Our Readers respond to:
Cuban Artists unable to obtain visas
to attend the Latin Grammys in Miami by Benjamin Rapoport
LAD Responds to Benjamin Rapoport:
Dear Benjamin: My response will be short, not time for essays.
The perception of CUBA is quite different in EUROPE, where I come from. We all use the glasses that best suits our interests.
Having said that, I agreed with you 100%. Music and Art is MUSIC AND ART. I know that they are quite a few musicians that feel the same way, one day, soon I hope, we SHALL be free to discuss these topics without worry of being left out by certain powers that controlled the MUSIC in USA, especially the LATIN MUSIC.
The irony of these is that the call this FREEDOM
I want to say that I am new on your web and so far I enjoy what I read.
Keep the good work and my best to you all.
Rapaport: Telling It Like It Isn’t
According to Benjamin Rapaport's brief editorial on the inflated controversy on Cuban groups and the Latin Grammy in Miami, he doesn't seem to understand that the issues at hand don't hinge on the imaginary subversion of his "freedom of wanting to enjoy their art [sic.] by seeing and hearing these artist [sic.] in person." No one in the government of the U.S.A. is questioning his wants, artistic, existential or otherwise. He can want all he wants. As far as seeing and hearing these artists live, they have and do come frequently to the U.S.A. If they don’t come often enough, or if their comings and goings into this country do not suit his wants, he has plenty of choices, unlike non-exiled Cubans. He can travel to other countries where he can satisfy his live Cuban music wants, wait until the Castro dictatorship comes to its welcomed end, see those groups here in the U.S.A. if enough audiences appear to warrant investment in their economically failed tours or, better yet, be a responsible citizen of the U.S.A. and inform himself more responsibly on what foreign policies and their implementations entail.
Rapaport neither seems able, according to his infantile interpretation of the U.S.A. Constitution, capable of a mature reading of such a document when he whines about his self-imposed limitation on happiness and its pursuit thereof. “The Constitution says I have the right to be happy. I am happy when seeing Cuban groups. If not, I’m unhappy.” All we are missing here is the sound of a baby crying. Would somebody, please, give him a pacifier and a bottle?
Must he be reminded of the historical context of the participation of the U.S.A. in the 1936 Olympics? According to his historical misinterpretation of the facts, he does need a High School history refresher. According to him, the U.S.A. was a “brave” country then because its athletes attended a Nazi-led Olympics. In 1936, we weren’t at war with anyone, the decision to host the games in Berlin was taken in 1931 –when Hitler wasn’t in control of Germany– hence the Nazi presence in 1936 was an unexpected turn of events and our official position on Hitler’s belligerence was neutrality until we entered WWII in 1942. Actually, the 1936 Olympic games were a victory for Germany, not only athletically, but politically as well. Rapapaport would benefit also from reading the following note on other myths surrounding Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics: http://hnn.us/articles/571.html. The fact of the matter is that, by participating in those games, the U.S.A. benefited Hitler’s propaganda machine. A mistake we didn’t make in Moscow in 1980, which Rapaport conveniently ignores in his failed historical misreading of such facts.
Rapaport disingenuously asks “Since when does the talent of an artist represent the politics of the country they are raised in?” Let’s retort with a more sincere question than his: What country still mired in leftoid idiocy doesn’t use their musicians, as well as their athletes, as political pawns? Let’s throw another one at him: What countries formerly sullied by the endemically backward policies of communism, Castroism, socialism, leftism, Leninism, Maoism, Marxism –or any other such sundry inhumane ideological non-sense– didn’t use their populations as mere political tools? On these matters, Rapaport also chooses to conveniently ignore the political tendencies of non-exiled Cuban artists, which in many cases is well known. If artists such as Silvio Rodríguez, Juan Formell, or Pablo Milanés –the responsible entity for the Castroid marginalization of his former pianist and arranger Emiliano Salvador– openly support a lethal dictator such as Castro, why should they be buttressed at the expense of the lives they ruin? As is, they benefit too much in spite of their political lunacy.
Rapaport, can you show the editorials you write when Castro behaves so humanely towards dissidents in his midst? Could you also post your editorials on how Castro supports the arts? You know, editorials about his enlightened policies of the past whereupon cymbals and trap drums were prohibited because they were American, or like when Tata Güines was banned for years in Cuba due to his pot smoking, or the countless musicians that we will never hear about because his majesty in Havana would deem them counter revolutionaries for whatever petty reason he could muster, or like when the Castro regime would erase tapes of artists such as Celia Cruz or…
Benjamin Responds to JAQO:
JAQO, I favor brief statements because the point of my message should be easy to understand. The rights afforded in the Declaration of Independence are unmistakable and leave little to interpret. If you feel that my interpretation of this very important document needs the sounds of a baby crying to negate my argument then I submit that you have little regard for those words.
