The Heritage of Cubans: Interview with Gladys Collazo

BY/Por Amano PHOTOS / Fotos Julio Larramendi

Havana-born Gladys Collazo holds a degree in Library and Information Science, and Master’s Degrees in Museology from the University of Valladolid, and in Library and Information Science from the University of Havana. She is President of the National Council of Cultural Heritage of Cuba, of the National Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and of the National Monuments Committee.

Gladys, whose countenance and voice project safety, intensity and passion, agreed to answer some questions for Amano:

What is meant by cultural heritage? How has it been manifested in Cuba?

Cultural heritage encompasses all tangible objects and intangible attributes, which given their significance and transcendence are part of a nation’s cultural treasure, for example, the arts, science, sports, nature, archeology, agriculture, industry, etc. from any field, traditions and spiritual life.

Cuba has more than 300 years of rich architecture, remarkable collections of historical and artistic archives, numerous sites of historical and cultural significance, valuable objects, original documents, archaeological pieces, dances and popular traditions—an enormous wealth to be preserved and brought to light. Although the National Heritage Department already existed, it was actually the creation of the National Council of Cultural Heritage in 1991, led by Marta Arjona, that built the bases of our current endeavor. It was she who established the rules, the policies and, above all, the spirit of what we are doing today throughout Cuba for recovering and preserving our nation’s heritage.

The work carried out by Eusebio Leal and the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana has been paradigmatic. He has transmitted the spirit towards designing a functional structure, especially in the provinces that have Historical Centers declared National Monuments or World Heritage. The Network of Offices of Historians and Curators of Heritage Cities in Cuba, which Leal chairs, is a powerful tool for our work.

There were only eight museums on the Island in 1959—today there are 336, a clear indication of the interest in preserving its wealth. There is political will in the Cuban State, and we have the appropriate legal framework. In 1977, the National Assembly of People’s Power passed Act No. 1 on the Protection of Cultural Heritage and Act No. 2 on Monuments and Historic Sites.

Preserving the condition of World Heritage implies challenges…

The challenges are multiple and of a diverse nature, ranging from the climatic conditions and the hurricanes that affect us, the realities of an economy in need of sustainable growth, to the lack of care and attention in some cases. This is reflected, for example, in the documentary heritage, in need of dehumidifiers and air conditioning and conservation systems; in buildings, permanently affected by humidity and, in extreme cases, by hurricanes and tornadoes; in national parks and biodiversity, affected by climate change and, in some cases, by shortcomings in the essential harmony between the presence of man and the sustainable and adequate management of natural resources. Likewise, new buildings in cities and heritage sites need to preserve the style and spirit of the values for which they deserved such distinction. Being included in the World Heritage List is not a lifelong condition. It is monitored and periodically reviewed by UNESCO. It would be painful if one of our treasures were to lose its heritage category.

Could you mention some recent results from actions taken by the National Council of Cultural Heritage?

After 17 years of work and overcoming numerous difficulties, the Restoration Center for preserving Ernest Hemingway’s papers at Finca Vigía was inaugurated. This cooperation effort with the Finca Vigía Foundation will allow the conservation, restoration and digitalization of all the documentary work of the great American writer in Cuba. The Romantic Museum in Trinidad also opened its doors after major refurbishment to show visitors its beautiful rooms and rich collections. The work carried out by the Historical Memory Commission, headed by the Cuban President and which the Central State agencies and ministries are part of, is clear proof of the policy for safeguarding the documentary, film and sound heritage of the nation in a centralized and organized manner.

Viñales Valley, Cultural Landscape (23rd session of the World Heritage Committee, Marrakesh, 1999)

I have mentioned only a few examples, and we still have to decide on the fate of 38 municipal museums that are now closed and lacking the resources for their reopening. There is much to be done, to recover, to conserve. This requires the commitment of experts and awareness of the importance of the work they perform, but, above all, the active and resolute participation of the population.

Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Cuba

Tangible Cultural and Natural Heritage 

  • Old Havana and its Fortification System (6th session of the World Heritage Committee, Paris, 1982)
  • Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios (12th session of the World Heritage Committee, Brasilia, 1988)
  • San Pedro de la Roca Castle (21st session of the World Heritage Committee, Naples 1997 
  • Viñales Valley, Cultural Landscape (23rd session of the World Heritage Committee, Marrakesh, 1999) 
  • Desembarco del Granma National Park (23rd session of the World Heritage Committee, Marrakesh, 1999) 
  • Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba, Cultural Landscape (24th session of the World Heritage Committee, Cairns, 2000) 
  • Alejandro de Humboldt National Park (25th session of the World Heritage Committee, Helsinki, 2001)
  • Historic Center of Cienfuegos (29th session of the World Heritage Committee, Durban, 2005) 
  • Historic Center of Camagüey (32nd session of the World Heritage Committee, Quebec City, 2008)

Intangible Cultural Heritage

  • Tumba Francesa (French Drum), Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (2008) 
  • Rumba (11th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Addis Ababa, 2016) 
  • Punto CUBANO (12th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Jeju Island, 2017)
  • Festivity of Las Parrandas in the center of Cuba (13th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Republic of Mauritius, 2018)

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