Film casts harsh light on problems in Havana
- Posted on Sun, Jul. 08, 2007
Film casts harsh light on problems in Havana
Cubans coming to Havana from the provinces in search of a better life
are being expelled for lacking government authorization.
BY WILFREDO CANCIO ISLA
El Nuevo Herald
A new documentary by a young Cuban filmmaker has cast a harsh spotlight
on the housing and other serious problems faced by the thousands of
Cubans who move illegally from the provinces to Havana in search of
The migrants, mostly from eastern Cuba and known as ''Palestinians''
because they lack legal residency in Havana, often are forced to live in
shanty towns on the edges of the capital and expelled by police back to
''The phenomenon of forcible return continues to exist, although the
police proceed silently and with some secrecy,'' said Elizardo Sánchez,
president of the illegal but tolerated Cuban Commission for Human Rights
and National Reconciliation.
Sánchez estimated that dozens of people are expelled from Havana every
week by bus or train after being detained for failure to produce
documents confirming their legal residence in Havana. Repeat violators
are taken to court, although the sanctions consist only of fines and
official ''banishment'' from the capital for several years.
Cubans' jobs and ration cards are linked to their legal residences. But
the economic crisis of the 1990s brought a rise in migration to Havana.
A government statement at the time said 92,000 people had tried to
legalize their residency in Havana in the first half of 1997.
That same year a law made it extremely difficult to shift legal
residency to the capital, a city of 2.1 million people.
Havana residents estimate that about 20 shanty towns rose in the city's
suburbs in the past decade, with shacks usually built out of metal
sheets, scrap lumber and cardboard without government permission.
Most of the migrants come from eastern Cuba, where people tend to be
poorer and darker-skinned. Adding to the dislike for the orientales,
many of Havana's police were brought in from the east, apparently to
avert any sense of regional loyalty in case of disturbances.
''It's as if we were lepers just because we're easterners,'' says María,
a woman from Guantánamo province who appears in the documentary
Buscándote Habana -- Looking for Havana -- made in 2006 by Cuban
filmmaker Alina Rodríguez Abreu, 22.
The 21-minute film, which will be shown at 6 p.m. today on
AmericaTeVe-Channel 41, explores the deplorable living conditions and
discrimination faced by the illegal migrants who live in the shantytowns.
The documentary was Rodríguez' graduation thesis at the School of
Audiovisual Media in Havana's Higher Institute of Art. El Nuevo Herald
was unable to contact her in Havana.
Filmmaker Jean Michel Jomolka, who was in her graduating class and moved
to Miami this January, said some authorities seized several of her
cassettes containing interviews with people expelled from Havana, and
others barred her from filming in several poor parts of the capital. She
was detained and her camera was confiscated in Guantánamo.
Most of the scenes shown in the film were taped in the Havana
shantytowns of Casablanca, Planta Asfalto and Santa Fe. The documentary
also shows María, a native of Camagüey who lives with her husband in a
shack in the swimming pool of the former Bristol Hotel in central
Havana, now an apartment building.
Miami Dade College film critic Alejandro Ríos, host of La Mirada
Indiscreta -- The Indiscreet Glance -- the TV program that will
broadcast the documentary, said Rodríguez' film shows one of the
island's politically sensitive problems.
''This is positive proof of the rebirth of the documentary in Cuba and
the commitment of its new creators to depict reality without
restrictions, with honesty, blowing away the smoke curtains of official
history,'' Ríos said.
Havana residents' prejudices against those from eastern Cuba are current
issues on the island. The recent national baseball championship series
between teams from Havana and the eastern city of Santiago saw
billboards posted around Havana streets that criticized the provincial
team. One handmade sign hung across one street branded easterners as
criminals and urged them to ``Go Home.''
''These people are like the roya,'' Oneida, a Havana resident, is seen
saying on the documentary. Roya is a fungus that attacks vegetables.
A significant housing shortage is one of the key social problems
affecting the country, particularly Havana. In 2005, the government
announced a plan to build 100,000 new homes every year, but the goals
were never met.
In the documentary, sociologist Pablo Rodríguez says that unless urgent
steps are taken to control the proliferation of shantytowns, ``the
future will resemble Las Yaguas.''
After the triumph of Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959, the Las Yaguas
slum on the Havana outskirts was held up as a symbol of poverty and
social neglect under previous regimes.
It was razed and replaced by a housing complex in the early 1960s.