Posted on Tuesday, 09.10.13
Cuba sets up shop here, and U.S. yawns
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
After too long a time without seeing each other, I recently reunited in
Miami with a friend who works in Washington D.C. as a national
She pounds the pavement in Congress and the White House with the
frequency some of us reserve for Starbucks.
“The subject of Cuba is not even a blip in Washington’s agenda,” she
told me, offering to send me a superb backgrounder on Syria.
I laughed, but it’s not funny.
That lack of interest, however, would partly explain why Cuban
government entities — as many as four art galleries from Havana
allegedly owned and operated by the state — are set to exhibit and sell
art at the Houston Fine Art Fair, which runs Sept.19-22.
The best known are La Casona Gallery and Villa Manuela Art Gallery —
both with official email addresses linked to the Cuban government. The
other two are the lesser-known 308 Arte Contemporáneo and Collage Habana
Gallery, with addresses in Cuba’s Miramar and Centro Habana.
Cuban artists exhibiting in the United States is nothing new. It’s
perfectly legal under Treasury Department rules — and healthy for those
of us who value freedom of expression. If art isn’t about freedom, then
But extending that to the Cuban government setting up shop — four
galleries in one art fair — to sell merchandise via state entities? Its
representatives here on visitor visas operating a commercial enterprise?
News to me, although according to those involved, at least one of the
galleries has participated in art fairs before.
“It’s not like it’s the first time,” said Houston fair director Rick
Friedman, president and founder of Hamptons Expo Group, which produces
art fairs throughout the country. “How do they actually do it? They may
have some agents from the United States helping them out. They do what
they have to do to get it done.”
In times long gone, this issue might have aroused some interest when I
started to interview people about it, but as my journalist friend said,
I sensed more boredom in Washington with the questions from Miami than
A Treasury Department spokesman sent me links to U.S. regulations that
say transactions related to informational materials (that includes art)
are authorized and that specific licenses may be issued in a
If these were independent art galleries open to every Cuban artist, not
just to those who toe — or pretend to toe — the government line, I’d
say, you’re welcome, and not even pose the question, I explained.
But with the U.S. embargo supposedly in place and the Cuban government
still waving the flag that this nation is its enemy, what are they doing
here working in sales?
“Our license applies if they are given a visa, so you might want to
check with the State Department about travel credentials,” Treasury
spokesman John Sullivan wrote me.
But unless the gallery representatives were part of the group that
arrived by boat on a Hollywood beach to the cheers of sunbathers — dry
foot! — it’s pretty safe to say the gallery representatives are here on
visas granted by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
The cultural exchange with Cuba is supposed to be about the exchange of
ideas and “people to people” contact — not dollars. It’s already a
misnomer, a one-way street in which Cubans take full advantage of their
experience here but Americans are limited in their participation there.
Will the galleries pay taxes on their sales, I wonder?
But so what?
Our new U.S. Cuba policy is to turn a blind eye.
Source: “Fabiola Santiago: Cuba sets up shop here, and U.S. yawns –
Fabiola Santiago – MiamiHerald.com” –