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

On 7 November, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on Cuba’s annual resolution calling for an end to the illegal and cruel US blockade. Resolution 73/8 is entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”.

In 2018, 191 countries voted in favour of the resolution, with only the United States and Israel voting against. The same result is likely in the 2019 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 28th consecutive year.

The report states that the total cost of the US blockade is now over $922 billion dollars.

In the 12 month period of the report (April 2018 – 2019), 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 even harsher measures introduced by US President Donald Trump during the year 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 examples where the blockade impacts Britain.

Main blockade measures adopted since April 2018

During the past year, Cuba-US relations have been marked by the hostile policy promoted from Washington against Havana. In this context, the reduction imposed by the US in both Embassies has been maintained and they proceeded to close the Local Office for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in Cuba, transferring some of their services to Mexico.

Furthermore, the mechanisms of persecution on the jurisdiction of third countries for Cuban financial transactions have continued, producing an increased deterring effect from the economic point of view. The Office for the Control of Cuban Assets and other US agencies have levied fines on a number of third country companies for violating different sanctions programs including the Cuban Assets Control Regulations. The most severe repercussions derived from these sanctions have been recorded in the banking-financial sector.

Between June 2018 and April 2019, the US government imposed new sanctions on third country companies or banks, including those in the US. The total amount of these penalties ran to $3,751,449,017 USD.

The significant negative impact of the application of the measures adopted recently by the United States to intensify the blockade against Cuba is not included in this report. This information will be in the document to be presented next year. Those recent measures are: extension of the OFAC ‘Restricted entities list’, ending the ‘people to people’ travel to Cuba licence granted for US visitors to Cuba, stopping licences for cruise ships who intend to visit Cuba; and allowing US individuals to sue Cubans and 3rd parties in US courts under Title III Helms-Burton Act for compensation for ‘loss of property’ in Cuba that was nationalised 60 years ago.

The human damage caused by application of these sanctions is beyond calculations. No Cuban family or sector in the country has escaped being victim of its effects. Over 77 percent of the Cuban population was born and has grown up under the economic blockade imposed by Washington.

Effects on Arts and Culture

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 reduction in US visas granted to Cubans, 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 blockade’s extraterritorial measures aimed to close access by Cuban companies and entities to the international banking and financial sector are far reaching and scuppered contracts in culture as in all other sectors. The report also refers to the higher prices for arts education equipment and materials due to having to source them further afield due to the US blockade, such as leotards provided for young dance students costing twice as much.

Here is the full text from section 2.1 of the report specifically about culture.

The development of culture in all of its manifestations is a priority for the Cuban State. In its Article 79, the current Constitution of the Republic establishes that “everyone is entitled to participate in the cultural and artistic life of the nation”. Nevertheless, this sector continues to be one of the most adversely affected by the application of the policy of blockade by the US against Cuba.

Some of the repercussions recorded in the sector of culture during the period April 2018 to March 2019 are:

Of the 37 artistic units that could have promoted their work in US territory, only 24 received permission to enter the country; this represents 13 projects less when compared to the preceding year. Nonetheless we must point out the positive promotional impact of the Festival of Cuban Arts held at Washington’s Kennedy Center that included the presence of 104 musicians.

Despite the various US companies that have shown their interest in negotiating with the BIS MUSIC agency, they have refused to send their legal documentation to perform the corresponding contracts for fear of the blockade’s restrictions. As a result, losses of over $100,000 have been recorded.

A number of agencies in Colombia, Peru and France rejected business arranged with the Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales (EGREM), for fear that they would not be able to make transfers to Cuba to pay for the services. For this reason, approximately $200,000 was lost.
Business persons who traditionally promoted groups in the EGREM Catalogue in the US market and in other countries refused to continue with their work in 2018 due to the increased blockade measures.

Because of the intensification of this policy, the Third Meeting of American and Cuban Editors, Distributors and Literary Agents, scheduled to be held in Cuba during the 2019 International Book Fair, was prevented from happening. Cuba’s participation at expos, editorial and literary events, as well as book fairs in the US, became impossible.

The blockade has serious repercussions for professional artistic training (at the elementary, middle school and higher education levels) by imposing limitations on acquiring the necessary items such as musical instruments and accessories for the visual arts, ballet and dance. In spite of this, the Cuban State has not stopped any child with the skills and talent to take this training without paying any tuition; this represents an extraordinary effort if one takes into account that the cost of a basic education for one student in one academic year in any of the arts manifestations hovers around the figure of $15,000 and $16,000. For example, on average, $17,610 is spent to make sure that each ballet student has a leotard for the school year. If it were possible to access the US market to buy these garments, Cuba would save more than half of the amount spent to buy the leotards elsewhere.

You can read the full report ‘Cuba vs. Bloqueo 2019’ here cuba_vs_bloqueo

You can join the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the UK to help end the blockade here