HAVANA—An American traveler in Havana spent nearly $10,000 last November buying paintings from Cuban artist Sandra Ramos. The buyer received the proper documentation from the artist, and when she arrived at U.S. Customs in Miami—her artwork neatly boxed as carry-on luggage—she was whisked through without any problem.
The buyer belonged to a group of collectors on a licensed cultural trip with The Metropolitan Museum of Art. But with the Bush administration’s recent crackdown on travel to the island, such trips have now become a thing of the past. The administration has canceled most licenses for culture-related Cuban travel, and the Treasury Department recently stepped up prosecution. Americans who are caught taking unlicensed trips to Cuba from, say, Canada or the Caribbean now face hefty fines, reportedly up to $10,000.
The Cuban government allows some artists to leave the country to sell their work, and Cuban artists may mail works to the United States, notes Lennox Campello, who represents Ramos (her “Perhaps I Should Split In Two,” above), and other Cuban artists as co-owner of Fraser Gallery. But some Cuban artists at the Havana Biennial were worried they might have trouble obtaining U.S. visas to attend gallery shows here. Cuban artists often invite collectors to their studios and homes. No doubt, artists such as Ramos will miss selling directly to Americans, just as American collectors will miss experiencing Cuba’s excellent art scene firsthand.