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Have the 10 Amendments Inspired Freedom? Six Foreign Prespectives : CUBA : U.S. Popular Art Delivered the Word

December 15, 1991|Oscar Alvarez | Oscar Alvarez, who left Cuba in 1989, is deputy director of the coordinated group of human-rights organizations of Cuba

MIAMI, FLA. — The American Bill of Rights has not exactly inspired recent Cuban political thought. After 32 years of unrelenting hostility between the United States and Cuba, with contacts at a bare minimum, this should not be surprising. Yet, the famous 10 amendments have had an indirect--and unintended--influence on Cuban political thinking. The vehicle: American popular art.

Why has the Cuban government permitted the dissemination of film, literature, music and theater produced in the "enemy" nation? I believe there are two fundamental reasons. First, a large share of American literature and theater is profoundly critical of the evils of American society. To the extent that American entertainment also reflects the "evil empire" 90 miles away, it is convenient propaganda for a regime in need of a bad guy.

Second, Cubans, in their sense of humor, of drama, of rhythm, perceive the world much as Americans do. As a result, the entertainment arriving from the old communist world to replace traditional American fare was rejected by the public. In the end, popular demand prevailed--and thus the door was thrown open to let in freedom's air.

"The Big Knife" showed us the decadence of Hollywood. "The Crucible" demonstrated that horrendous political persecutions had been carried out during the heyday of the the House Committee on Un-American Activities. A novel, such as "The Naked and the Dead," might expose the class-consciousness and insensitivity of U.S. Army officers.

But these works also revealed to Cubans that Americans could speak freely of these issues, and organize to fight against what they perceived as wrong, without suffering persecution from an all-powerful state. The same was true of the battles for civil rights during the '60s. Even as we watched on television the shocking injustice of racial discrimination, we were able to see the possibilities, despite undeniable dangers, of asserting those rights.

Through such experiences of American popular entertainment, Cubans came to appreciate the importance of having a body of laws that protects individuals from government encroachment. American art showed us not just the negative side of American society, but also why, for more than 200 years, the United States has not had to endure a single dictator.

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