[Marxism] Interview with Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Dec 5 13:25:56 MST 2004

Last year, Marxmail included a considerable amount
of time debating the actions taken by the Cuban
government to respond to the rash of hijackings
and escalated disruption and destabilization by
the U.S. Interests Section here in Cuba. We've
not had much debate on that subject since and
most of those posting critical commentaries that
opposed the Cuban actions have drawn back from.

Washington has since that time and since the re-
selection of George W. Bush, even further raised
its level of hostility toward Cuba. The report of
the Bush commission, the steps threatening the
existing one-way, cash-only economic ties which
have reached nearly a BILLION dollars over the
past three years, have even further raised the
level of U.S. threats against the Caribbean's
largest island.

Here is a newly-translated interview with Cuba's 
Culture Minister Abel Prieto in which he takes
up some of those issues, and many others.

This is one of the most exciting contributions by
a Cuban leader that I've read in quite some time,
and that's saying a lot. Cuba's Culture Minister
here lays out the island's culture policy, and he
explains the blockade's impact on the island's own
culture, and on the United States which is further
denied the benefits of Cuban culture due to the
blockade. But there's much more. He discusses such
topics as consumerism, why they show even lousy
U.S. films on Cuban television. And he's really 
not kidding about THAT! He further discusses he
rout of former leftists who have broken with Cuba,
explaining that Cuba's Revolution is a mirror in
which they see their own past, and are reminded
of what they once were, and no longer are. Here
you will also find a succinct introduction to the
concept of Cuba's Battle of Ideas. And much more.

Special thinks also to our good friend Pedro
Gellert of Mexico for sharing this on the Cuba
solidarity list there. Spanish-speaking readers
should feel encouraged to subscribe to this very
fine resource from which CubaNews obtained this.

Walter Lippmann, CubaNews

Interview with Abel Prieto, Cuban Culture Minister: 

"The Cuban Revolution reminds him of many 
who were intellectuals and who are not now".

Alejandro Massia / Julio Otero Tiempo de Cuba
Received November 7, 2004
Translation for CubaNews by Ana Portela
Edited by Walter Lippmann. 

COMPLETE English translation, and Spanish original:

At first sight he does not look like a minister. His
informal and youthful style (long hair and carefree
clothing) describes him as one of the strangest leaders of
this Caribbean island. However, on the verge of being 54
years of age, Abel Prieto has a long history on his back
that guarantees his long professional career and the post
of responsibilities he now holds. B.A. in Language and
Hispanic Literature, Abel Prieto has been a writer,
professor of literature, director of the publishing house,
Letras Cubanas and president of the Union of Writers and
Artists, before being becoming the Cuban Culture Minister.
In the framework of the meetings on "Culture and Freedom in
Cuba", recently held in Cadiz, we had the opportunity to
hear him talk about Cuban cultural policy. At the end of
his conference, the minister kindly accepted an invitation
to talk with Tiempo de Cuba. This is what he told us:

What are the main principles on which the Cuban cultural
model is ruled and on what is it based?

In the first place, the Cuban cultural model is typified by
the principle of mass democratization, meaning, that it
reaches the world without any form of distinction. That is
why, today, for example, with about 50 art schools
scattered throughout the country, whose purpose is to
prevent talent being lost wherever it is, either in the
mountains, in the countryside or the city. Consequently, if
a child is endowed with talent in music or art, this child
has the choice of studying art wherever he lives.

A second principle is the formation of a public which is
cultured and receptive to all manifestations of art,
including traditionally more sophisticated forms. For us
the idea of providing the masses with a capacity to
appreciate and understand artistic codes profoundly, is of
utmost importance.

And we have examples how some manifestations which were a
minority art appreciation form - like classical ballet,
experimental theater or conceptual painting - have been
reaching a knowledgeable public on a truly massive scale. A
third point is that this massiveness be also accompanied by
a demand for quality; prevent the promotion of trash, or a
pseudo-culture for consumption by the people. This would be
offensive. In this sense, it is important to point to the
use we are making in new techniques of communication and
information (such as television, video or computer
sciences) for the diffusion of education and culture.

Lastly, another basic principle is the defense of national
culture, although with a universal focus, without creating
anything that is chauvinistic or provincial. In our
cultural policy, there is a defense of the Cuban tradition,
both in popular culture as in what has been called
cultured. However, we are also working very hard and under
harsh conditions to spread the wealth of universal culture
inside Cuba.

What kind of foreign culture is transmitted on the island?

