Monday, April 26, 2010

Malanga y Cultura

In my last post, I made the case that Cuba needs to focus on solving its food problem before worrying about art and culture. I changed my mind. A Spanish colleague of mine made the case that the Cuban government should stop subsidizing free concerts, cheap theater, movies and books, and focus on feeding its population. This makes sense on the face of it. It’s hard to appreciate a great concert or a brilliant play on an empty belly.

One materialistic argument for Cuba to continue subsidizing art is that art and culture have become a major source of hard currency earnings for the country. Beyond that there is a more intangible benefit to art and culture. Even though there is a shortage of food in Cuba, and people here are hungry, they have access to cultural activities to a much greater extent that most people in the US. Not only are the prices of cultural activities incredibly cheap, but the education system has prepared a populace that has a desire to go to the theater, discuss films, listen to music and watch dance. I wouldn’t want to romanticize this either. Most of the Cuban people consume popular culture like North Americans consume junk food and Coke. It’s sweet, addictive, and it gives you an energy boost.

However, if Cuba were to give up on the cultural aspect of the Revolution, it would become just another poor country with hungry people like so many others in the Caribbean. Sure, channeling some pesos from art to food would allow people to eat another egg every month, or maybe provide another kilo of subsidized rice, but people do not survive on food alone.

There needs to be a better balance between the material needs and the cultural needs of the Cuban people. As the food situation becomes more desperate I hope that the Cuban state doesn’t give up on its cultural project. Viva Cuba Libre: Malanga y Cultura!

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