Acton Institute Powerblog

Cuba and The Buena Vista Social Club

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The eyes of many in the world have turned to Cuba over the last day or so. A great deal has been made of the historic changes in the relationship between the US and Cuba and whether such changes fundamentally alter the situation of the political leaders and the elites in the island nation.

More interesting to me, however, are the personal stories of suffering and loss during the years of the Castro regime and the hope that dawns,  however slight it may be, with the normalization of relations. Perhaps the changes will simply serve to prop up a tyrannical regime, but there is real possibility that the day-to-day existence for millions of people will improve with greater travel, access to markets, and communication.

One of the great tragedies of the Castro regime was its suppression of non-approved cultural artifacts and forms, including traditional Cuban music. The Buena Vista Social Club’s closure was representative of a larger tradition of cultural pluralism and civil society in Cuba that had no place in the communist regime.

The guitarist Ry Cooder visited Cuba in the 1990s, and was able to reunite many of the original members of the club. Cooder put together an international tour for these wonderful musicians, including a trip to Carnegie Hall in New York City. That created an album and later a documentary. Here’s a scene from the documentary where a couple of Cuban musicians are visiting New York City for the first time:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgbTCaXrhc0

The audio cuts out a couple minutes in, but you can see the wonder and appreciation that is apparent in their reactions. They see immediately and instinctively that the vitality and vigor of the city, with its commerce, exchange, culture, and liberty, are a marked contrast to their experiences in Cuba. “Activity! Activity! Activity!” one of them celebrates.

“This is the life!” concludes the other. Let’s hope that increased liberalization of engagement between the US and Cuba can help unleash more of this kind of vibrant dynamism among a people that stand in so desperate need of it.

Do yourself a favor and check out The Buena Vista Social Club.

El Alma de la Libertad

El Alma de la Libertad

An interview regarding the synthesis between religion and liberty. Questions and issues addressed include: What is the origin of the idea that the State has no claim on the soul? What do you say to those who embrace the message of liberty but are fearful of the religious and moral agenda you are describing here? Are these phenomena intrinsic to capitalism? What particular dangers, if any, are associated with new technologies?

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

Comments

  • BD

    I did a lot of work on the Cuba file when I worked on human rights a few years ago. The Castros imprisoned a number of trade unionists for daring to start an independent union, and my job was to advocate (bug the gov’t) for their release. We eventually did get a few of them released, including one who later immigrated to the US.

    I took him out for a meal and the first thing he did at the restaurant — a blues bar with live music — was head to the stage, pick up a guitar, and ask me to take a picture. I asked him why and he said “the regime censored the Beatles; for me it’s an act of justice to pick up a guitar and play rock-and-roll.” Great post, and Viva Cuba Libre!