Cuba’s Cultural Workers Hopeful about Thaw with U.S.

As part of the agreement to restore the diplomatic relations severed in 1961, President Barack Obama announced Dec. 17 that travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens for academic, cultural and religious activities will be allowed without requiring special permits.

In 2011, to promote "people-to-people contacts," the Obama administration relaxed the travel rules, which resulted in a sizable increase in the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba and the start of some joint cultural projects.

That earlier step "led to a communication and cultural exchange that has benefited everyone, including the Cuban community in Miami," novelist Leonardo Padura told Efe.

The author of "El hombre que amaba a los perros," (The Man Who Loved Dogs) said the new phase in Washington-Havana relations "will benefit culture and sports at first."

"The blockade (embargo) has frustrated many projects by U.S. moviemakers who wanted to film in Cuba, and of Cuban actors and directors who cannot work in the United States," actor and filmmaker Jorge Perugorria told Efe.

Sidney Pollack's "Havana," Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather Part II," or Steven Soderbergh's two-part film biography of Ernesto "Che" Guevara, are just a few examples of Hollywood movies inspired on Cuba that could not be filmed on the island.

"The blockade prevents filming in Cuba because films are seen as an industry instead of as art," said Perugorria.

While it is "premature" to think that Hollywood is opening to Cuba because "the blockade still exists," the changed bilateral relationship is sure to benefit Cuban cinema, which "has a very important history and where there is plenty of talent," Perugorria said.

Cuban musicians have been able to work in the United States, although they have faced difficulties of their own.

"When you give a concert, you cannot lay out the terms in a contract," singer and composer Kelvis Ochoa told Efe. "You have to trust the promoter's good will to get paid."

The United States, he said, "is our neighbor, a neighbor with which we had an intense relationship in the past, in the (19)30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. We need to restore that. The United States is a natural stage for a Cuban musician."

Ochoa, who achieved international fame with his soundtrack for the film "Habana Blues," has performed several times in Miami, home to most Cuban exiles, and he says the city is now "very different" from what it was 10 years ago and that Cuban-American receive artists from the island with a "different attitude."

Dancer and choreographer Lizt Alfonso hopes the rapprochement will also make it possible for Cuban-American artists living in the United State to return more often to the homeland, "where they are admired and loved by the Cuban people."

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