By making a simple argument about Freedom in this country, and pointing to the obvious injustice that has happened with the exclusion of musicians of Cuban nationality, I wanted to comment not only on this specific injustice, but the continued abuses of power in our country.
"...What country still mired in leftoid idiocy doesn’t use their musicians, as well as their athletes, as political pawns?".
Are you saying we are better or worse? I see a country run by a President of dubious origins using the musicians of another country as pawns for the single purpose of appeasing Cuban exiles.
I prefer that no country use its own citizens, or those of other countries, as pawns in their inhumane game of politics. I can't control Castro, but I can perhaps effect a change in my country.
I am not Pro-Castro by any means, but I am a proponent of the Cuban people. I have seen their suffering and have heard their fears. They are afraid of Cuban exiles. They are afraid of being displaced by what they see as greed and vengeance. They fear being punished for living under Castro. And while racism is unfortunately alive and well in Cuba, the blacks fear they will be pushed further into poverty, lose their housing, education and medical access.
You asked me:
"Could you also post your editorials on how Castro supports the arts? You know, editorials about his enlightened policies of the past whereupon cymbals and trap drums were prohibited because they were American..."
I tried to remind all of us that we are a free people in a free country. We should be better than him. All you have done is point out the similarities of Castro's regime and our governments recent actions. Cuban cigar anyone? Oh right, those are prohibited here.
If I were to write an editorial about Casto and his regime it would be in line with what U.S. Representative Jeff Flake wrote in this article: http://www.cubacentral.com/article.asp?ID=49.
Oh, and I didn't forget the 1980 Boycott of the Olympics. I just didn't see it related to my argument. Surely you would mention it because it involved the Communist Soviet Union. Unfortunately, then U.S. President Carter decided to politicize the Olympics in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, not because they were a Communist state. And we never excluded them from the U.S., they took their turn at politicizing it. A mistake on both counts.
Back to my editorial, the Latin Grammys are a sham this year. LARAS, the producing organization of the Latin Grammy's has supported this embargo of Cuban artists (see: http://www.miami.com/mld/streetmiami/6641792.htm) and has the nerve to write the following on their website:
The GRAMMY® Foundation, a non-profit arm of the Recording Academy, has a challenging responsibility to bring national attention to important issues such as the value of music and arts education and preserving our rich cultural legacy for future generations. Through its nationwide efforts, the Foundation has made great inroads. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley said, "By helping students discover and appreciate music and the arts, organizations like the GRAMMY Foundation are opening up new opportunities in education for America's young people." But our work is far from over.
Sadly students this year will NOT get the opportunity see or hear from any Cuban nationals representing their nominated music. Instead, they will get a distorted and closed-minded view of "the value of music" held by the those who control the politics in Miami - a city that happens to consider itself the capital of Latin music, proving that our country's ideals in democracy and continual hope of cultural enlightenment stop at the doorstep of the Latin Grammys.
Shame on them and all those who have brought this about.
JAQO Responds to Rapaport:
Benjamin, brevity wasn’t an issue. Your factual misinterpretation of the legal rights you are afforded in this country, however, is clearly an issue, among others already clearly pointed out and more to follow herein.
The clause that talks about the “pursuit of happiness” merely provides a framework, along with “life” and “liberty,” whereupon the North American society ideally commits itself to develop with as much freedom as possible for its citizens to engage in such a pursuit in whichever ways they decide in accordance with the established laws of the land. That’s it. You don’t have the constitutional right to be happy, nor do you have the right to have such a state of mind guaranteed, facilitated –or even protected– by anything or anybody, let alone the North American government. Neither do you have the right for things to work according to your wishes. Hence my accurate representation of your misreading of such a clause as being clearly infantile and hyper-individualistic as the issues at hand involve the interpretation and application of two documents, i.e., the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence, which are not written as a personal letter to you, nor is their meaning as self-evident as you wish it to be.
You seem to think that your misreading of these documents is some sort of self-evident truth that is “unmistakable and leave little to interpret.” May I suggest you educate yourself and read “The Constitution: A Documentary and Narrative History” by Page Smith? If after reading that, which clearly you haven’t, you still feel confident in your facile views on the obviousness of what you think such documents entail, then you must have a novel legal theory that should be rewarded with a spot in the Supreme Court and all history of Constitutional debate must be flushed down a toilet. Said framework for the pursuit of happiness must respond to the push and pull of more than 300 million people. These matters are not just about you, the state of your personal happiness and your actual or imaginary needs. If you want to pursue happiness, the government simply says: go right ahead and good luck. In that regard, you have nothing to complain about, although you do have the right to do so in spite of the facts to the contrary.
