Senator intervenes on Cuba art project

The U.S. government sends radio signals into Cuba every day in the name of poet Jose Marti, but it doesn't want Lawrence artist Stan Herd to create his likeness there.

Now Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts is intervening with Treasury Department officials to allow Herd to make a landscape portrait of Marti on a hill overlooking Havana Harbor.

Roberts has seized on the issue as part of his efforts to open the communist island nation to U.S. contacts and trade. Herd's work, he said, would be a good starting point in creating better relations.

"What he will do down there is leave an American landmark that will speak well of democracy," Roberts told the Journal-World.

Herd and Lawrence resident Robert Augelli went to Cuba in January to create "Rosa Blanca," a depiction of a white rose in a major Havana park that pays tribute to Marti, a Cuban patriot and poet who died in 1895. The friendly reception there spurred the pair's desire to return and create the Marti portrait.

"I'm enamored of the country and the people," Herd said.

But U.S. officials decided this spring to deny Herd and Augelli's request. The United States imposed sanctions against Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro took power there in 1959. The U.S. government has also sponsored Radio Marti's anti-communist broadcasts into Cuba.

"While current policy provides for certain types of exchanges to promote people-to-people contacts, the proposed ... project ultimately confers a large benefit to the Cuban government," Steve Pinter, acting chief of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, wrote in the letter of denial.

The benefit, he wrote, was indicated by the Cuban government's selection of the mural's site and its furnishing of labor and supplies for the project.

That drew derision from Bob Martinez, a San Francisco attorney who represents Augelli and Herd.

"How else do they move the rocks?" Martinez wrote in a May letter to Roberts. "Bring in U.S. trucks? Teamsters? Should the U.S. artists bring in their own soil and trees?"

Roberts agreed.

"Paul, I have Stan's art displayed in my office," he scribbled in a note at the bottom of a letter to Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. "This 'large benefit' ruling makes no sense!"

Roberts is co-sponsoring The Bridges to the Cuban People Act, which would allow American companies' agricultural and medical supplies to be sold in Cuba � and, he said, pave the way for a democratic, post-Castro Cuba.

"I have no illusions about Castro, but he doesn't pose a national security threat," Roberts said. "All Castro does is use the embargo as an excuse for his failed economic policies."

Augelli, who developed the ideas for Herd's Cuban works and has handled the projects' many organizational demands, was philosophical. He expects Roberts' assistance will lead to permission to proceed with the project, but nobody knows when.

"We've fully understood that the complexity of the relationship between our two countries was very likely to result in these kinds of delays," Augelli said. But, he added, "this situation highlights the absurdity of the current U.S. policy toward Cuba."

Herd, meanwhile, was finding inspiration in the delays.

"To tell you the truth, I don't want to be too cute about it, but it's all a part of the art," he said. "It gives a chance to learn how the machine works, how government can affect art � and how art, hopefully, affects the government."


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