Current challenges faced by Cuban culture

Jul 12, 2019 by


Current challenges faced by Cuban culture

Excerpts from speech by Miguel Barnet, outgoing president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), during its recent Congress held in Havana, June 29-30


Photo: José Manuel Correa

Since preparatory work began for this IX Congress of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), with discussions in the different commissions and provincial bodies of the organization, a profound collective reflection has been allowed us on the challenges currently faced by Cuban culture, closely tied to those that the Revolution faces today. Several essential questions have been consistently raised: How can writers and artists in UNEAC help our country more in the present conjuncture? How can we contribute more actively to the improvement of our cultural policy? How can we more effectively combat attempts to divide us, and the impact of the global colonizing wave on Cuban society? What proposals can we make that bring us closer to the conquest of new spaces to advance the spiritual life of the nation?

First of all, we must consider the international context in which this discussion takes place.

Our region made progress over the past decade in the areas of integration, health, education, culture, social inclusion, and sovereignty, based on the impulse the ideals of Bolívar and Martí were given by Fidel and Chávez. They were joined by Lula and Dilma, Evo, Correa, Daniel, Nestor and Cristina Kirchner, and went on to create CELAC – ethical, solidary opposite of the discredited OAS – which proclaimed our region a “Zone of Peace.”

Today, as we know, the situation has changed dramatically. Our America and the Caribbean are suffering attacks by the empire and a neo-fascist ultra-right that acts without shame. They systematically use lies, so-called fake news, and resort to the most sophisticated manipulation of public opinion through the media and social networks. They rely on rigged parliamentary and judicial processes to discredit leftist leaders; and violate the most elementary norms of international coexistence, while legitimizing interference, the law of the strongest, and aggressions of all kinds, including the threat of direct military intervention.

The United States government has resuscitated the Monroe Doctrine and the philosophy of McCarthyism, to launch an open offensive directed, in particular, toward Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Defeating the Cuban Revolution is one of their principal obsessions. The blockade has been ruthlessly and brutally intensified with the activation of the Helms-Burton Act in all its scope; an openly extra-territorial plan of plunder and re-colonization that disrupts Cuba’s financial transactions without respite, and does the impossible to discourage foreign investment and obstruct all of the country’s efforts to advance.

Given the campaign of lies and distortions we have faced since 1959, Cuban writers and artists have always defended the cause of the Revolution on all stages, nationally and internationally

The language of art and of our intellectuals has many times reached places where the country’s diplomatic and official representatives could not. Now circumstances demand more from us. We have innumerable creators and institutions to which we can turn in this decisive hour. We must be the bearers of Cuba’s truth wherever it can be heard.

The leadership of the Revolution knows that today, as in all conjunctures, can count on us.

We are committed to the vocation of resistance and revolutionary transformation of our society. The legacy of the historical generation that led us here is being strengthened and redoubled. Raúl, leading the Party, is the repository of the emancipatory tradition that constantly convokes us.

President Diaz-Canel and the new generation of leaders – who have the support of the vast majority of the people and, as part of the people, intellectuals and artists – are today the expression of continuity, inspired by the work and example of those who founded the Cuba that was born in 1959. Our government has shown a work style of tireless effort, transparent, in direct contact with the population, always aware of the neediest, in a daily battle against bureaucracy, corruption, routine, and insensibility.

After the approval – by a large majority – of the new Constitution of the Republic, our institutions are immersed in a process of important changes that will be reflected, in one way or another, in culture.

By reaffirming the will to continue advancing in the construction of a socialist society – characterized by sustainable economic and social development, participatory democracy, solidarity, inclusion, justice, and strategies to promote equity – writers and artists have a duty to help achieve the Cuban people’s aspirations, with our creativity and thought.

We are motivated by our interest in being more useful and in establishing a systematic, fruitful, and proactive dialogue between the political vanguard, other government arenas, and civil society. We want to contribute with greater intelligence and responsibility to the continuous improvement and implementation of our cultural policy, and to those areas that are inseparably connected to culture, such as education, social sciences, and the media. We must continue to participate in critical, revolutionary debate, which is more necessary than ever. The experience and analytical skills of UNEAC members can make useful contributions at this historical moment.

Attempts by Cuba’s enemies to create an intellectual fifth column to attack the Revolution have failed during all these years, and are destined to continue failing. The few they have been able to recruit do not mean anything within the powerful Cuban cultural movement, which also includes many, very valuable creators resident outside the island, committed to the destiny of the nation.

