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Fabiola Santiago: Buddy-bear diplomacy falls short in Cuba
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO FSANTIAGO@MIAMIHERALD.COM
01/27/2015 7:53 PM 01/27/2015 8:58 PM

You could say that Lady Liberty — less statuesque, literally and
metaphorically — nevertheless has made an appearance in Havana.

Sort of…

Its re-interpreted image in the form of a cuddly, green chubby bear,
arms extended in solidarity with other bears, her torch not as high or
as grand as the original but oh-so-cute, is standing at St. Assisi
Square in Old Havana.

Painted cows in Miami Lakes, painted roosters in Little Havana — and now
an international “United Buddy Bears” in La Habana, dutifully making
their debut during the first round of historic U.S.-Cuba talks, and on
view through March.

Call it buddy-bear diplomacy —– the brain child of the Germans, who are
taking the traveling art exhibit of colorful bear sculptures around the
world where they’re needed to encourage tolerance, understanding, and peace.

The show arrived in Havana just in time.

“Los osos buddy, anunciadores de un tiempo mejor,” the official online
Habana Cultural magazine lavished praise on the installation. Buddy
bears herald better times.

A week later, unfortunately, it doesn’t much look that way. Not in a
week’s worth of agenda-setting discussions covered by the world’s media,
and certainly not in the realm of the arts.

“It is not art, but publicity,” New York-based Cuban art curator Elvis
Fuentes says of the government-sponsored bear show. “Look at Tania
Bruguera or any other case of political art. When an artist interferes
or uses the political sphere, they get jail time. When politicians
interfere and use the artistic sphere, nothing happens, they exploit it….”

Indeed.

While the bears were having their day to much pomp and circumstance from
the Cuban establishment, the high art of internationally acclaimed Cuban
artist Bruguera wasn’t allowed to be.

The mere idea of giving a minute — one minute! — at the microphone for
any Cuban who wanted to speak at the historic Revolution Square on the
eve of the talks was rejected. Even though the experimental
#YoTambienExijo (IAlsoDemand) performance couldn’t go on, the idea was
enough cause for Bruguera to be three times. Three times
released, the New York resident now faces charges and can’t leave the
country until a judge rules on her case. That won’t happen for at least
60 days, her family says she was told Tuesday.

And the worldly buddy bears — particularly Siboney, the cigar-smoking
Cuban bear named after one of the indigenous tribes — are going to make
everything okay?

Not in Cuba.

A wishful kumbaya moment in an otherwise dismal reality: After the
initial excitement over news that the U.S. president was extending an
olive branch to Cuba, the island’s government has made it clear that
there’s no intention to democratize, nor respect basic international
principles of and assembly.

Passing through Miami Saturday, the lead U.S. negotiator in the Cuba
talks, Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, warned against
raising expectations of change too high. The “true normalization of
relations and change,” she said, “will take a long time.”

Her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal, was more blunt. She point-blank
told the Associated Press: “Change in Cuba is not negotiable.”

Is Cuba back-pedaling on re-establishing relations?

By Monday, Cuba trotted out the allegedly moribund comandante himself,
not in person but by way of an also alleged rambling message to
students recalling his triumphant entrance into 1959 Havana,
and by the way opining on the renewal of Cuba-U.S. relations after five
decades.

Turns out that Castro says he doesn’t have any confidence in U.S.
policy, but is not against seeking “cooperation and friendship with all
the peoples of the world, among them our political adversaries.”

Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya.

Meanwhile Cubans, known to vote with their feet, have been arriving in
rickety rafts by sea and crossing the Mexican border in dramatic new
numbers since the December 17 announcement by President Obama that he
would seek to resume diplomatic relations with Cuba, and, as part of the
thaw, expand and trade with the island.

So much for Lady Liberty’s cuddly bear debut in Havana.

Source: Fabiola Santiago: Buddy-bear diplomacy falls short in Cuba | The
Miami Herald The Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/fabiola-santiago/article8422200.html

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