[Although this article was published in the original Spanish
version last March, now that Julian Assange is in prison the analysis
in this piece on “freedom of expression” is even more valid.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 POLITICS OF CULTURE IN US: 'THE INVISIBLE HAND OF THE MARKET'?  
[https://portside.org/2019-04-15/politics-culture-us-invisible-hand-market]


 

 Arnold August 
 April 15, 2019
teleSUR
[https://www.telesurenglish.net/opinion/Politics-of-Culture-in-US-The-Invisible-Hand-of-the-Market-20190415-0012.html?utm_source=planisys&utm_medium=NewsletterIngles&utm_campaign=NewsletterIngles&utm_content=31]


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 _ Although this article was published in the original Spanish version
last March, now that Julian Assange is in prison the analysis in this
piece on “freedom of expression” is even more valid. _ 

 Poster showing late Cuban President with his brother Raul hangs
inside a subsidized state store in Havana., REUTERS 

 

There is a wide-open debate/polemic in Cuba regarding Decree 349 on
culture and the drafting of the rules for its future application. The
controversy is also stirring on the international scene, especially in
North America, Europe and Latin America.

There are those who are in favor of the new code. Others are critical,
and indeed some of these are very critical, but they are participating
in the Ministry of Culture-led consultation to draft the enabling
regulations. There are others who are completely against the new
legislation and its regulations, even while the consultations with
people in the cultural field are still under way. 

However, they are trying to influence the situation in Cuba and, as
discussed below, this orientation is widely inspired by the U.S. The
method employed is the usual disinformation campaign. It hopes to
capitalize on preconceived notions such as the catch-all American
“freedom of expression” mantra as applied to political systems in
countries other than the U.S. This is nothing new, but there is a
novel twist.

It is now applied to artistic endeavours. The campaign targets the
sector of the Cuban society dedicated to culture, hoping to win over
who those who critically support the new statute in order to create
division among individuals involved in culture. Be that as it may,
this article deals only with the extremist opponents to the
legislation and regulations, both in Cuba and internationally,
especially in the United States. 

Careful reading of a wide, representative spectrum of opposition
articles, social media posts and comments reveals a common point of
reference. The U.S. Embassy in Havana tweeted in favour of “artistic
freedom” with a very undiplomatic slogan: “No to Decree 349.”
The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
recently stated that the “Gov[ernmen]t of Cuba should celebrate, not
restrain, the artistic expression of Cuban people.” Among the shades
of “left,” “centrist” and openly right-wing hard-core
opposition, including some academics, a common thread stands out. 

The U.S. Takes the Moral High Road of Freedom of Artistic Expression
– for Cuba
Whether in Cuba or the U.S., the fundamentalist opposition takes the
moral high road of “freedom of artistic expression” for Cuba.
However, they are viewing Cuba with U.S. blinders. They take it as a
given that in the U.S., there is freedom of artistic expression (along
with other types of expression) in the cultural realm. The logic goes
that there are no cultural restrictions in the U.S. like the ones
being brought in in Cuba. 

Furthermore, according to these talking points, there is no Ministry
of Culture in the U.S. that would control and guide cultural
expressions in that country. The U.S.-centric outlook insinuates,
either openly or covertly, that everyone in the U.S. is free to
express their artistic talents. The United States is presented as the
cultural model for the world, in the same way that it boasts about
other features of its society, such as its economy and political
process. Many people around the world, and in the U.S. itself, are all
too familiar with the U.S. superiority complex. This built-in psyche
finds its origins in the “chosen people” notion emerging from the
very birth of the U.S. at the time of the Thirteen Colonies in the
seventeenth century.

For someone who comes from the Global North and has direct experience
of American mainstream artistic expression, such as music, it is
obvious that what sells is what is promoted. If the elites can
successfully market banality, sex, and violence, then so be it. Profit
is the only criterion. Those very few artists who are willing and able
(because of their physical appearance above all) to compete in this
market are highly rewarded. They then pay back their sponsors by
standing out explicitly or implicitly as the expressions of the
American Dream come true. Furthermore, U.S.-style extreme
individualism is paraded as a value to be worshipped, to which social
and international concerns must be completely sacrificed. In sum, the
fairy tale narrative pretends that anyone from the slums of America
can make it.

However, this process is presented as being spontaneous, without the
state’s involvement. It is supposedly the law of supply and demand
as applied to the arts. The rationale of the “invisible hand” of
capitalism determines what is appropriate in the artistic realm. 
Can culture be considered just another commodity?

In the course of social media interaction during the December 8, 2018
Cuban TV Mesa Redonda program, Fernando Rojas, one of Cuba’s
vice-ministers of culture, retweeted and commented on one of my
tweets. He mentioned UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection and
Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and the U.S.
position counterposing this agreement to the free market.

An investigation ensued, as I was not sufficiently familiar with this
controversy. In 2000 in Paris, UNESCO adopted the Convention on the
Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. It
stipulates that culture is not just another a commodity and recognizes
the sovereign right of states to promote and protect their tangible
and intangible cultural production, using the measures they deem
appropriate. The convention allows states to protect their cultural
creation. The U.S. opposed it, claiming to promote true cultural
diversity by working for individual liberties, so that everyone has
“cultural freedom” and can enjoy his own cultural expressions, not
those imposed by governments. But the convention was adopted by a vote
of 148 to 2. Guess which countries opposed it? The U.S. and Israel.

