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Film casts harsh light on problems in Havana

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    Posted on Sun, Jul. 08, 2007 CUBA Film casts harsh light on problems in Havana Cubans coming to Havana from the provinces in search of a better life are being
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 8, 2007
      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.
      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
      better lives.

      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
      their hometowns.

      ''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.

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