods. Others, like Tomas Sanchez, have been helped in a similar way by US galleries. Or, as in the case of renowned painter Jose Franco, by powerful foundations like the Guggenheim, which administer fellowships and grants.

At the core of this matter is a series of flawed regulations that provide the opportunity to sneak in art from the island.

The US law only prohibits sale of a Cuban product if the sale's earnings end up in the Cuban government's coffers. But if an artist sells his or her works individually and keeps the money - which is precisely what most Cuban painters exhibiting overseas are now doing - there is no legal way of preventing him or her from making a profit in the US. Until recent years, the Cuban government had the right to keep all artists' fees from performances, exhibitions, and sales overseas. The policy has apparently changed.

In a quid pro quo, Castro now allows the artists to keep the money they earn abroad, provided they do not break with his regime. So far, most have obliged.

Regulations requiring all performers to permanently reside on the island also have been relaxed. Some prominent Cuban musicians have been permitted to leave Cuba for a period. Jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba was permitted to keep a summer house in the Dominican Republic - something unthinkable not long ago for a Cuban government-sponsored artist. …