Nick Miroff is a Latin America correspondent for The Post, roaming from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to South America’s southern cone. He has been a staff writer since 2006.
A family in their rooftop apartment in Old Havana. Pirated American programs are shown regularly on Cuban television. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
By Nick Miroff October 18
HAVANA — There’s little question that 50-plus years of U.S. economic sanctions have taken a heavy toll on Cuba’s factories, banking system and hospitals.
But for Cuban fans of American movies and television, it’s been a pretty darn great run.
Flip to the TV guide in Granma, the Communist Party’s daily newspaper, and you’ll see a prime-time lineup featuring reruns of “Cold Case,” “MythBusters” and even “Seinfeld.” Now playing at government-owned cinemas: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Toy Story 2” in 3-D and, quite fittingly, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”
None of it is properly licensed or paid for by Cuba, whose government has had little compunction about pirating good programming from a longtime foe with a vast legislative apparatus designed to choke its economy.
Washington and Havana restored diplomatic relations in July, but rebuilding mutual respect for copyrights, trademarks and other intellectual property is one of many still-pending issues.
A house painted with a figure resembling Disney’s Minnie Mouse, in Camaguey, Cuba. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said it was not one of the topics she brought up with Cuban authorities during her visit to the island this month, but she said it is on the agenda for future talks. At a news conference after her departure, Cuban officials said the U.S. sanctions remain so restrictive that discussions of copyright protections are premature.
“There are so many [trade] issues to resolve, and until we establish some basic things, it’s going to be very difficult to talk about copyrights and trademarks,” said Ana Teresa Igarza, the director of Cuba’s Mariel free-trade zone project, which is courting foreign investment.
“Even if Cuba has the money to make the payments, we don’t have any way to transfer the funds,” said Igarza, referring to U.S. restrictions on the use of the dollar by Cuban banks.
Cuba is a signatory to the major international treaties protecting intellectual-property rights, and trade experts say the Castro government has generally done a good job enforcing protections for U.S. products and brands such as Coca-Cola and Nike.