You didn’t make “a simple argument about Freedom in this country.” You made a simplistic application of the legal and political founding documents of the U.S.A. according to your interests and pet peeves on these matters. As such, those “me” misinterpretations of our legal rights and privileges have been widely derided as such since even before their inception, a fact that should be clear if you remember your reading of “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine. Even at the infancy of the implementation of the ever-evolving political project we call the U.S.A., when Alexis de Tocqueville was roaming around the incipient nation, your type of misinterpretations were already dismissed both scholarly and popularly. You didn’t think you were the first to misread such documents with such an exclusive “me” perspective, didn’t you?
Once again, you err assuming that anything you have said is evident to anyone but yourself. Things are not obvious because you think or declare them so according to whatever is tinting your views. You need to back your statements with facts. The exclusion of Cuban musicians from the Latin Grammy, including an unknown number of active supporters of an undeniably inhumane regime among them, to a fancy musical commercial is not an obvious injustice of any kind.
First of all, Cuban nationals operate here with unimagined freedom for anyone that lives in Cuba, other than Castro himself and some of his minions. Allow me to quote one obvious factual example, Mr. Elio Villafranca. He’s here, invited by the North American government, and has enjoyed a Green Card for close to a decade now based on that invitation not his exit from Cuba. He’s isn’t alone in this country you hysterically describe as engaged in “continued abuses of power.” Villafranca can come and go with his Cuban passport between the U.S.A. and Cuba and is completely unhindered in his pursuit of happiness, unlike his previous chase of such an elusive goal in Cuba. Therefore, you do have Cuban nationals residing and legally working on the U.S.A., as well as countless other exiled musicians. There is no lack of Cubans and their music in this country.
Second, Cuban nationals have no rights whatsoever here other than the ones extended to them as a courtesy and a privilege as this country sees fit in its legal system. Nothing more can be expected from us or anyone else, hence their drama-queen-like screams for the imaginary violation of their inexistent rights in the U.S.A. –issued through laughably compromised media outlets in Cuba such as Granma– is just mere fodder for amusement and the means for artists allied with Castro to further such political idiocy as they enhance their status in the eyes of Castro and his apparatchik. As is, we are the most generous and open country in the world when it comes to immigration polices and the legal rights foreigners have in our midst, both legal and illegal. Don’t get me started on issues such as economic and food aid… but those have nothing to do with music, right?
After quoting me saying, “What country still mired in leftoid idiocy doesn’t use their musicians, as well as their athletes, as political pawns?" You respond stating: “Are you saying we are better or worse? I see a country run by a President of dubious origins using the musicians of another country as pawns for the single purpose of appeasing Cuban exiles.”
If you recall the context of that sentence, it had to do with your mistaken opinions uttered concerning the nature, character and scope of the participation of the U.S.A. in the 1936 Olympic games in Germany. Within that context, I alluded to the known fact that among those countries cursed with various forms of the cited deranged forms of population control masking as “governments of the proletariat,” all sorts of cultural, artistic and sport figures were blatantly used as political pawns with no option whatsoever. If you were a swimmer in East Germany, a painter in Russia, or a ballerina from China, all your life was controlled by the party and paraded as the government saw fit, within whatever ideological framework such ignoramuses concocted. The situation in Cuba was as bad as any other and has only recently been conveniently loosened a bit, although no one can say in good conscience that Cuban musicians are free in its truest political and social sense.
Are we better or worse than Cuba when it comes to the consequences of the political actions and opinions of its citizens, particularly musicians? We are infinitely better and that’s simply a fact that your misgivings about Bush can’t deny. See, other than your own uninformed prejudices, you have no evidence whatsoever that Bush is involved in “for the single purpose of appeasing Cuban exiles.” Such ideological myopia overlooks the following facts:
Bush, your President as a North American citizen, is enforcing existing laws. This event is held in Miami. The Cuban exile is much more impotent than commonly perceived. When it comes to Cuba and the U.S. relations, the political and economic issues are much more complex than commonly perceived.
