How the US blockade against Cuba impacts the development of arts and culture


On 31 October, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on Cuba’s annual resolution calling for an end to the US blockade. Resolution 72/4 is entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. In 2017, 191 countries voted in favour of the resolution, with only the United States and Israel voting against. The same result is likely in the 2018 vote.

Cuba has sent its annual report to the United Nations General Assembly in advance of their resolution to end the US blockade of Cuba for the 27th consecutive year. The report states that the total cost of the US blockade is now over £933 billion dollars.

In the 12 month period of the report (April 2017 – 2018), the blockade has caused losses to Cuba over $4.3 billion dollars. The impact of the blockade has been further intensified in the period of the report, due to the new measures introduced by US President Donald Trump in June 2017 which tightened the nearly six decade old blockade.

The report outlines in detail the brutal impact of the blockade in Cuba, including its effects on health, education, food, sport, culture and development. The extraterritorial impact of the blockade around the world is also analysed, including several examples where the blockade impacts Britain.

As regards the impact on the field of arts and culture the report lists the drop in cultural exchanges between the US and Cuba due the tightening of US travel to Cuba regulations, and some of the many roadblocks put in the way of the sales and promotion of Cuban music, the visual arts, theatre and literature. The report also refers to the higher prices for arts education equipment due to having to source them further afield due to the US blockade, and also to the difficulties in access to US software used in filmmaking.

Here is the full text from section 2.2 of the report specifically about culture.

“The development of culture in all of its manifestations is a priority for the Cuban State, as demonstrated in the cultural events held at the Kennedy Centre of Washington in May of 2018. The Revolutionary Government’s cultural policy is guided by the insoluble association of the concepts of culture and freedom, present in the ideas of the major figures in Cuban history.

Nevertheless this sector continues to be adversely affected by the application of the US blockade policy against Cuba. From April of 2017 up to March of 2018 exchanges between Cuban artists and their counterparts in the United States have decreased in number. Some examples proving this statement are:

  • In 2017, the participation of 497 musicians and music professionals from the United States was forecast at shows and events in Cuba. Because of the intensifying of the blockade these artists were unable to participate at the activities which had been planned earlier.

  • Between the last quarter of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, the visits of 15 American groups comprising around 300 persons, including musicians and accompanying persons, were cancelled.

  • A group of students from the prestigious Berkeley Music School of Boston was unable to travel to Cuba to take part in workshops with Cuban professional musicians and music students. The sound engineers in charge of organizing the trip to Cuba sent word to EGREM that they had been warned by the authorities of their country to refrain from making the trip, due to the existing regulations.

On the other hand, the blockade sets up roadblocks for the commercialization and promotion of Cuban music, the visual arts, theatre and literature, as demonstrated by the following examples:

  • Between April of 2017 and March of 2018, a total of 37 artistic units made up of 367 musicians travelled to the United States to put on necessarily promotional shows due to the blockade regulations. No revenues were received for these shows.
  • If the blockade did not exist, the exports of Musicalia, the agency representing artists of Artex S.A. of Cuba, could have been 20 times greater.
  • The Artex S.A Music Recording and Publishing Company, Bis Music, contacted several American companies involved in distributing and publishing music, interested in negotiating in Cuba. But for fear of being sanctioned under the regulations imposed by the blockade, these companies did not send the documentation necessary to realize the negotiations.
  • The theatrical artistic units Revolution, Rakatan, Havana Queen, light opera singers and circus performers cannot sign direct contracts with US impresarios interested in our artistic talents.
  • The National Centre for the Visual Arts (CNAP in its Spanish-language abbreviation) “Collage Habana”, as part of their efforts to develop exports of Cuban art, saw a decrease in sales to US citizens after the signing of the Presidential Memorandum in June of 2017. Despite their interest in Cuban art, Americans are worried about the sanctions to which they may be submitted should they purchase anything in Cuba.
  • In 2016 and 2017, the International Book Fair of Havana (FILH in its Spanish-language abbreviation) hosted the First and Second Encounters of Publishers, Distributors and Literary Agents of Cuba and the US, occasions on which they had fruitful exchanges that allowed for the encouragement of drawing closer and cooperating in the publishing area between the two countries. However, because of the new measures adopted by the US government, it was not possible to hold the Third Encounter of Publishers, Distributors and Literary Agents of Cuba and the US during FILH 2018.

Due to the blockade regulations, materials necessary for teaching the arts, such as books for reading music, sheet music notebooks, saxophones, strings for guitars, violins, cellos and basses, are bought at higher prices on the international market, while they are found at much more reasonable prices on the American market.

The growth of the Cuban film industry has also been affected by the conditions imposed by the blockade, such as the Animation Studios of the Cuban Institute for Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC in its Spanish-language abbreviation) not having access to software permits essential for their production processes and not being able to have direct access to the most important international film market, the American film market.”