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. …