As Castro becomes even more intolerant and increases his repression maintaining his "socialism or death" mantra, Cubans are astonished by the Clinton Administration’s one-sided "calibrated steps" that are not helping the people living under Castro’s boot.

Among the calibrated steps taken in a foolish attempt to appease the Stalinist tyrant are the so-called "people to people" cultural exchanges. In practice, we have seen the fallacy behind these contacts, which fails to materialize on both sides.

Recent examples include the Orioles’ game in Havana last March 28 when Castro refused to sell tickets to ordinary citizens. Instead, his cronies filled the 55,000 seats in the stadium. When the Cuban team played against the Orioles in Baltimore on May 3rd, the Cuban players were sequestered preventing direct contact even with the American players, much less the American fans.

A huge popular music concert was held in Havana last March with the participation of many US performers. Castro followed the same scheme. Tickets were distributed only among his cronies. So, the much-ballyhooed people-to-people contact in fact did not materialize.

The American participants of these events were in contact with government officials – the Cuban baseball players and artists were working for Castro. In a totalitarian society, they have to be proven loyalists of the Castro regime in order to be allowed to participate. Politics is an unavoidable vicious circle in Castro’s Cuba.

It all dates back to June of 1961 when Castro – mimicking Italian fascist tyrant Benito Mussolini – declared, "With the revolution everything, without the revolution nothing!" So began his mixing of politics with baseball, the arts and all other professions in Cuba. Cuban baseball players, artists, scientists, etc., became official tools of Castro’s revolution and have been ever since.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union (Castro’s sugar daddy), he became increasingly hungry for US dollars to keep his tyranny afloat devising all kinds of schemes to attract the unscrupulous international business community. One of the schemes to get extra cash is the renting to other countries of baseball players, musicians, artists, scientists, doctors, teachers, construction workers, etc.

These convenient arrangements with foreign governments in which Castro supplies the cheap labor are very profitable since he keeps most of their earnings.

Suddenly, supported by US public relations companies that Castro has hired as well as his well-financed and organized support network in the US, Americans are being conned to fall in love with imported Cuban music, artists, cigars and prostitutes offered via the Internet. They all have become fashionable. Never mind what is hidden beneath the superficial façade.

We are seeing a proliferation of Castro’s artists coming to the US being hired by the Kennedy Center, the Washington Performing Arts Society, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society and many other performing institutions and agencies in the US. Needless to say, Castro gets a piece of the action in coveted US dollars.

These official Castro artists are under surveillance by Castro’s agents in the US. Their families in Cuba are held in a hostage-like condition in which they could be harmed if the artist were to defect, tell the truth about Castro’s regime or not pay the required share of their earnings to the agents. No matter how they appear on the surface – Cubans have learned to hide their true feelings - these artists are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Some of them for safety reasons declare praise for the revolution while others avoid the subject stating that they are artists and do not mingle in politics.

The US media gives them glowing reviews and participates in the hype promoting their activities and generating public interest. However, the Cuban artists, that are free and living in the US receive the cold shoulder from the US media and from the same institutions and agencies that so eagerly hire Castro’s artists.

It is phony, because a Cuban is a Cuban, no matter if he lives on Castro’s island or free and independent in the US. They have the same blood, the same rhythm and the same talent or maybe free ones have more because they are free to express themselves rather than performing as commanded by their "boss." Apparently, in the eyes of many, they are not alike and a discrimination pattern has been established.

This year, Israel López, the talented and legendary Cuban exiled musician known as Cachao performed at the Kennedy Center. If he was an official Castro artist, there would has been complementary articles in The Washington Post preceding his performance as well as great reviews afterwards. There was nothing.

Andy Garcia’s CineSon Productions made a documentary in 1994 titled "Cachao." However, with the proliferation in the US of films made in Cuba and documentaries about Castro’s official artists, have we ever seen this documentary . . .? What we are seeing in the US are films and documentaries done with Castro’s approval (and his piece of the action) like "Buena Vista Social Club."

Many Cuban artists in exile suffer discrimination because of their political choice. For example, one of the most extraordinary, admired and internationally respected Cuban classical pianists, Zenaida Manfugás, who happens to be (in case it matters) female and black, is steadfastly ignored by the US press. Her latest concert in the Washington area on October 27, 1996 was overlooked. Since she lives in the US with no strings attached to Castro, she apparently is considered a worthless Cuban exile. I wonder if she was an official Castro performer – like Alicia Alonso – if the press would ignore her.

Cuban pianist Rubén Peláez’ historical CD "Ignacio Cervantes, The Danzas for Piano," recorded and made in the US has been ignored by the reviewers. If this CD had been done in Cuba by a Castro-official-pianist, it would have been newsworthy and probably would have received a Grammy.

The cultural exchanges have not been benefiting Cubans on either side of the Florida Strait. They have been more a source of division and discrimination for Cubans and US dollars for Castro. It has not been the much-touted "people-to-people" contact but rather an exercise in futility being manipulated by Castro so that the "contactees" are safely his cronies, thus no harm is done to his power.

Thanks to the ignorance of many American people falling for these bogus cultural exchanges, they are serving to promote the false image of Castro’s Cuba. They are serving to promote cigars and sexual tourism, imposing Castro’s anti-US agenda and fomenting animosity toward Cuban exiles.

The propaganda value of these cultural exchanges is already changing the minds of US businessmen and politicians who are overlooking their deeply-rooted ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights, and rejection of tyranny in exchange for making money with Castro. Lately we have witnessed the drive for the end of the US embargo by many US farming companies. This well-calculated technique is rendering the benefits Castro foretold for himself, not for the ordinary Cuban citizen verboten from participation in free enterprise and foreign ventures.

The absurdity of it all is epitomized by a shameful invitation from Rep. Jim McDermott of the Seattle City Council for Castro to visit Seattle where he would be received "respectfully, graciously and warmly."

The formula of the cultural exchanges is not working for the betterment of the oppressed citizens of Castro’s tyranny. What they are crying for is freedom, democracy, human rights and a free enterprise system that allows them to rescue their country and their very own lives from the depths of hell.


Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton
Mr Blazquez is the Producer/Director of the documentary COVERING CUBA
ABIP 1999

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