THE GRAMMYS AND CASTRO’S OFFICIAL ARTISTS
by Agustin Blazquez and Jaums Sutton
Those who say that art and politics should not be mixed are right, but don’t bother discussing that with the owner of the biggest plantation 90 miles south of Florida.
Back in the beginning, June 1961, Castro boomed in a menacing tone for all the Cuban intellectuals and artists to hear, “WITH THE REVOLUTION EVERYTHING, WITHOUT THE REVOLUTION, NOTHING!” The statement might be considered plagiarism since fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had already said “With the state everything, without the state, nothing!”
So much for Castro’s artistic creativity. But, welcome a new, succulent, tropical concoction, some sort of a “Cuba Libre” made of equal parts, or maybe not equal parts—it really doesn’t matter, of Fascism and Communism whirled together in Castro’s blender. Cheers!
With that ominous dictum began Castro’s mixing of politics with the arts: Cuba’s artists who wanted to continue being artists had to at least pretend 100% loyalty to the revolution to become “official artists.”
The then Minister of Culture, Armando Hart, following Castro's dictum said, "Art is a weapon of the revolution."
As Castro's heroes, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin and other Fascist and Communist tyrants did, Castro sent artists who refused to become his puppets to prison, like the late writer Reinaldo Arenas, and to the UMAP concentration camps, like the late actor Rafael De Palet and psychiatric institutions, like musician Julio Vento Roberes. Others became officially "non existing" like the late playwright Virgilio Piñera, while the rest, among them singer Celia Cruz and writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, went into exile.
Cuban Americans, victims of Castro’s regime, understand very well that arts and politics march together in Cuba. It is an unavoidable part of the reigning Fascist/Communist system imposed upon the Cuban people. That’s why the protests of the presence of Castro’s official artists at the GRAMMYs in the U.S., just as the Jewish protests of the Nazi artists and black Americans protest the presence of racist artists. It is part of the freedom we have to peacefully protest. But in the case of Cuban Americans it is not accepted when they protest something as blatant as this situation. Most of the time they are maligned by the U.S. media because of it.
While Castro's official artists get GRAMMY nominations, opportunities to sell and promote their CDs as well as very good press in the U.S., the real (and free) Cuban artists in exile suffer discrimination. The exile artists are free to be even more Cuban than the ones Castro is exporting who have to do his bidding. Castro’s official artists are sent because they support his principles and because they bring him money that helps him stay in power.
An exiled Cuban singer with a long career whose name I cannot mention said, “Castro has his artists under his control, even the ones who came to exile recently as well as the ones who defected a few years ago, because they enter the competition under the auspices of the Cuban regime which has facilitated their contracts with international recording labels.” Most of the profits from these contracts go to the Castro regime, not to the recording artists.
So, the free Cuban artists in the U.S. do not have the benefit of a big foot already in the door, a contract and the promotion afforded by a recording label. They also don’t have the agents to promote them all over the world as the Castro’s official artists do, therefore they cannot compete. “The result is, we cannot compete even if we were nominated. The public does not know us. Actually, the ones who control the recording market in Los Angeles and even in Miami and the television do not let us in. And because we don’t have a recording label, they don’t listen to us.”
But the recordings of Castro’s official artists are played on the radio, because the international recording labels can afford the pervasive payola to those stations all over the U.S. That’s why their recordings become known and popular and the gain the notoriety necessary to support a GRAMMY nomination.
It is time to understand once and for all that these privileged official artists are not independent; they work for Castro's government. We must realize that even in the U.S. they are hostages of Castro as well as of the foundations and organizations that sponsor them. They have their families in Cuba and are aware of Castro's retribution practices. The U.S. press treats this scheme with superficiality by giving the impression that Castro is opening up despite the fact that much of what Castro exports is specifically designed to give that false impression.
The press is again helping Castro win his public relations campaign by representing the exiled community as intolerant when they protest the presence of Castro’s official artists at the GRAMMYs in Miami or in any other venue in the U.S. (but there are no accusations of intolerance to Nazi art). As a result of this biased portrait, they are widening the empathy gap between uninformed Americans and Cuban exiles, therefore creating division, just as the Maximum Con Artist (Castro) planned, you fools.
The exiles have no quarrel with these official artists. They are just pathetic victims of the tragedy Cuba has been suffering for 44 years. The quarrel is with the deception by the press, which refuses to tell it like it is.
This exiled Cuban singer says, “If Miami won’t allow artists representing the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazis, why should we allow Castro’s artists here?” I command Emilio Estefan and Willie Chirino for protesting the presence of Castro’s official artists performing at the GRAMMY Awards show this year in Miami.
The Bush administration, who recently has gotten in a lot of trouble with the Cuban American voting community for following Clinton’s immoral policies toward Cuba, finally acted showing some principle. The administration has refused to issue visas to come to the GRAMMYs to Castro’s official artists who signed an April 19, 2003 anti-American document supporting of the recent executions of three black men and incarceration of 75 pro-democracy activists in Cuba.
The document was signed by the famous ballerina Alicia Alonso, Miguel Barnet, Leo Brouwer, Octavio Cortazar, Abelardo Estorino, Roberto Fabelo, Pablo Armando Fernandez, Roberto Fernandez Retamar, Julio Garcia Espinosa, Fina Garcia Marruz, Harold Gramatges, Alfredo Guevara, Eusebio Lea, Jose Loyola, Carlos Marti, Nancy Morejon, Senel Paz, Amaury Perez, Graziella Pogolotti, Cesar Portillo de la Luz, Omara Portuondo (the singer of the Buena Vista Social Club), Raquel Revuelta, Silvio Rodriguez, Humberto Solas, Marta Valdes, Chucho Valdes and Cintio Vitier.
Castro has even requested U.S. visas for about 100 of his “musicians!” I hope that troop is not allowed to set their boots on American soil.
I don’t know what will it take for the Americans to be more sensitive to the tragedy going on in Cuba for 44 years and to listen to the victims of that regime. I guess it is very difficult to get our message across since Cuban American are surrounded by the insurmountable wall of censorship imposed by the U.S. media, which in reality is not as free as they claim to be. So far they have refused to tell the story of Cuba as it is.
This attitude is exemplified by all the blatant misinformation that The New York Times still is shamelessly publishing about Cuba. They certainly ought to apologize for it.
But for sure, no matter what they say in their shallow reports, the reality is very different. In Castro’s Cuba politics and arts have to hold hands very tightly together. If you are not at the service of the revolution, you will not have any future as an artist in Cuba or abroad.
Agustin Blazquez, Producer/director of the documentaries
Author with Carlos Wotzkow of the book COVERING AND DISCOVERING and translator with Jaums Sutton of the book by Luis Grave de Peralta Morell THE MAFIA OF HAVANA: The Cuban Cosa Nostra.