According to US Census data, Miami is home to the largest Cuban community outside of the island nation; the New York metropolitan area is in second place, with a population of over 141,000 Cubans. So New York City’s embrace of Cuban culture is no surprise, but the city’s ability to put on the upcoming “¡Sí Cuba!” Festival is reasonably notable. Without the changes made to travel restrictions and people-to-people exchanges since the days of George W. Bush, this Festival would not have been likely to occur. Indeed, ¡Sí Cuba! will be the largest Cuban arts festival ever held in the United States.
The Festival will take place against a still troubled backdrop, but one that continues to show hints of change. The latest travel changes were announced by the Obama administration only a few weeks ago. And yesterday, two more Cuban dissidents were released from prison, lowering the total number of dissidents imprisoned since the notorious Black Spring crackdown of 2003 (when 75 were arrested and jailed) to seven. Although these two prisoners were cited widely to have been released “against their will,” requesting that all other prisoners be freed before them, the Cuban government is very clearly and deliberately following through on its agreement to release—one by one—each of these individuals.
Progress does not, however, appear to have been made on the case of Alan Gross, the US government contractor that Cuban prosecutors now plan to demand spend 20 years in prison. Speculation in the United States continues on this case as Gross has now spent over a year in prison: some opined that the US government should have sent the infamous Cuban Five back to the island in a rough “prisoner exchange” for Alan Gross. Others question the Obama administration’s relative silence on the issue, calling inaction a “Gross mistake” and Cuba’s treatment of Gross “A Blow to Obama’s Soft Cuba Policy.”
On the Cuban side, of course, the long-standing embargo and the imprisonment of their cinco héroes is enough to say that relations with the United States remain strained.
And yet the Festival will go on, and for the advocates of increased people-to-people contact, cultural exchange, and open travel: that is something.
The Festival will be a two-month marathon of art and culture from Cuba, beginning on March 31, 2011.