Press Release — Open Letter on Cuba Censorship at the Havana Film Festival New York

Last night, HRF chairman Garry Kasparov and HRF president Thor Halvorssen sent an open letter to Ms. Carole Rosenberg regarding the decision by her organization to remove Cuban director Carlos Lechuga's film Santa and Andrés from competition at the Havana Film Festival New York.

You can read the letter below.

March 29, 2017

Carole Rosenberg
Executive Director
Havana Film Festival New York
Via email

Dear Ms. Rosenberg,

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) writes to express profound disappointment about the censoring of the film Santa and Andrés from competition at the 18th Havana Film Festival of New York (HFFNY). HRF calls on you and the HFFNY to reconsider this decision and allow Santa and Andrés to compete at the festival.

Santa and Andrés, by Cuban director Carlos Lechuga, tells the story of the unlikely friendship that develops between a gay novelist put under house arrest by the Castro regime and the pro-Castro peasant lady sent to surveil him.

HFFNY, scheduled for March 30th to April 7th, publicized the exclusion of Lechuga’s film from competition at the festival in mid-March. By way of explanation, your non-profit affiliate stated that “as cultivators of cultural diplomacy” HFFNY censored Santa and Andrés in order “to remain as apolitical as possible and avoid controversy.”

Ms. Rosenberg, HRF considers your censorship decision far from “apolitical.” Evidence suggests that Santa and Andrés was only excluded from HFFNY’s competition after you received a phone call from Cuba’s film institute — an organization controlled by the Castro dictatorship. The fact is that this past December the Havana Film Festival of Cuba and its state-run arbiter ICAIC, Cuba’s film institute and controller of its cinemas, similarly censored Santa and Andrés. Your behavior has tuned you into a proxy, cooperating with the 57-year-old dictatorship that rules Cuba.

HFFNY proclaims its “reputation [of] enriching and expanding the vision of Latino culture in the United States,” and claims to feature films which “reflect strong cultural and social identities rooted in their respective countries.” Yet in the case of Santa and Andrés, HFFNY espouses no enriched, expanded vision — only censorship, and enforced blindness to the plight of those repressed by a dictatorial Cuban regime. Here, a film that unflinchingly reflects a harrowing aspect of Cuban social identity is not featured, as promised by HFFNY, but is quietly suppressed.

The censoring of Santa and Andrés counters the underlying principles HFFNY claims to endorse — senselessly excluding rich Latino art. To wit, just this month Santa and Andréswon Best Ibero-American Fiction Feature, and earned actors Lola Amores and Eduardo Martínez the award for Best Actress and a Premio Maguey Special Mention, respectively, at the Guadalajara International Film Festival. A week prior, both leading actors won Best Performance awards at the 34th Miami International Film Festival.

As many other dictatorships, the Cuban dictatorship has long considered any expression critical of the regime, inside or outside of Cuba, as an act of subversion that must be punished or prevented from publication. Just a few months ago, Roberto Smith, current director of the dictatorship-controlled ICAIC, justified the censorship of Santa and Andrés in Havana because “it presents an image of the Revolution that reduces it to an expression of intolerance and violence against culture, makes irresponsible use of our patriotic symbols and unacceptable references to comrade Fidel.”

Ms. Rosenberg, do you and the HFFNY also think it is “irresponsible” to expose the horrible persecution of hundreds of dissident writers, intellectuals and artists, including many LGBTI persons in the 60s and 70s by the Castro regime because it may upset employees of “comrade Fidel” and his half-century old regime? The New York City art community, made up of so many human rights activists and defenders, expects an answer from you.

Sincerely,

Thor Halvorssen
President and CEO

Garry Kasparov
Chairman

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