There is a great variety. To mention just a few who
participated in this conference, I can mention that we have
published books by Andrés Sorel, by Alfonso Sastre and no,
Belén Gopegui. We have also spread much Latin American
literature. In addition, a curious matter, we have done a
great job with US literature. Because, for us, being
anti-imperialist is not the same as being anti-US.

We are well aware that there are great creators in the US
who are also victims of the so-called industry of
entertainment and we try to form bonds with the honest
people in that country. A great number of writers and
filmmakers of the United States have come to our film
festivals and book fairs even though Bush denied the right
to travel to this island. I want to mention, at this point,
that cultural exchanges with the United States have always
been limited by the US administration, never by us. Quite
the contrary, we have promoted by all means possible a
dialogue with the best of US culture.

And, what makes Cuba different than the rest of the
countries, in terms of culture?

I would say that in other places the market sets the rules,
in Cuba, we only use it to promote our culture
internationally. We think that the market is a great enemy
of culture and true art. In fact, in the last decade, when
an artistic manifestation appeared with a critical sense,
the market has always tried to mutilate it. That is why we
only approach the market as a means of promotion, but
without making any concessions. Our cultural policy is not
decided by the market as happens so many places, where the
people may not know of a great writer or musician of their
own country and, however, know perfectly well the
intimacies of Michael Jackson.

How does the US blockade affect the field of culture? What
impact does it have on the cultural development of the

A hard impact. Consider that it would be much cheaper for
us to buy in the United States the majority of supplies,
beginning with musical instruments or materials for our art
school. But, because of the blockade we cannot. If we refer
to the musical ambiance, it is impossible to calculate how
much money we lose in the author's rights of our musicians.
Cuban music, historically, has had an enormous traditional
market in the United States.

What access to the US market represents for our state
record companies and musicians is incalculable. It, also,
prevents calculating its significance in economic terms
that our artists could exhibit in the great art galleries
and auctions in the United States. However, losses have not
only been economic, there are also promotional losses.
Today, unfortunately, the United States is essential and
decisive for art promotion.

You cannot imagine the terrible things that many of our
artists have had to experience, such as Ibrahim Ferrer or
Chucho Valdés who have been refused visas to the US
applying an article that "considers them dangerous to the
interests of national security". As if they were
terrorists! Lastly, I'll mention that the US people are
also victims, to a certain degree, from the blockade since
they are denied access to the cultural message of Cuba.

In what context does the Battle of Ideas come about and
what is its political, social and cultural significance?

Well look, the Battle of Ideas arose in the context in the
battle for the return of the little boy, Elián González who
was kidnapped in Miami a few years ago. The entire
population was shaken by this case and many artists and
professionals of the world press and of culture
participated, together with the people in massive actions
demanding the return of the child.

This gave Fidel the idea of working towards developing the
Cubans with an integral general culture and, at the same
time, taking it to all the corners of the country. On the
150th anniversary of the birth of José Martí, he said that
the main task of all honest people in the world was to
"plant ideas, plant consciousness". And to plant both
inside the country and abroad.

For this reason, in contrast to the stupidity, barbarity
and the law of the strongest that today intends to impose
itself, worldwide, we try to defend the idea that another
world is possible. Against the neo-liberal model, this
fierce version of capitalism that reserves for a small
minority the luxury of consumerism and excludes ¾ of the
population of the world, we propose the defense of the
values of social justice and authentic democracy.

We believe that what should be globalized are not bombs or
hatred but peace, solidarity, health, education for all,
culture, etc. That is why, when our physicians go to help
in other countries, although their mission is to work for
medical attention, they are also bearers of our values and
our ideas of solidarity.

This is the essence of the Battle of Ideas. We call Battle
of Ideas a task of an ideological character that we have
been conducting through various means, incorporating, of
course, many young people. The current significance of the
Young Communist Union (UJC) in the life of the country has
great importance.

At the same time, the Battle of Ideas is very related to
the thousands of social workers that we have formed to help
the poorer sectors. Using art instructors, we have prepared
throughout the island and with the use of new technologies
of communication, we have to spread culture, education
(today we have to educational channels in TV) and also to
transmit the truth about Cuba - through the Internet - to
all parts of the world.

All this is part of the Battle of Ideas that today is more
concentrated on what is happening in Venezuela and the
solidarity model of collaboration that is being formed
between this country and Cuba.

One of the subjects analyzed here has been the role of
intellectuals and the estrangement that has grown
progressively in relation to the Cuban Revolution. What do
you think is the reason for this estrangement and the
condemnations, in so many cases?

I would say that it is very related to the intense work the
right has done to damage the critical function of the
intellectual. If you take notice, today almost all the
legitimate intellectual circuits are in the hands of

A lot of money has been invested to influence the
intellectuals to abandon their positions of criticism of
the system. I think that many have been contaminated with
these codes and some, even, have been honestly confused by
the defamation campaigns against Cuba. But others, have
stopped being what they were and have adapted.

