The 40th edition of Havana's International Festival of New Latin American Cinema –from December 6 to 16- is a reminder of the great potential for the cultural exchange between Puerto Rico and Cuba.
This Festival that opened with a program of 373 films from 40 countries is not really well-known among Puerto Ricans.
Before the relations between Cuba and the USA deteriorated, the smallest and the largest of the Antilles shared contacts and centuries-old connections in transportation, trade, culture and migration. Our close bonds confirmed what the Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodríguez de Tió wrote ““Cuba and Puerto Rico are two wings of the same bird.”
In the XIX century, Puerto Rican and Cuban politicians, businessmen and intellectuals had common agendas. Just as an example, Juan Rius Rivera, from Mayagüez, became a general of the Cuban Liberation Army and reached the vice presidency of the Cuban constituent assembly.
The confusion between one island and another reached the tobacco crops. Puerto Rico produced very high quality tobacco that was bought and mixed in Cuba and then sold to international markets as Cuban tobacco.
In the XX century, Puerto Rican artists who wanted to succeed in Latin America knew that had to go to Havana to perform in clubs, work in orchestras there, be heard on local radio stations and record in Cuban record companies. Daniel Santos, Myrta Silva, Rafael Hernández and others lived, composed or recorded part of their greatest hits in Havana. They reached Latin American markets from the Cuban capital.
In the sixties, the embargo made it difficult to reach Havana, forcing music and musicians to meet, compose, play, listen and dance in New York, consolidating the Puerto Rican salsa. Today, thanks to culture, bonds are closer than they were in previous decades. Contacts and collaboration between Puerto Ricans and Cubans persist.
The documentary “Nuyorican Básquet” by Julio César Torres and Ricardo Olivero found its way during the Havana Film Festival on December 7 and so did documentalist Karen Rossi with “Ser Grande”. Benicio del Toro brought his most recent work to the Festival and Gilberto Santa Rosa produced there a video with young Singer Leoni Torres.
Donald Trump has stepped back from Obama´s diplomatic and commercial opening to Cuba. We trust that dialogue and exchanges will continue. The goal should be to open the economic chains that –on the USA side- hamper the economic opportunities of both countries. Similarly, the need for Cuban institutions to open up to democracy is undeniable.
Americans distance from Cuba is the same as Puerto Ricans. In receiving the honor award to the Sundance Institute during the Havana Film Festival, its founder Robert Redford sent a message expressing his gratitude to Cuba and its artists and recalled the collaboration between the two institutes over thirty years. He said that the USA and Cuba have lived, often, separated and stressed the importance of the dialogue through cinena and culture.
It is as important for the United States as it is for Puerto Rico to restore relations with Cuba. This way, both islands will meet again and resume that long conversation with the other wing of that curious bird that only lives in each Puerto Rican and each Cuban.