For Cuba, Eased U.S. Travel Ban Could Open the Door to Cultural Exchanges

A senior Cuban official endorses a move to increase contacts.

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Cuba welcomes American culture and believes that cultural exchanges between citizens of the two countries would be helpful, according to a senior Cuban official. "For both our peoples, it's helpful to have an intense cultural exchange," said Fernando Rojas Gutiérrez, a vice minister in the Cuban Ministry of Culture. "There is a willingness from the Cuban side to appreciate American culture."

Rojas noted that American television shows and films are widely seen in Cuba, despite the decades of hostile political relations. His comments in an interview strongly suggest that Cuba would welcome a cultural outreach initiative by the Obama administration if that is part of its forthcoming changes in policy toward Cuba.

If fulfilled, the upshot of more cultural exchange could include—depending on the lifting of U.S. legal restrictions—more travel to Cuba and even the partial opening of a modest market for American cultural products.

As for cultural exchanges with the United States in general, Rojas said, "We wish to advance in this direction. The main step has to come from the American side, as with other things."

He noted that Cuba, unlike other socialist countries in the past, "never banned" American cultural products. Rojas said that Cuban culture itself is strengthened by interaction with American art and cultural products. "A good deal of this updating [of Cuban culture] is due to contact with American culture," he said.

Rojas also criticized the Bush administration's "total elimination" of such cultural exchanges. He predicted that any improvement under President Obama "will require recovery time."

Obama has already eased Bush-era restrictions on private remittances by Cuban Americans to relatives on the island, and the administration is moving to relax some travel restrictions. As early as this week, a group of key senators is expected to call for dropping the travel ban that has been a centerpiece of the U.S. economic embargo.