Art is good at pointing out simple truths that otherwise get forgotten, or conveniently ignored. Cuban artist Tania Bruguera has just announced that she is running for president of Cuba when Raul Castro steps down – as he has said he will – in 2018.
There’s just one snag. You can’t run for president of Cuba. The socialist island is not a democracy but a one-party state. Bruguera’s “artivism”, as she calls it, is a satirical performance that draws attention to the embarrassing reality that Cuba’s rulers are not freely elected by the people. “Let’s use the 2018 elections to build a different Cuba,” she says, “to build a Cuba where we are all in charge and not just the few.” She says she hopes “to change the culture of fear” with her utopian bid for the presidency.
Wait a minute. Fear? The rule of the few? What can she be talking about? This does not sound like the Cuba some people so love to sentimentalise – the socialist paradise in the sun where rum is bountiful and the only cloud on the horizon is evil Uncle Sam. Acknowledging that the US is roundly criticised by the UN for its trade embargo, Cuba’s undemocratic way of running things gets a very soft ride in certain quarters. In July the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, went to an event staged by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, which defends “the Cuban people’s right to be free from foreign intervention” – meaning the spectre, no longer very likely, of a US invasion. The Cuba Solidarity Campaign also says on its website that it opposes the US economic blockade, but when it comes to Cuba’s own democratic deficit, it has nothing to say. Instead it supports the one-party state that Bruguera accuses of instilling fear and the rule of the few.
She may be Cuban, but does she really know anything at all about Cuba? Doesn’t she know its people are happy, and that the only thing threatening their freedom is the US? Really, she needs to go to a Labour party conference fringe meeting to be re-educated by the Cuban ambassador.
And by the way, isn’t it a funny coincidence that Raul Castro has the same surname as Fidel Castro, the revolutionary leader who shaped modern Cuba ? Oh wait… Raul is Fidel’s brother. Well, surely it’s good to keep things in the family. Wise, as well, that in addition to being president of the council of state and president of the council of ministers he is also commander in chief of the armed forces. I mean, why bother separating those powers? Oh, and Raul Castro is also first secretary of the central committee of the Communist party of Cuba. In the eyes of Bruguera, this somehow smacks of an undemocratic, and even frightening, one-party state. No wonder the secret police have had to deal with her in the past.
Perhaps she is a CIA operative. Or perhaps she is a courageous dissident using the freedom of art to tell some very basic truths about her people’s desire for democracy. Just for the record, Amnesty International shares her scepticism about Castro’s glorious utopia. It reports that in Cuba in 2015/16, “severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and movement continued. Thousands of cases of harassment of government critics and arbitrary arrests and detentions were reported.” Vote Bruguera for a free Cuba.