Saturday, December 4

Cuba, from the Cold War to the Cultural War | Babelia


The protests on July 11 in Cuba were not called by artists, or led by intellectuals, or conceived by a laboratory of aesthetic trends. They were popular demonstrations that endorsed a borderline situation crossed by political immobility, economic inefficiency, the pandemic, growing inequality, the lack of freedoms and the United States embargo.

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This uprising, unprecedented in the history of socialism, also had a cultural magnitude that is worth taking into account. It is not a question of overvaluing it, but underestimating it would be, in addition to a mistake, an act of injustice. Because although the artists did not lead the protests, several of them did join them. They did not shoot them, but they did support them like ordinary citizens. They did not star in them, but there were few who ended up in jail for joining that day. If we add to this that there have been no lack of intellectuals aligned with the Government, prioritizing these events as another maneuver of imperialism, it is evident that this revolt already has its own chapter in the cultural war of contemporary Cuba.

Art was not in charge of launching the demonstrations, but it did anticipate them. Just a glance at this last year in which events that went beyond the union had already taken place to have a direct impact on society. Among the best known, those activated by the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (Instar), the San Isidro Movement (MSI) or the 27N, arising from the collective parade in front of the Ministry of Culture at the end of November 2020.

Cubans who were born after the Soviet debacle, who are choked by the slogans in favor of eternal socialism mixed with the implementation of a state capitalism, very palpable and very deadly, that contradicts their own preachings

These and others less publicized can be read as preambles and, at the same time, testimonies that the culture was putting its finger on the sore of urgent problems. For its part, a network of independent or institutional publications on the island and the diaspora had already been in charge of notifying the heyday of a new generation connected to the world and the strategies to channel their disagreement with it. Cuban men and women who were born after the Soviet debacle, who are choked by slogans in favor of eternal socialism mixed with the implementation of a state capitalism, very palpable and deadly, that contradicts their own preaching. It is the same generation that hallucinates every day on Instagram with the pact between the new money and the old nomenclature that has led to the iconographic recomposition of our tropical oligarchy.

Neither the government will open, nor will the embargo be lifted, nor will the world left understand us

Then and now, the government has been unable to live up to its great paradox: that of a communist state that is obliged to manage an already post-communist society. Then and now, he has chosen to hide in his parallel reality and continue to offer the same responses to new situations. Hence, repression by means of repression, his interpretation consisted in dividing the participants of the protest into three immovable categories: that of “confused revolutionaries”, that of “mercenaries” and that of “criminals”.

With these thunders, it did not take long for the cultural clash between those who continue to be anchored in the Cold War and those who try to get out of it. Among those who want to move towards the future with the rhetoric of the past and those who have decided to synchronize their words with that future that is already present. Among the followers of the ideological western between a persistent Stalinism and a resurgent McCarthyism and those who conceive what happened as a national chapter of the recent global demonstrations, launched against all models (also neoliberalism, Chinese capital-communism, the degradation of Sandinism), in whose wave the Cuban protest could be inserted. Among those who reduce the matter to an exclusive battle between freedom or communism, blockade or sovereignty, and those who consider that there are a series of historical and current factors that do not admit such simple binaries.

Young people hallucinate every day on Instagram with the pact between the new money and the old nomenclature

An example. Two days after the riots, while there were hundreds of detainees on the island, a Cuban-American mayor of Coral Gables had no better idea than to censure Sandra Ramos, a Cuban artist living in Miami, on suspicion of sympathizing with communism. The stroke also reached the well-known Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, who also resides in New York. “My aesthetic taste is interrupted where communism appears,” said Vince Lago, and one wonders what he would do with Picasso. Anyway…

For a long time, the Cuban issue has not been about politics – or the refrain of the art of the possible -, but about political capital (its immediate and cynical revenue), which needs to revolve around the unsolvable because it is, precisely, in the lack of solution where your profit resides.

It is not by chance, then, that once again the recurring ghost of Creole anti-intellectualism appeared, always ready to conclude that wherever the people are, the intellectuals should be removed; words for what, if we already have the facts; What is this about thinking about whether the action is worth us? It is time to eliminate elitist nuances of the ideological debate and for that there is nothing better than the proliferation of fake news —Camagüey falling on July 11 and establishing an independent anti-communist government, the Castros taking refuge in South Africa—, as well as the vindication of squeeze, influencers Y youtubers of diverse populism, some of which also ended up in jail (the Government continues to have control of the analogue mode).

'Prophylactic life' (2014-2105), mural by Hamlet Lavastida in which logos of Cuban institutions can be seen together with Fidel Castro, General Ochoa, Lezama Lima or Reinaldo Arenas.
‘Prophylactic life’ (2014-2105), mural by Hamlet Lavastida in which logos of Cuban institutions can be seen together with Fidel Castro, General Ochoa, Lezama Lima or Reinaldo Arenas. LEANDRO FEAL

In the days after that protest that went around the world and that functions as a watershed in the contemporary history of Cuba, I perceived in Havana a certain state of shock and a regret. As if people had internalized that neither the Cuban government is going to open, nor is the US embargo going to be lifted, nor is the world left going to understand us. “This we have to solve ourselves.”

So you got your logic, channeled by way of reggaeton, a certain reactivation of nationalism with the corresponding overdose of the word “homeland” blowing right and left.

Five years earlier, during the euphoric days of the Obama era, a friend woke me up one night on the phone. He was calling me from the Cuban Art Factory, where he had run into Juan Carlos Monedero, the founder of Podemos, and whom he had tried to convince that, if he wanted to meet the future Cuban left, he would look for her on the street and not in circles. officers. That young man is today one of the most solid artists of the new Cuban art. His name is Hamlet Lavastida and he has just exhibited his impressive work, Prophylactic culture, at the KFW in Berlin.

As soon as he returned from that trip, this anticipatory archaeologist was imprisoned on a charge of inciting rebellion. During the recent Arco fair there were various demonstrations in favor of his release, so that the last two editions of this event have been marked by Cuban art. (Remember that the previous one had been dedicated to Félix González-Torres).

As prescribed in his work, Hamlet Lavastida anticipated his own punishment (and that of others). But in his series, hard and luminous, not all the keys refer to censorship.

In its drafts and murals, through subtle cracks, our unavoidable freedoms are sensed.

Also yours.

Ivan de la Nuez is a Cuban essayist living in Barcelona. His latest book is ‘Cubantropía’ (Periférica).

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