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Is Cuba's art scene headed for a crackdown or a blossoming after Fidel Castro's death?

A portrait of Fidel Castro seen in a Havana shop in February 2015. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A portrait of Fidel Castro seen in a Havana shop in February 2015. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Ever since he was sidelined by illness from his role as Cuba’s leader in 2006, Fidel Castro loomed like a historical shadow.... But last week's death of El barbudo (the bearded one), as he was known, nonetheless marks a titanic turning point for Cubans. Among them: The country’s artists. For nearly six decades, culture has been tightly controlled by the government, both through patronage and censorship. And even though Castro’s death may not bring immediate liberties to artists in search of free expression, it does mark a tremendous psychological milestone....

“[Castro] was the most potent living symbol of the revolutionary period of the 20th century — and not just for Cubans,” says curator Dan Cameron. “For many Latin Americans, for people around the world, including people who were born many decades after the revolution happened, he is a really important symbol of defiance.” ...

There has been a resistance to change...But with [Castro's] death, it’s hard to imagine that things will stay the same.

Dan Cameron, curator

None of this means that freedom of expression is going to blossom in Cuba overnight.

In fact, on Saturday, Cuban dissident artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as El Sexto, was reportedly taken into custody by the authorities after celebrating Castro’s death on social media. Moreover, the authorities have banned live music and alcohol around the country during an official nine-day period of mourning (to the dismay of international tourists).

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