‘Invisible Portraits’, an Exhibition To Give Visibility to the Black Woman in Cuba

Daniela Águila’s project, her fifth personal exhibition on the Island, is the result of two years of work and research. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Juan Carlos Espinosa, Havana, 22 September 2023 — Making black women visible in their daily lives as a sign of empowerment. That is the proposal of the young Cuban artist Daniela Águila in her series Retratos Invisibles (Invisible Portraits), whose exhibition was inaugurated this Thursday in Havana.

Águila’s project – her fifth personal exhibition on the Island – is the result of two years of work and research, according to this 23-year-old woman in an interview with EFE, to reflect “Afro-Cubanity from the female perspective.” It is her “most ambitious project so far,” she says.

Throughout history, I think there has been a void in the representation of the black woman. Especially if we talk about a non-sexualized representation”

“Throughout history, I think there has been a void in the representation of the black woman. Especially if we talk about a non-sexualized representation, which is based on the empowerment of women in every sense of the word,” she points out from the private gallery Máxima, in Old Havana.

Through nine pieces, with a palette reminiscent of pop art and reliefs that protrude from the fabric, Águila displays her vision of what she understands her generation can offer, often renounced by her elders as “fragile” and preferring the immediacy of TikTok and Instagram.

“Just because we are a generation of fast consumption does not mean that we create things of poor-quality,” she says. continue reading

Águila combines her work with classes at the University of the Arts (ISA). (EFE)

For her, the pejorative nickname of being part of the “crystal generation” refers to something positive: “(They should call us that) because of how transparent we are. We are not afraid to show things as they really are.”

Her premiere was in 2015, when she was still studying at the San Alejandro National Academy of Fine Arts. Now she continues to combine social life – “well, an attempt at social life (laughs)” – her work and her classes at the University of the Arts (ISA) of Cuba.

That juggling usually fails because her passion robs her of the most time in her routine. Between puffs of cigarettes and brushstrokes, she spends about eight hours in her studio, her second home since fourth grade.

“As a child I always wanted to try things. I studied guitar, I studied taekwondo, I studied tennis, I did a lot of things. But when I got to painting, I definitely said: ’This is my medium, this is what I want to do,’” she recalls.

Yes, it’s true that there are many people who graduate, leave and project their future elsewhere, which I see as great. However, that doesn’t interest me, at least for the moment

In the future she sees herself creating art in Cuba, something remarkable at a time when thousands have left the Island, which has been plunged in an intense economic crisis for more than two years.

In 2022 alone, around 3% of Cuba’s population emigrated just to the United States through the border with Mexico, according to figures from the U.S. government. Many of them were young people fresh out of university.

“Yes, it’s true that there are many people who graduate, leave and project their future elsewhere, which I see as great. However, that doesn’t interest me, at least for the moment. It seems to me that there is a lot to do here,” she tells EFE.

Her interest, she acknowledges, is in thinking “about the two series that will come after” the current one. Always in the future, but not as an obsession: “I prefer to say focused (instead of obsessive).”

Invisible Portraits will be on display until October 21 in Havana.

Translated by Regina Anavy


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Juan Pin: ‘The Fact That There Are No Tomatoes in Cuba Has Nothing To Do With the Blockade’

Pin Vilar speaks out against the decisions made by the cultural authorities and warns that this could even lead the country to lose a lot of money in court. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Juan Carlos Espinosa, Havana, August 2, 2023 — The unauthorized broadcast of the documentary La Habana de Fito, by director Juan Pin Vilar (Havana, 1963), in a Cuban state television program this June it has raised a storm inside and outside Cuba and provoked a closing of ranks of filmmakers against the Ministry of Culture.

The presentation of the most recent film by Pin Vilar – its filmmakers warn that it was not the definitive version – based on a series of interviews with the Argentine rocker Fito Páez, did not come out of nowhere.

In the program that published the documentary – in which the musician touched on sensitive issues such as the death penalty on the island – state television commentators criticized the artist’s words and insisted that he is “misinformed” about the country. Months before, the screening was canceled without prior notice in a Havana theater.

In an interview with EFE, Pin Vilar railed against the decisions made by the cultural authorities – “they have made a mess” – warning that this could even lead the country to lose a lot of money in the courts (the film still does not have permission from Sony) and regretted the censorship to which the sector is subjected.

According to Pin Vilar, Cuba’s Vice Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, “called him an hour before” to inform him of the broadcast of the program, despite the fact that the director had not given him permission in a previous phone call with the then director. of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), Ramón Samada, now dismissed.

“I told him that he had to consult (…) my producer, who is in Buenos Aires, and the distributors (also in the Argentine capital) said no (…) (I) explained to them that this could interrupt the route [of the tape] at festivals (…) However, they, in their heads like little and abusive children, said: “We’re going to put it on anyway,” the filmmaker condemned.

This episode was the seed that led to the creation of an independent assembly of filmmakers, whose first manifesto was signed by hundreds of people – among them Fernando Pérez and Jorge Perugorría – and the tacit support of cultural figures historically linked to the Cuban Government, like Silvio Rodríguez. continue reading

The assembly has sought since then to dialogue with the Ministry and has pushed an agenda that aims to end censorship, give filmmakers greater creative freedom and establish a film law.

However, this did not stop a pro-government barrage against Páez – and Pin Vilar – for having been critical of the island’s leaders and, among other things, insisting in the media that the Cuban state cannot blame the US economic embargo for all its ills.

