Carlos Varela's Misguided Criticism

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The New York Times ran a story yesterday entitled, "Trying to Sway America's Cuba Policy With Song."

The title speaks for itself, but here's the opening gist:

"When one of Cuba's best-known musicians landed in the United States, his first appearance was not onstage, but on Capitol Hill.

Carlos Varela, often referred to as Cuba's Bob Dylan, had come to remix an album with his good friend Jackson Browne. But he also hoped to help reshape relations between the United States and his homeland.

So before going to Hollywood to work on the album, he stopped in Washington early this month for meetings with legislators and a lunch with a senior White House official. Later he held a jam session in the House Budget Committee meeting room."

It's interesting how the Castro regime granted Varela a "white card" -- an exit permit to travel in-and-out of the island -- yet denied Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez a similar "privilege" to receive Columbia University's Maria Cabot Moore Journalism Prize in New York City just a few months before.

Perhaps there's a criticism levy, or some sort of "standard of conduct." In other words, if a Cuban artist or intellectual is not measured in her criticism, or doesn't overwhelmingly direct her criticism at U.S. policy, then she will not get a "white card" (and get physically assaulted as a bonus).

But that doesn't make Varela a bad person. He is simply another victim of the Castro regime, for the simple fact that a Cuban artist can come to the U.S. and openly criticize U.S. policy -- with no repercussion -- is a testament to the fact that there is no moral equivalency between both governments.

Unfortunately, Cuban artists, including Varela, cannot do the same in their own homeland without the risk of censorship, or even more egregiously, beatings and imprisonment.

Coincidentally, while Varela is amidst his "music-lobbying tour" of the U.S., Cuban artists on the island have been taking a stand against the regime's "silent repression" of cultural expression.

According to the Nuevo Herald newspaper, this week, a group of young artists, academics and intellectuals have written an open letter to the Castro regime "rejecting the current obstructions and prohibitions against cultural and social initiatives," reminiscent of the intense atmosphere of cultural repression that existed in Cuba in the 1970s.

We wish Varela well in his musical collaboration with Jackson Browne.

However, we hope he'll take advantage all of the media attention garnered during his U.S. tour to call attention to this courageous act of dissent by his colleagues on the island, and which The New York Times chose to ignore.

Even if it means risking his "white card."