In Fidel’s “Words to the Intellectuals,” a platform that guides the Revolution’s cultural policy and our own organization, he insisted:

“The Revolution cannot contemplate asphyxiating art or culture, when one of the goals and one of the fundamental purposes of the Revolution is to develop art and culture, precisely so that (…) it becomes true patrimony of the people. And just as we want a better life for the people on the material order, we want a better life for the people on the spiritual order as well (…), on the cultural order. And just as the Revolution is concerned with the development of conditions and forces that allow the people to satisfy all their material needs, we also want to develop the conditions that allow the people to satisfy all their cultural needs.”

The Union of Cuban Writers and Artists defends opportunities for freedom of artistic and literary creation. We work, day by day, for the unity of intellectuals and artists, and direct our active, critical, and committed participation toward the construction of our socialism.

We prioritize frank and open dialogue with cultural institutions and recognize as essential the presence of an institutional system allied with talent, in its essence anathema to sectarianism and bureaucracy.

UNEAC accepts the role of the national and international market as a legitimate way of distributing art; but it refuses to allow commercial logic to establish artistic standards or our entire cultural policy, which cannot be privatized. With adequate institutional regulation, we consider that promotional alternatives under non-state forms of management should be studied

Art, by its nature, cannot be reduced to formulas. If we aspire to authentic, living art, that addresses conflicts and contradictions, that challenges and enriches us, UNEAC will need to do much more to protect and stimulate talent, combat passivity, accommodation and mediocrity, promote genuine artistic proposals, to encourage originality to resolve shortcomings and weaknesses in the exercise of criticism and put the values ​​of culture above all else.

We must recover and encourage in a systematic way, analysis and debate of artistic and literary production in the heart of our associations and branches, with greater rigor and consistent evaluation of its reception by the public. Quality must be our permanent currency in everything that our organization proposes.

The cultural policy of the Revolution – which has advocated, since its inception, the democratization of access to culture, the defense of national identity and heritage – has always taken into account the participation of intellectuals and artists.

To intervene in the development of this policy, according to Marti and Fidel’s definition, requires us to listen and be heard, to be coherent and responsible in the dialogue, and warn in a timely fashion of any obstacle that stands in the way of achieving our principal objectives.

Thinking as a nation – one forged in constant battle against colonialism and neocolonialism, against interventions and interference – is another of our great, pressing challenges. It is imperative that we recognize where we stand, how we got here, and what challenges await us in the future.

The work of those who have preceded us has been long and fruitful. José Martí revealed one of the mysteries of the fundamental core of our condition when he said, “I don’t know what tender mystery the sweet word ‘Cuban’ holds.”

Fernando Ortiz left us a relevant concept: “Cubanía is a condition of the soul, a combination of sentiments, ideas, and attitudes.”

Speaking during the UNEAC’s founding Congress, our first president, Nicolás Guillén, called on members to work for a “culture that gives us our own character and spirit… that frees and uplifts us, that provides bread and roses, without shame or fear.”

If we agree that human beings are both the protagonist actors in our society, and its principal beneficiaries, who we understand to be the bearers of Cuban identity and culture, everything that we do in creation and thought must contribute to full human dignity, equality, and freedom.

If we aspire that all citizens incorporate ethics, solidarity, humanism, justice, and equity within their daily conduct, and reject and combat vulgar materialism, marginal behavior, self-interest, discrimination, and intolerance, we must be conscious that culture is fertile ground for the development of such values.

Ours socialism must be directed toward raising the populations’ quality of life, with the full satisfaction of its spiritual needs and rational solutions for its material needs.

We defend the right of the people to play a leading role in cultural processes, and fully enjoy the best artistic and literary creation, Cuban and universal. To achieve this, the development of a conscious, critical citizen, with the tools to discern and interpret the real and virtual world in which we live, is imperative.

Part of this challenge involves distinguishing between consumption and acceptance. The first presupposes passivity, while the second requires active participation. The battle of our times is eminently cultural, a battle between hegemonic imposition and emancipatory paradigms, between inanity and freedom.

When Fidel, during the 1993 UNEAC Congress, called on us to save culture, he was not speaking in a narrow sense of protecting works, programs, or institutions; but rather the spiritual life of Cubans, represented in cultural expressions and values. In fact, culture is the first thing that must be saved, because culture is the imagination and memory of the nation, the core of our resistance and future.

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