Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cuba: Jazz Without Freedom

Jazz is synonymous with freedom, but sometimes you find one without the other. As in Cuba. A recent posting of Cuban jazz travelogue on, fails to take that into account. Willard Manus’s “Jazz in Cuba” has some useful tips on clubs to frequent should you visit, but when he does touch on politics, he seems to have bought into Castro’s ever present propaganda. Discussing pianist Roberto Fonseca and alto Roberto Martinez he writes: “Both of these up-and-coming stars studied at the government-sponsored Fine Arts Institute and are proud children of the revolution.”

Of course, they don’t have any choice in how to feel about the revolution. Any critical sentiment can lead to Castro’s prisons, torture, or worse. Nat Hentoff visited Cuba with open eyes, and was disturbed by what he saw:

I was there a couple of years after the Revolution and was impressed by the universal health-care system—and not surprised by Castro's filling of his gulags, including some former supporters who had realized too late that freedom of expression can be a high crime in a dictatorship.

In his Jazz Times column Hentoff wrote of many Cubans who are suffering because they dared to stand up for the freedoms many of us take for granted:

Hector Palacios, an organizer and leader of the Varela Project, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison. A number of the prisoners of conscience suffer from illnesses that are not likely to be treated behind bars. Raúl Rivero, for example, among other ailments, is afflicted with phlebitis. Among the independent librarians put away during the crackdown is Julio Antonio Valdes Guevara, suffering from high blood pressure and renal insufficiency. Amnesty International reports that he "is not receiving any medication." Guevara is in for 20 years.

Hentoff is someone I don’t always agree with, but I respect his consistently principled positions. Both he and I would surely enjoy hearing Fonseca and Martinez play, but the realities of Cuban life would dampen the pleasure of the experience. When jazz and freedom both exist on Cuba, then that will be a tour worth taking.