This week’s biggest news story (apart from Above the Law’s Awesome Law Blogs of 2014) is the historic reopening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba after more than fifty years. Like a coda to the end of the Cold War, we all found ourselves watching the President of the United States describing how there will once again be a U.S. embassy in Cuba. For those of us who have not been alive as long as diplomatic ties have been severed and the Castro regime has been in place, it was a remarkable sight indeed.
Some commenters have started to pose the corollary question how this will impact the arts. The Wall Street Journal considers the topic here. ArtNet has a good review of the existing arts scene in Cuba, and argues that Cuban artists are already traveling abroad more frequently that they used to, and apart from U.S. citizens, art patrons are free to and frequently do travel to Cuba as tourists. According to Gabriela Rangel, visual arts director of the Americas Society, “The Havana Biennial today is as well attended as [Art] Basel Miami Beach.” Perhaps, and though since the second Bush administration there has been an easing of restrictions for educational and charitable trips to Cuba that has allowed more Americans to set foot in Cuba than was legal a generation ago, we are a long ways right now from unfettered arts tourism.
So what will change going forward? First and foremost, the economic embargo of Cuba has not ended—only Congress can do that. U.S. citizens are not free to travel to Cuba without qualification. In broad strokes, the U.S. has committed to: reestablishing diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961; to open an embassy; to collaborate on counter-narcotics and human trafficking prevention; and to facilitate and permit greater financial remittances (the countries’ financial systems are not linked in the ways that U.S. banks are to other foreign nations). The State Department will also review Cuba’s presence on the State Sponsor of Terrorism List, a dubious distinction it currently shares only with Iran, Syria, and Sudan (and perhaps North Korea, after this week).
Commercially, the changes are unquestionably significant but equally clearly intended to be gradual. From the White House fact sheet:
General licenses will be made available for all authorized travelers in the following existing categories: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.
Travelers in the 12 categories of travel to Cuba authorized by law will be able to make arrangements through any service provider that complies with the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations governing travel services to Cuba, and general licenses will authorize provision of such services.
I expect the upshot of this to be a wave of interest in visiting the arts in Cuba, and coupled with increased economic freedom (for Americans, who are prohibited currently from spending U.S. dollars in Cuba, but who face challenges exchanging U.S. dollars for Cuban pesos even when there legally), of investment in the arts. Plenty of Americans travel to Cuba through third countries unconcerned about the risk that their visit will be detected upon their return to the U.S., but most people are not going to put themselves in that kind of jeopardy. And educational visits have flourished in the last decade, but are still cumbersome compared to other travel and usually have few slots relative to participants’ interest.
This will likely now change, even compared to the recent levels of exchange described by Rangel, above. Contemporary art in particular is nothing if not focused on the new, and I’m sure that the mere fact of previous unavailability will spike the cache of Cuban art if more people are able to go see and/or buy it.
Here’s to hoping for a rising trend of economic and cultural exchange for the future.