In this sense, the Cuban Revolution reminds them of what
they were when they were young and what they have given up.
For this reason, the Cuban cause is disturbing, specially
because it appears like a ghost that shames them and tells
them that they have capitulated.

Anyway, this is very related to what we mentioned of the
role of the market. I sometimes ask myself what happened to
the protest songs of the 60s in the United States. What did
the Americans do with those great songs of Bob Dylan or
Joan Baez? The same has happened with rap, or hip-hop, that
was born in the Black barrios of New York as a terrible
shout of protest.

And all this authenticity and original rebelliousness of
rap, that denounced racial discrimination and so many
social problems have been gradually terminated by the
market. Now they are promoting a light rap, like Eminem,
that talks of sensuality, of sex 
 but has nothing to do
with the roots of this manifestation. That is how the
market works to remove what could hurt the system.

Moreover, aren't you afraid that with the opening up to
tourism, a consumer mentality may be introduced in the
Cuban population, mainly in the young people? Isn't there a
risk that the values and ideals of the Revolution are being
substituted by those of the market and capitalist

I think that the challenge has to be faced. In the
globalized world we live in it is not possible to think of
an utopian island surrounded by the great wall of China, in
this case, a Cuban wall. This is absurd and, also,

The Cubans aren't in a test tube or in a kind of sterile
area of a hospital. We are in this world and we must be
aware that contamination will enter, always, from all
parts. What we must do, therefore, is to prepare the people
so that they can confront this contamination and that is
done by early creating cultural habits, teaching them to
think for themselves.

Today, the Martí phrase is more relevant where he says "to
be cultured is the only way to be free". One is truly free
when one is formed and has deep cultural references and
also has a broad knowledge of the world in which he/she
lives. Referring to this, I do not think that the solution
must come through prohibition. This is not the route of our
cultural and educational policy that, by the way, was
explained succinctly by Fidel during the 60s: "We do not
tell the people to believe but to read".

That is the essence of our cultural policy that has nothing
to do with forming fanatics or fundamentalists but with
forming persons who make a commitment with the Revolution
through culture. That is why we show all the films that
reach us by satellite and some - believe me - are really
bad and unwholesome, but they are shown anyway. Because it
is very important to prevent the Cubans to believe we are
prohibiting products of this culture of the masses.

Our purpose must be, consequently, to try to achieve that
the people be prepared to decide for themselves what to
see. And I think that to face this challenge the key is in
the quality of education, on the one hand, and the work of
the mass media on the other. Fortunately, there are no
private media in Cuba and we can use this to promote
reading and boost our cultural plans. Something that cannot
be done in other countries.

How are the current cultural relations between Cuba and
Spain? Is there a possibility of improvement with the
change of government occurring there?

Clearly, during the government of José María Aznar
everything was done to harm relations with Cuba, not only
in the field of culture but in other fields. But it is also
true, that against the authorities, there was always a
cultural relationship between the two peoples and this, no
government can block. There are, also, good relations with
the Minister Carmen Calvo since she was a councilor in the
Junta de Andalucía and I believe she is in favor of
collaborating with us. For our part there are no obstacles.

What's more, we are interested in diversifying the cultural
presence of the world in Cuba and, specially, the Spanish
presence. We never politicize cultural relations; quite the
contrary, we place special emphasis on having always a
presence in our theaters and cinemas of European and
universal culture. In any case, the next steps taken must
be studied. I think it is still too early to observe
changes in cultural relations between both countries and it
would be irresponsible no to make a prediction about this.

How do you see the future? What importance to you find in
the survival of culture and development of the Cuban

Look, Fidel has placed culture in the center of Cuban
resistance. Today culture enjoys a protagonist's role and a
social prestige in Cuba like never before.

I believe that this cultural importance must go hand in
hand with a Cuba that has solved its material problems for
the majority and that it be vaccinated against consumer
propaganda. Now we are trying to achieve a more human
socialism, if that is possible, but that does not mean that
we are assuming patterns of consumerism.

We cannot design a future for the Cuban where every family
has - as seen in the Yankee films - two cars, a pool or a
chalet. However, we can guarantee conditions of a decent
life and at the same time a rich life in spiritual and
cultural terms. It is a conception of culture as a form of
growth and personal realization that is related to the
quality of life. In this sense, we are convinced that
culture can be an antidote against consumerism and against
the oft repeated idea that only buying can create happiness
in this world. I think that that is our goal.

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