SHOULD EACH COUNTRY HAVE THE RIGHT TO DEFEND ITS OWN CULTURE?     
                                             
                                

Looking at this superficially, it may seem that that the U.S.
government does not impose any norms on culture. Indeed, as “freedom
of artistic expression” is assured only in the U.S. (and in Israel),
according to this tale, once again the U.S. has the “burden” of
exercising its role as the chosen people responsible for teaching
everyone on the planet about culture, as it does for democracy and
human rights. In fact, taking a page out of that literary classic the
Bible (let’s give credit where credit is due), the U.S. has evolved
as a “city set upon the hill” to which everyone in the world must
look for guidance. Thus, goes the logic, it is all the other countries
of the world, except for the U.S. and Israel, who are the violators of
artistic freedom. 

However, in opposing the Convention’s attempt to save artists’
creative activity from market values by emphasizing the government’s
role as a protector of culture, the question arises as to the role
played by the U.S. government in this sphere. By default, and by its
own admission (as indicated above), in pleading for the supremacy of
the market under the guise of “individual freedom” in Paris, one
can conclude that the U.S. model imposes the capitalist market as the
overriding norm for artists. 

Thus, the U.S. government not only protects the market economy within
its own country, but by opposing the sovereign right of other
countries to form shields to defend a traditional, healthy culture,
Washington’s position also constitutes a road map for the U.S. to
extend its cultural tentacles into other countries. This is something
that we in Canada are very aware of. UNESCO’s defense of sovereign
the right to protect and promote cultural production was probably
something that irked Washington in Paris in 2005. 

SOME HISTORY 

To better grasp the issue, a look at the underlying historical context
is warranted. Culture, on a par with economic expansion and military
and ideological warfare, is part of the U.S. imperialist goal of world
domination, irrespective of who occupies the White House. Let us
recall Frances Stoner Saunders’s groundbreaking book Who Paid the
Piper: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, first published in English
in 1999, then in Spanish in 2001 under the title La CIA y la Guerra
Fría Cultural. The book presents a detailed report on the methods
whereby the CIA influenced a wide range of intellectuals and cultural
organizations during the Cold War. 

Since then, and in the wake of similar revelations occurring both
before and after Saunders’s book, the U.S. has had to adopt a more
subtle way to influence events. It has since funnelled support through
front groups not openly tied to the CIA. For example, American
journalist and U.S. democracy promotion expert Tracey Eaton, in his
December 2018 report, wrote that “over the past three decades, the
U.S. government has spent more than $1 billion for broadcasting to
Cuba and for democracy programs on the island.”

Democracy promotion, free expression and individual rights are so
all-inclusive that that they encompass the cultural issue, which is
even listed as one of the goals of this funding. Furthermore, if one
clicks on the links to the activities of the front groups, such as the
one with the innocent-sounding title “Observa Cuba,” one finds
this: “Artists stage four-day sit-down at Culture against 349.”

Now, this is not to say that all or most of the hard-line opponents to
349 are financially linked to the United States. That would be an
unfair assertion. However, living just about in the belly of the
beast, we know that one cannot have illusions about U.S. foreign
policy. The situation is admittedly very complex. For example, one of
the most prominent critics of 349, Silvio Rodríguez, drew a clean
line of demarcation between critics such as himself, who are
participating in drafting the regulations to the law, and the position
of the U.S. Embassy and its acolytes. 

This situation calls for serious reflection and research before
writing, while at the same time seeing the urgency and duty to deal
with the disinformation campaign led by the West.

Thus, it was of great help to get the December 16, 2018 “Postcard
from Cuba,” circulated by American journalist Karen Wald, who has
five decades of experience with Cuba. She writes from Havana with
regard to her initial investigation on the controversy over 349: “My
guess is that some of what’s behind this [opposition to 349] may be
the fact that lots of pseudo ‘artists’ of all kinds make up a
strong component of what the U.S. extols as ‘dissidence’ here…
Most of those ‘dissident artists’ reported in U.S. press aren’t
even known here…”

It seems to me that Cuba not only has every right to defend its
culture and the process that is involved in working out its policy,
but also that if it does not, it will sink. According to Fidel Castro,
culture is the nation’s shield, and is therefore the first thing
that must be saved in order to guarantee the progress of the
revolutionary process.

The manner in which the U.S. and the hard-line opponents in Cuba, the
United States, Europe, and Latin America are zeroing in on 349 and the
government officials involved is an indication that culture is indeed
a shield to defend the Cuban Revolution. It is a sine qua non if the
Revolution is to continue along the path it has followed for
60 years. The U.S. and its allies know full well that the preferred
weapon for subverting the Revolution is the cultural war in the wide
sense of the term, including ideological, political, and artistic
aspects.

Thus, we can see the hollowness of the “invisible hand of the
market.” Let us give the last word to Samir Amin, the outstanding
Egyptian-French scholar, who recently passed away. He produced a
long-standing analysis of how the state in capitalist countries, such
as the U.S. far from letting the free market take its course, has a
direct hand in its operation. We saw this with the U.S. position on
the Convention on Cultural Diversity and we are seeing it again as the
empire strives to punch holes in Cuba’s cultural shield. Amin wrote
that, when necessary, the “visible fist” helps the “invisible
hand” of the free market.

_Arnold August is a Canadian journalist and lecturer, the author
of Democracy in Cuba and the 1997–98 Elections, Cuba and Its
Neighbours: Democracy in Motion and Cuba–U.S. Relations: Obama and
Beyond. As a journalist, he collaborates with many websites in Latin
America, Europe, North America and the Middle East,
including teleSur.  Twitter and Facebook. His website
is www.arnoldaugust.com [http://www.arnoldaugust.com]._

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