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Since 1959 thousands of works of art of the Cuban patrimony, many of them from private residences of Cuban families that had fled the country, were disposed of by prominent members of the Castroist élite. Most were taken to large warehouses in Avenida del Puerto and later sold abroad, mostly in Canada and Europe, for a considerable profit, through Cubartimpex, a foreign trade enterprise.
The disappearance of Cuban national art began discreetly, in the form of "loans" of works of art from museums to decorate Castro's Palace of the Revolution and other places frequented by the nomenclature. That way, invaluable archeological pieces from the collections of the Montané Archeological Museum at the University of Havana were taken on loans and disappeared forever. Similarly, many pieces from the Napoleonic Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Museo Bacardí and many others have been disappearing.
Proof of the systematic stealing of Cuban works of art by the Castro government are, for example, Roberto Borlegui's November 1996 Cuban art sale in Dallas, as well as a sale of 350 paintings in September 1994. In the same fashion, in November of 1989 Christie's held an auction of Cuban works of art in London. The previous year, Sothebys London held an auction in London in which a multimillion-dollar sale of paintings by Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923), a part of the Oscar Cintas collection, took place. Cintas, a patron of the arts, had left a legacy of artistic works by Cuban and foreign masters in the care and custody of the Museum of Havana. Ansorena, a Spanish gallery in Madrid, hosted a sale paid for by the Cuban government and held by a Swiss art dealer.
Between 1960 and 1970, approximately 30 million dollars in books, most from private libraries, but also from the Cuban National Library and similar institutions, were sold to western Europeans through East Berlin. There were also sales to dealers in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Madrid and Barcelona. In Toronto and Montreal many auctions of Cuban rare books have taken place.
Advertisements have been placed in art magazines describing lots as being furniture, paintings and jewelry from the palaces of Havana and other Cuban cities. One documented example of this type of sale in Canada is from Montreal's Frazer Brothers Auctioneers in 1969.
In May 1994 in Milan, Italy, at the Casa Delle Aste, Milan's Instituto Italiano Realizze sold, at auction, 700 lots that were described as decorations and objects from diplomatic residences in Havana. The "diplomatic residences" were, in reality, the private homes of Cuban families whose properties had been stolen by Castro. The total sale of 138 paintings alone was estimated at more than $8 million. Notice of the auction by the Italian press indicated that the items had received approval for export from the Cuban Ministry of Culture on March 12, 1994.
In mid-1996, Cuba's National Museum of Art (Museo de Bellas Artes) was closed indefinitely, allegedly because of "building repairs."