"Cultural Exchange" Questions

Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Cuban songwriter Alina Brouwer, daughter of famed composer Leo Brouwer and grand-niece of the legendary Ernesto Lecuona, has sent the following timely letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the Obama Administration's "cultural exchange" policy towards the Castro regime:

The Honorable Hillary Clinton
U.S. Secretary of State

Madame Secretary,

In March 2003, a group of Cuban poets, plumbers, journalists and everyday people were detained, tried and sentenced to long prison terms. Their crime? Being independent from the government. That same month, three young men who simply wanted to escape the island were also arrested, tried and executed. The global community was shocked. So shocked, that even some regime-supporting intellectuals came out condemning the acts.

To curtail the political damage inflicted upon themselves, the Castro brothers enlisted their top official artists for the document, "Mensaje Desde La Habana a Los Amigos Que Estan Lejos" (Havana, April, 19th, 2003), legitimizing the repression, summary executions and deeming them as necessary. Three of the signatories were my father, composer Leo Brouwer, singer/songwriter Silvio Rodriguez and ballerina Alicia Alonso. I have learned today that Alonso already has a U.S. visa, while Silvio Rodriguez is planning a big American tour with an opening concert at the legendary Carnegie Hall (New York), and is currently awaiting a visa from the State Department.

Richard Wagner was a great composer. As we all know, he was Adolf Hitler's favorite. Wagner, however, is remembered more for his hateful antisemitic views than for his works. Although the Jewish Holocaust is today part of world history, and Wagner was not even alive when the atrocious crimes were being carried out, many Jewish people can't bear to hear his music. The pain associated with the composer's persona is still very much present in their hearts and minds.

The Libertad Act (1996), clearly states that engaging with Cubans in cultural exchanges can benefit both nations -- I agree. It's also specific on what criteria must be followed in order for someone to qualify to come to the U.S. and benefit from these exchanges, while clearly stipulating that "visas may be denied to certain Cuban nationals who are officers and employees of the Cuban government."

Since President Obama opened the doors to these exchanges, I've seen the Cuban government's official artists and intellectuals flocking to American cities, but I have yet to see one truly independent person benefiting from this new policy. And while it's clear that none of these music groups, academics or writers meet the legal criteria, they are still receiving U.S. visas, and work contracts.

What's the criteria being used to qualify these persons?

What really constitutes a cultural exchange within the law?

Where are the monies that are being used to finance all of these contracts/concerts coming from?

Who's supervising all of it?

Who is benefiting economically and politically from it?

Under what basis can the Cuban government's cultural employees and officials receive visas and who's making these decisions?

These are some of the questions that I am posing to you in this letter, Madame Secretary.

I don't want to doubt the good intentions behind the new Cuba policy. However, it's obvious that those making the decisions on these so-called "cultural exchanges" have either bad intentions or are just bureaucrats who aren't really considering the circumstances, or the law. It seems to me that, up in Washington, no one is listening; or even worse, no one cares.

"Participation in evil can begin with noble and selfless intentions" said Stanislaw Krajewski. There are two facts arising from this discussion: one is from the legal stand point, and the other is from the ethical -- what's right and what's wrong. Either way, both facts set the tone for what is happening. It is now up to you, Madame Secretary, to decide whether to set things right.

Truly yours,

Alina Brouwer