Culture: The spiritual fabric of Cuban society

Comments by Miguel Barnet, president of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists, on the eve of the organization’s 8th Congress

(Prensa Latina) – Culture is that which strengthens our spiritual fabric, enabling the country to have confidence in its foundations, said Cuban intellectual and ethnologist Miguel Barnet, making a guest appearance on the television program Dialogar-Dialogar.

In his comments, apropos the upcoming 8th Congress of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists, set to begin April 11, the current president recalled how, some 53 years ago, the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, developed the idea of uniting, in one organization, the heterogeneous mass of Cuban artists, at that time largely ignored.

On the basis of Fidel’s acclaimed Words to Intellectuals (June, 1961), the idea of creating UNEAC emerged, with National Poet Laureate Nicolás Guillén as its first president, one of the country’s most prestigious writers, celebrated nationally and internationally, Barnet recounted.

Barnet recalled that Fidel’s views about the role of culture in the development of spirituality have always been very clear, to the degree that, during the country’s most difficult times in the 1990’s when the economy hit bottom, he asserted emphatically, “Our culture is that which must be saved first.”

These words were chosen as the maxim guiding the Congress, which will be characterized by deep reflection and thinking, since the organization’s membership is serious and mature, Barnet said. He insisted that the discussions must reflect the maturity of Cuba’s artists and intellectuals, demonstrating their valor and integrity, in the search for the orientation needed to improve society, and become better human beings.

Summarizing the work done by UNEAC over the last five decades, he commented, “It has not been a rosy path, since material obstacles exist, but also misunderstandings, dogmatism – a word which fortunately now sounds old-fashioned – bureaucratism and prejudice, which are being overcome.”

During his conversation with host Amaury Pérez, a singer-songwriter and UNEAC member, Barnet, who is also the president of the Fernando Ortiz Foundation, clarified why he agreed to assume the organization’s presidency, despite his multiple responsibilities as a writer, researcher and ethnologist.

He said it was difficult to refuse the responsibility which implies a great commitment, since he agrees very much with Cuba’s national hero José Martí, and believes in the utility of virtue.

“I have always had a social avocation, which I learned from great men like anthropologist Fernando Ortiz and musicologist Argeliers León, who represent a tradition of which I am proud. The work is a pleasure since I can project to the world a participative culture, a cultural policy in which I believe, because it promotes the spirituality of human beings”, Barnet said.

The Union of Cuban Writers and Artists was founded August 22, 1961, with the objective of contributing to the country’s struggle for social justice and national independence. Among the great figures who have served as leaders of the organization are renowned writers Alejo Carpentier and José Lezama Lima, as well as the painter René Portocarrero.