Maintaining Cuba's Cultural Vitality
by Susana Mendez for Cubainformacion
on: Friday, 22 July 2011
The Cubainformation news website recently interviewed Luis Felipe Vázquez, Director of the Centre for the Coordination of International Assistance for Cuban Culture, who named the Music Fund for Cuba and the Miramar Theatre restoration project as one of the major works of international investment in culture currently taking place on the island. You can read the full interview below.It is well known that literature and the arts are areas of Cuban society that make a major impact on the population; and teaching different branches of the arts make up part of that aspect of life on the island. The sustained efforts made by the Cuban government to supply funding to maintain such activities in addition to the upkeep of cultural facilities and institutions, many of which belong to Cuba’s historical heritage, have been widely reported.Despite these efforts and the priority given to arts funding, the grants coming from the state to support such projects have been inadequate. For that reason, in 2006 it was deemed necessary to found the Centre for the Coordination of International Assistance for Cuban Culture. Since that date until the present this organisation has done sterling work in the management of resources which have been used to complement the financing needed by significant projects being undertaken by the Ministry of Culture.Luis Felipe Vázquez Vázquez, the Centre’s director, agreed to meet me so that I could find out more about the work of his institution, the way it functions, its aims and recent successes, among other topics.What is the Centre for the Coordination of International Assistance for Cuban Culture?Our Centre is an organisation attached to the Ministry of Culture and linked in its manner of functioning to the Ministry of Overseas Commerce and Foreign Investment, a leading organisation in the area of dealing with international assistance to this country.
This Centre was formed with the principal aim of organising the management of funds received from abroad to support cultural projects and programmes and arts’ institutions in Cuba. The idea is to maintain the vitality of Cuban culture by complementing the arts’ funding provided by the state.International cooperation complements the efforts made nationally for cultural development on the island. For that reason it has an important role because it fulfils specific needs in areas where state funding is insufficient and large sums are required as well as in others where less funding is needed, but which have an important part to play in our cultural life. Another of the Centre’s aims is to guarantee that our arts’ projects fulfil the norms which have been established in relation to international assistance. Frequently this obligation is not credited with the importance it deserves, as the belief still prevails that all that happens is we receive a certain sum of money, which is not the case. Financial assistance has internationally recognised procedures and, in the case of Cuba, national ones as well. All such procedures are compulsory and have to be followed by all parties.The assistance that Cuba receives comes from different sources, such as solidarity organisations, local organisations, international support agencies and other entities. All these funding sources have to adhere to the agreements made by the international organisations for co-operation and development whereby the countries of the industrialised world contribute 0.7% of their GDP to the developing countries.The role of our Centre is to allocate the assistance we receive to the appropriate cultural organisations throughout the island and to direct these organisations in the financial aspects of their development. What are your principal projects for 2011?In 2011, our priorities have been set within the framework of continuing to develop projects set in motion since 2008, while at the same time, adding new objectives. At the moment, important programmes are being put into effect, such as those relating to the safeguarding of our cinematographic heritage which is being financed by the government of Andalucía. Recently a Film Archive for the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) was inaugurated to mark the 52nd anniversary of the Institute. This inauguration took place after a wide-ranging technological project to restore and modernise the complete collection of Cuban documentaries shot in black and white and every edition of the ICAIC Latin American Newsreel.On the other hand, we have a project in hand at the José Martí National Library, which is being financed by the Spanish Agency for International Co-operation for Development, to enable the library to preserve its collections and archives. The initial phase of the work is being finalised and we are working with the Agency to achieve financing for the other phases. The idea is to modernise its services offered to the population as well as to upgrade its facilities – mainly by digitising our collections - not only in the library’s main building but also in its branches throughout the rest of the island.Among other projects in hand is the re-opening of the Miramar Cine-Theatre, whose funding is being provided by the Music Fund for Cuba in the UK.Included in the new objectives which have been a priority for this year are the Cubanacán schools of art for which we need resources. Cuba has made an extraordinary investment in these schools in spite of our economic difficulties nationally, not just because we believe the teaching of art is important but also on account of the great architectural value of these institutions which form a significant part of our heritage. I should also mention other projects which have been selected for funding: the National Theatre, the Grand Theatre of Havana, the library in the Casa de las Américas and a number of other institutions or events like the Sauto Theatre in Matanzas and the 11th Festival of Contemporary Art in Havana (Bienal de La Habana).In the current economic climate in Cuba, we are adamant that assistance we receive is used in co-ordination with our national economic plan. This allows us to show in an international context that our country appreciates the aid, and also that on a national level we are insisting on it being to good use in an orderly way, thus adhering to the requirements of external organisations as well as to the procedures established here.How do these funds reach Cuba?By various means: First through the Mixed Commissions, which have set procedures on an inter-governmental level. Next there is the assistance which is given by the International Co-operation Agencies of a number of countries with a clear policy of providing support to our country, that is to say they have no intention of interfering in any way with our internal affairs. The latter is one of the principles underlying this funding, together with the prohibition of its use for other purposes, as is the case with USAID, the US Aid Agency, which has tried brazenly to promote dissent in our country, hiding behind the veil of providing assistance.Therefore it is very important to be able to distinguish between the assistance which is given with honest intentions, respecting the universal principles established for this type of action, and those kinds of ‘assistance’ which have pernicious or political objectives, including corrupting certain individuals. One of our tasks is to keep our eyes open and check that actions