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Cultured Cuba, living Cuba

obra lesbia vent dumoisCuban intellectual Roberto Fernández Retamar explained long ago, with the insight of a teacher, the usefulness of a poem, song or play for the true man, let’s say human being in all his or her fullness.

Although a rifle or dagger can save us from death at the hands of an enemy, another weapon, born of, “manufactured” and enjoyed by the spirit, has saved us from a greater evil, that of an empty soul. To leave behind the most primitive aspects of existence and elevate human life, the poet said, culture must be touched with our hands, an incomparable treasure without which we are not complete.

The man who proposed, following José Martí’s ideas to make a Revolution, and change the direction of Cuba understood this reality very well, intent upon transforming the perverse and offensive path the country was on before the victory of 1959. Among so much to be changed, there was one imperative, no less a priority than the others: to illuminate the inner world of those who did not matter to anyone. This is why, among the first beacons of the Revolution, from one end of the island to the other, was the effort to teach an entire people to read and write. That is why books were placed before the newly “opened” eyes.

The books, the schools, education, the campaigns for the 6th and 9th grades, the blessings for those who were winning battles, the reality of so many, who never before had the slightest possibility of studying, became renowned academics, among many other examples, all provide evidence to validate the phrase, never repeated in vain, about the light of learning – the expeditious route to culture – which the Revolution offered to those who, in any other circumstances, would never have seen it, nor been able to enjoy human realization.

In the difficult context of covert warfare, Cuba was obliged to define the direction of our cultural policy. For its leader, aware of the dangers that were looming over the country, culture was the definitive line of defense. For three days, Fidel, with the attitude of a sage, listened to the concerns of writers and artists, and only after this essential communicative effort, did he pronounce his unforgettable “Words to Intellectuals,” today collected in a document to which we must return every time we forget its essence, or wish to better understand the Revolution’s perspective in matters of culture, from its very beginnings.

Touching on a variety of dissimilar questions – which, given the nature of the occasion, were an invitation to think collectively – with expressions that were expanded with sustained interaction based on mutual trust; through the strength of his arguments; through laughter and spontaneous applause, “Words to Intellectuals” was nothing less than a long dialogue, a model of what would be followed again and again within existing cultural institutions and those that would be created by the Revolution.

The roots and sum of this policy, Fidel’s “Words…” were an invitation to contribute, to do for others, to break down the ignorance and the doors closed to the dispossessed: “How are you going to participate in this process? What do you have to contribute to this process,” Fidel asked. And with this he invited artists and intellectuals to construct new realities in Cuba’s emotional and affective “zone.” It was imperative to develop readers, spectators, audiences – a goal that, since then, has been and continues to be a priority for the Revolution.

Inherited from Fidel and our most outstanding intellectuals, this practice is a permanent focus that promotes the continuous improvement of our institutions. This was evident during the Ninth Congress of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (Uneac) – an example of democracy in action when it was held after long months of discussion at the grassroots level – when Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel reaffirmed that our cultural institutions exist because of and for creators and not the other way around, and encouraged, in his repeatedly applauded speech, that Uneac be more proactive at the grassroots level, and investigate what missions each institution is meant to address based on who they represent and what areas of discussion they should lead.

He referred to the miraculous country we have become, tangible in the natural way we attend a ballet or dance performance, a music event, a play, a book or art fair, a gallery exposition, a rumba jam session or an art school, and he rightly thanked our founders for such a marvel, who were followed later by Fidel, an intellectual himself, insisting in the most difficult years of the Special Period that culture was the first to be saved, knowing that it was fundamental.

Last March, Díaz-Canel attended the Ministry of Culture’s accountability review, and called on the broad group of participants to wage a battle emphasizing the content of our culture, our history and our values “with intelligence, honesty and courage,” in the war of ideas to which we are constantly subjected. The President insisted that among the fundamental challenges of the Ministry is to make greater progress in responding to concerns raised and proposals made at the Uneac Congress, and recalled the monthly government follow-up meetings held to regularly review fundamental aspects of cultural policy.

Today, after the country has lived months accomplishing unimaginable feats, facing an international panorama racked by a virus that causes pain and death, and besieged as never before by the murderous hostility of Yankee imperialism, which includes inciting a social explosion on the island and promoting unscrupulous individuals as leaders, the President reminds us again why, with what purpose, our culture is being attacked.

“In Cuba, Culture and Revolution have been equivalent since the very origin of our nationality. It is enough to recall that October 20 when Perucho Figueredo wrote the words to the Bayamo anthem on the flank of the horse which he rode into battle alongside Céspedes. Attacking culture, fracturing Cuban culture, is attacking the heart of the Cuban Revolution, attacking our national identity.”

The President speaks, and the people, who have experienced the extraordinary generosity of their Revolution, follow him. Cuba knows how to resist in the most frightening circumstances, and why its history has been told, sung, painted and dramatized in the work of our artists. We know that imperial punishment is as old as our challenges, and that to tire is to give up not only the body, but also the spirituality we have achieved. If Cuba is alive, if it is more alive than ever, it is because of the privilege of having the emotional scaffolding that we owe to our culture.

(Taken from Granma)

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