BY KARI SACHS
HOUSTON - "We have much love for the people of Cuba," said Francisco Gomez when he welcomed Norberto Codina Boeras to a city-wide forum at Rice University in Houston. Gomez is a leader of the Gulfton Area Neighborhood Organization, in Houston's large Salvadoran community.
Codina, a Cuban poet and editor of La Gaceta de Cuba, is touring the United States to speak on art and culture in Cuba. At a series of receptions, public talks, and other organized events, Codina was able to meet with professors, writers, activists, and young people who want to further cultural and political exchange between Cuba and the United States.
The tour began with a trip to San Antonio, organized by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Codina attended an UNAM reception at the San Antonio InterAmerican Book Fair and Literary Festival, featuring the prominent Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska.
That evening Carmen Rumbaut, organizer of Cultural Interchange Cuba-USA in San Antonio, hosted a reception for Codina attended by 30 people, including a dozen youth.
In Houston Codina spoke to more than 200 participants in three campus meetings. The Cuba Friendship Committee, the Hispanic Student Association, the department of Modern and Classical Languages, and others at the University of Houston sponsored a day and an evening meeting. A number of Cuban-Americans attended one of the meetings, some of whom participated in the discussion. Among them were a few supporters of Cambio Cubano, a group led by Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo that is against the revolution but opposes the embargo.
Codina was asked about Soviet influence on Cuban culture. He explained that Cuba was never a "Xerox copy of Eastern European socialism. Even though socialist realism was the official policy during the 1970s - which is referred to as the gray five-year period or the black decade - it failed." La Gaceta and other publications in Cuba give space to many different views and concepts, reflecting a different policy from that followed in countries where Stalinist forces ruled.
Codina was asked about the current economic crisis in Cuba and whether the cultural gains in Cuba would survive given Cuba's increasing contact with the capitalist world.
"The great expectations that the Cuban revolution created in culture is perhaps the greatest challenge that faces us," he said.
It is "the material element of culture" which has limited the production and availability of art and literature because of lack of resources and hard currency. Scarcity of books "which might be acceptable in other countries is not acceptable in Cuba because of our high literacy rates and our reading habits," he said.
The tour concluded at Rice University at a meeting co- chaired by Lane Kauffman, a professor of Hispanic and Classical Studies at the school; and Tom Kleven, a professor at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University.
Kleven presented Codina with a certificate from Mayor Bob Lanier and the Houston City Council proclaiming him an honorary citizen of Houston. Codina also received letters of welcome from Houston Peace News and the Presbytery of New Covenant.
During Codina's tour participants purchased fourteen copies and three subscriptions to La Gaceta. At one meeting a Cuban-American asked Codina if "the act of selling the magazine and carrying ads was capitalist?" Codina replied, "I don't think my coming here is a capitalist act." He explained that the self-financing of the magazine through donations, sales, and ads provides the means to make it available to the Cuban people. Codina hoped that La Gaceta would broaden its readership in the United States to better inform U.S. readers about Cuban culture.
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