of this kind do not occur.We should mention that many of the organisations that help us are NGOs which are friends of Cuba, while others, although they do not share our views ideologically, feel respect and admiration for our country and for what we do and are sincere about wanting to provide us with assistance.Which international organisations are our main allies?International organisations such as UNESCO, UNICEF and UNPD. The latter supports us through its Local Human Development Programme. Then there are countries like Spain, which gives us support through its Co-operation Agency and some of the autonomous communities of Spain, such as the government of Andalucía or of the Basque Country to mention just two, which have their own agencies.Then there are the independent NGOs which work directly with us or through their co-operation agencies; in this regard, one of the actions undertaken by governments and institutions in several countries is to hold meetings in town halls or with local organisations, many of them with the aim of fulfilling the commitment that I mentioned previously to donate 0.7% of that country’s GDP.There are some local governments which make a great effort to achieve this.How does the system of meetings operate?Presentations take place in these meetings to choose an NGO which will be responsible for administering the funds to be donated from that country. These NGOs, which will have close relations with our cultural institutions, will receive information from these institutions about proposed projects which the NGOs in turn will present for consideration at the meetings held in the donor country. The most prominent NGOs in this respect are the ARCI in Italy as well as various Spanish NGOs and some in other European countries.Now we are seeing some interesting initiatives being offered by our Australian and Irish friends. With the latter, we have a really lovely project whereby, in addition to helping us solve the problem of repairing pianos they are helping us recover an abandoned profession. Those financing this project are our Irish friends who are receiving support from their government.What projects are being developed at the present time thanks to international assistance?We have about thirty projects being developed at the moment, some of them far reaching, like the one in which cinemas and cultural centres are being repaired in Pinar del Río and Matanzas with the support of the government of Andalucía. The cine-theatre Miramar is being re-built, as I indicated earlier, with new furniture and equipment, thanks to the support given by the Music Fund for Cuba, a British charity set up by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign which shows great solidarity with Cuba and with the struggle for the freedom of our Five Heroes. The Music Fund is linked to a number of other public organisations and has managed to collected half a million dollars. We are hoping to complete the project this year.Recently we had a visit from Rob Miller who is the Music Fund‘s Charity Director as well as being a Director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the UK. He is not just involved with supporting cultural projects in Cuba, but also with many other Cuban organisations and with aspects of our struggle and life on the island. Having been impressed with the progress made in this project, Miller and other directors of the Music Fund for Cuba have intimated the possibility of supporting other initiatives. We are working jointly towards establishing support of some kind to obtain equipment to increase provision for students in our schools of art. The Music Fund already donates ballet shoes for our ballet companies on a regular basis.These are our major projects, but there are other ones which are more modest although not for that reason less important. One example is the support being provided for the Theatre of the Elements in Cienfuegos by the Platform of Solidarity with Cuba in Granada, Spain. There are projects like Zunzún (activities for young people with social or psychological problems) which is being supported by a Swiss NGO and a community programme which is being developed in Camagüey with another Swiss NGO Camaquito which is assisting in ten projects and which has just celebrated its tenth anniversary providing support to our country.We receive very active and enthusiastic help from various Basque NGOs which identify closely with our aims. Then we have assistance which comes from other parts of the world, the main countries in this respect being Japan, Canada, Australia and Italy.Then there are a good number of countries that give one-off donations, which are mainly financial, and they are made for very specific purposes.Would you describe the actions of organisations such as UNESCO and UNICEF to support establishments affected by the hurricanes which recently have lashed our country?Both organisations make very active contributions to the development of cultural organisations in Cuba. For example, UNICEF is working in a number of projects which are progressing towards very positive outcomes, and UNESCO is providing us with support in a number of ways. At this time it would be relevant to refer to the support being given for the restoration of the Viñales Valley which has been designated a World Heritage site. This work is being undertaken by the National Heritage Council. There is another project at the History Centre of Camagüey province which is being developed in conjunction with the Conservation Office of the city of Camagüey. Both heritage sites were seriously damaged by the hurricanes. Another very important project to rebuild cultural institutions is underway in six provinces which were equally affected by the hurricanes. UNESCO is providing us with assistance in this work, with funds donated by Norway. We are about half way through the first phase, having overcome some difficulties relating to construction and the operating of this project. We have drawn up a timetable for completing this stage of the project within the next three months and have designed a programme that will ensure that the work will progress smoothly in the second phase.The provinces that have made the most progress in this project are Holguín, with over 90% of the work completed, Las Tunas with 85% and the Isle of Youth with about 90%. Among these, some of the most noteworthy are the restorations that have been made on the Isle of Youth, in particular the Cultural Centres of Nueva Gerona, La Victoria, Santa Fe y Atanagildo, the José Antonio Mella Public Library, the Leonardo Luberta School of Performing Arts, the Wilfredo Lam School of Plastic Arts and the Frank País Bookshop.Similarly, on 20 February last, in Las Tunas the reinauguration of the Jacinto García Cultural Centre was celebrated publicly and was attended by many residents of the city. This event had a great impact on the community.In Holguín province, the public libraries in the towns of Cueto and Marcané, and the cultural centres of Marcané and San Andrés were provided with the furniture and equipment that they needed. This province has excelled in its good organisation and efficient work in its use of the funds assigned to it.This is a particularly pleasing programme in which donors have shown great solidarity with us. It is worth highlighting because among all those projects for which we have received assistance following the destruction wrought by the hurricanes, this one has a very special meaning and has a special significance for us.