The Cuban Connection: Art, Intrigue and Human Rights
Shorris, Earl, The Nation
On May 5, in Miami, U.S. Treasury agents broke down the door of Ramon Cernuda's house and confiscated forty paintings on poster paper by Cuban dissident Nicolas Guillen Landrian.
On February 24, 1988, in Havana, agents of the political police stormed an art show arranged by human rights activists and confiscated paintings by a Cuban dissident: Nicolas Guillen Landrian.
In Havana, the confiscation was business as usual. In Miami, it was one of the few seizures of paintings for political reasons in U.S. history.
How the U.S. government came to replicate the actions of a state it regards as totalitarian is a tale of Cuban exiles' influence and intrigue. Lives, careers, the human rights movement, principles of free expression and even the exiles' anti-Castro movement itself were sacrificed to the hubris and ambition of the right-wing Cuban American National Foundation (C.A.N.F.) and its chair, Jorge Mas Canosa, who has let slip more than once that he expects to be the next president of Cuba.
The government laid out its case in an affidavit in support of the warrant to enter Cernuda's home and office. It said the paintings by Guillen were given to Cernuda by Jerry Scott, public affairs officer at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, who smuggled them into the United States. Cernuda was also accused of buying and selling other Cuban paintings, and he and Scott were said to be part of a conspiracy to sell Cuban art "for personal gain and allegedly to profit members of the Cuban government." According to the affidavit, the conspirators established a market price at auctions in New York City, raising the value of Cuban art so that "the holder of the greater quantity of Cuban art work (the Cuban government) realizes the greatest economic benefit."
Although the case has not yet gone to a grand jury, the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of Florida said Cernuda could be fined $250,000 and sent to prison for ten years for possession of the Guillens and 200 other Cuban paintings. That is the maximum sentence under the 1963 Trading With the Enemy Act, which prohibits people in the United States from engaging in all import or export transactions with Cuba, with certain exceptions, such as the import of films, posters and other informational materials.
The tale begins in Cuba with Guillen and Scott, a 51-year-old veteran of the Foreign Service who now faces possible charges of smuggling, conspiracy and violation of the 1963 Cuban embargo. Scott has been reassigned to a temporary post in Washington, where he awaits the outcome of his case, wondering how what he calls "this living nightmare" happened to him. In Havana, he …
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Publication information: Article title: The Cuban Connection: Art, Intrigue and Human Rights. Contributors: Shorris, Earl - Author. Magazine title: The Nation. Volume: 249. Issue: 1 Publication date: July 3, 1989. Page number: 14+. © 1999 The Nation Company L.P. COPYRIGHT 1989 Gale Group.
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