Politicians are not missionaries. They have to struggle to obtain every vote possible and the most successful ones have to become masters of compromise, unlike Castro who is the thankfully aging example of the uncompromising ones. If it is politically convenient for Bush to use this opportunity to his advantage, who are you to expect him to do otherwise? Once again, this is mere naive babble as no such issues can be merely reduced to a fictitious simplistic understanding of much complex issues than mere pandering to a few Miamians. Nevertheless, just for the sake of following your argument, where and when has it ever been any different in history? Let’s not go too far, was it any different when Jimmy Carter was the first “enlightened” President to use food aid as a political tool? Was it any different when the same militarily inept President boycotted the 1980 Olympic games, seriously hindering every athlete pursuit of happiness in the process? It wasn’t better during Clinton the philanderer and derelict in duty administration… and I voted for him twice! You might have chosen not to see Carter’s idiocy as involved in your argument, yet it clearly does for obvious reasons already clearly pointed out that lie beyond the moronic political regime in Russia or even their invasion to Afghanistan. You, again, err in saying that “we never excluded them from the U.S.” Let me know and I will send you a list of the countless jazz, rock, and other artistic figures denied entry into the U.S. during that time, as well as proposed cultural exhibits and interchanges. In case you are wondering, I was indirectly involved in the last such massive national exhibit brought over from the then U.S.S.R. during the 80s.
A quick comment on your misrepresentation of the facts on the election of Bush: show evidence that Gore won in Florida. No one has been able to do so, but you might have the ticket to historical fame in that regard. Otherwise, you are merely spouting prejudicial angriness that has nothing to do with music or these matters, as his means of getting to the White House were never an issue. That’s a non-musical bag you brought in.
Why would anyone question, on the other hand, the right of members of the Miami community, of which you are not a part of, to object to the participation of musicians who support a dictator that has left such profound scars among them? Can you defend in good conscience Chucho or Formell when they sign a letter asking other musicians not to criticize Castro? What kind of crap is that?
The so-called political power of the Cuban exile is a myth and there are other players much more influential that are commonly overlooked. Don’t be so gullible when it comes to the press and public relations. For example, Puerto Ricans are much more interested and involved in keeping Cuba economically backward than the exiles would ever be. The reality behind the commonly perceived image of Cubans controlling D.C. is much darker and more complex than that.
You say: “I am not Pro-Castro by any means, but I am a proponent of the Cuban people. I have seen their suffering and have heard their fears. They are afraid of Cuban exiles. They are afraid of being displaced by what they see as greed and vengeance. They fear being punished for living under Castro. And while racism is unfortunately alive and well in Cuba, the blacks fear they will be pushed further into poverty, lose their housing, education and medical access.” This is a mere account of anecdotic tales not supported by any formal study done on Cuba’s population at large, hence its mere impressionistic nature. Come to Miami any time and I can muster, with ease, no less than 200 people in my living room, who have come here anywhere from a few days to several decades ago, that would contradict your views with concomitant phone calls to Cuba verifying and amplifying their claims with those of residents of the island. Until Castro allows enough freedom in Cuba to engage in serious scientific polls, all you and I can say about them over there is speculative. The same can’t be said about those residing over here. What I do know is that all economic indicators reveal that Castro is one of the most inept economic leaders in the history of this hemisphere as he squandered and stole much of the rubles given to him during his happy days in bed with Russia. If, however, your impressions were proven correct, Cuban nationals would still have one person to blame: Fidel and not an embargo that does have rightful punitive purposes. I know of not a single economic study, which have to be extremely conservative in nature since Castro doesn’t allow anyone access to any such information in Cuba, that doesn’t support the notion that Cubans could be living rather well, even under the current embargo if Castro would’ve been a more responsible economic administrator. All you got to do to show them wrong is prove that Castro was a wise and proper administrator of all the foreign economic aid he has received since 1959… Good luck, you’ll need it!
If you think that all I “have done is point out the similarities of Castro's regime and our governments recent actions,” then ideology has marred your understanding. The dissatisfaction of your so-called right to see Cuban musicians at the Latin Grammy does not deny your pursuit of happiness, it’s a mere inconvenience that you extrapolate as being an evidence of darker and larger forces at hand. Whether or not the facts support your opinions is another matter altogether. So far, other than opinions revealing a severe lack in nuance and proper contextualization, not much can be said for what you posted on your editorial.
N Responds to Benjamin Rapoport's editorial:
First, every country has the right to issue or deny visas. The United States government has the sovereign right to do so. Hopefully the denial takes place on the basis of universal guidelines and rules. It seems that in the case of the Cuban artists and the Grammys the decision to grant/deny US visas has been shaped by conservative "political correctness."
Second, there is no direct correlation between artistic accomplishment and political beliefs or stances. Although not many, even fascism could claim some accomplished poets (Ezra Pound). The same with music. Miami may have some wonderful musicians and singers and some may be Batistianos, and Cuba has outstanding musicians and singers and some may be communists.
If we addressed music and art merely on the basis of the politics of the musicians and artists, then we will have - regardless of place - a not so rich and varied culture.