The Cuban government, which regularly arrests artists and journalists, also expected to welcome a record-breaking 5.1 million tourists this year. Cuba’s leaders are well aware that cultural capital is one of their nation’s major assets. Rage, pain, and dissent were not only openly on view in this year’s Bienal de la Habana in Cuba, but were featured and promoted with hashtags like #CubaEsCultura. In her powerful statement, Cuban artist Tania Bruguera expressed her admiration for the Bienal’s curators but explained that she was not attending because the Ministry of Culture was diverting resources to the Bienal in order to “whitewash its international image.” Her argument—that people shouldn’t travel to Cuba for the Bienal because to do so justifies the Cuban government’s human rights abuses—is one the US government has been making, in more general terms, for nearly six decades. Less than a month after the Bienal ended, the US delivered a gut punch to Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurial class, banning cruise ships and other vessels from docking in Cuban ports, and prohibiting group travel to Cuba for cultural and educational purposes.
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