“What astonishes me is not the censorship, [but] what liars they are (…) They begin to create a narrative trying to mix me with the counterrevolution, saying that the ideas that I use in the documentary coincide with a campaign against Cuba,” he says in an ironic tone.

Pin Vilar would not take even one comma away from the critics of the author of iconic songs like El amor después del amor [Love after love] against the Government.

“I am one of the people, like Fito, who thinks that the blockade is a damage that really exists. There is a financial persecution against Cuba… but the fact that there are no tomatoes or that three idiots make that decision (to censor the documentary) It has nothing to do with the blockade,” he concludes.

Nor does he understand those who, from the pro-government circles, justify decisions like the one made with his tape, arguing that Cuba is at war with the US: “It is unacceptable for a young man with half a brain to think that we are at war.”

What happened with La Habana de Fito, as well as the reaction it has provoked from the government – ​​in recent weeks a working group was created to meet the union’s demands – does not give Pin Vilar much hope of change.

“Revolutions are made so that there are freedoms. That is why they triumph (…) Why you do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the French, the Mexican, the Cuban, anyone. So, to the extent that those revolutions are becoming conservative, they are drifting into dictatorial States, because there is nothing more dictatorial than the conservative,” he argues.

The filmmaker also lamented the brain drain in Cuba, among other things, motivated by actions like the one he suffered with his feature film.

“The most brilliant of my generation are gone, like the most brilliant of this one. Instead of making a critical cinema and a cinema that mentions reality, [they try to make] a contemplative, silly cinema that doesn’t get anywhere,” he says.

The director is not afraid of possible reprisals for saying what he says without mincing words. Though he does admit that he has “concern” and “uncertainty.”

What leaves him calmer and more satisfied is the avalanche of solidarity that has overwhelmed him in recent weeks, especially from young people he doesn’t even know.

“It does excite me because that tells me that the solution to the problems or that the change, as some call it, is possible and probable from Cuba. Not from agendas induced from anywhere in the world, but from Cuba,” he concludes.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Cuban Electoral Council Describes Local Voting as a ‘Victory’, Despite the Record Abstentions

The western provinces were the ones that reflected the greatest number of abstentions. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Espinosa, Havana, 8 December 2022 — The Cuban provinces most punished by Hurricane Ian — which hit the western end of the Island at the end of September — recorded the highest rates of abstention and blank votes in the municipal elections of November 27, according to official data released this Wednesday.

In these elections, the highest percentage of abstentions since 1959 was recorded: 31.44%, according to official figures, cross-checked by EFE.

Although this data may be normal in other latitudes, it’s unusually high for Cuba. The Island is accustomed to participation rates even above 90%, although they have progressively decreased in recent years.

In Havana the abstention was 42.89%, an unprecedented rate and the highest among the 15 provinces, while in Isla de la Juventud it was 31.63% and in Matanzas, 31.14%.

These three western territories, among the most damaged by Ian, were among the five with the lowest participation. In the previous municipal (2017) elections, they were not among the highest rates of abstention.

In addition, three of the five provinces in which abstention increased the most compared to the municipal elections of 2017 and those of this November were also in the west: Havana (+27 percentage points, the fastest growing), followed in third and fourth place by its neighbors Mayabeque (+23.01) and Artemisa (+22.69). continue reading

Pinar del Río, the territory most affected by Ian, recorded the highest percentage of blank votes, 7%. For its part, in Mayabeque, practically one in 10 voters annulled the vote.

For three experts consulted by EFE, this demobilization is a form of rejection, which in a Western liberal democracy could be translated as a “punishment vote.”

The president of the country himself, Miguel Díaz-Canel, already used this expression in the referendum for the new Family Code and advocated incorporating it in the face of controversial issues “in the midst of a complex situation,” in reference to the serious economic and energy crisis that the country is suffering.

Experts consider that abstention, in the Cuban case, has a message. “Not voting in Cuba is a very important act of rebellion,” Leandro Querido, executive director of Electoral Transparency and author of the book Así se vota en Cuba [This is How Cuba Votes], tells EFE.

In similar terms, Diosnara Ortega, Cuban sociologist and director of the Chilean School of Sociology of the Silva Henríquez Catholic University, also speaks of “a politicized abstention.”

“Although in the rest of the world (abstention) responds to a process of depoliticization (…) in Cuba it is the opposite because (citizens) find in that recourse a way of dissenting from a power structure, not just from a Government,” she tells EFE.

Some experts go further and add the abstentions to the null and blank votes for what they call the “rejection” rate.

In the November municipal elections, that rejection rate reached 38.91% throughout the country, which is 17 percentage points higher than in 2017. In comparison, the Family Code rate was 30.13% (not counting the “no” votes), and in the 2017 municipal elections it stood at 21.59%.

Here the western provinces stand out again: Havana (49.75%) in first place and Mayabeque (39.85%) in second, followed by Isla de la Juventud (39.18%) and Artemisa (38.92%).

The region also stands out in the increase in the rejection rate compared to the municipal elections of five years ago. Havana (+26.07 percentage points) is at the top of the list, followed by Cienfuegos  (+23.85), Mayabeque (+23.36), Artemisa (+21.07) and Isla de la Juventud (+20.57).

The president of the National Electoral Council (CEN), Alina Balseiro, stated that this rejection rate “is not a legal term” and considers that the results of these elections cannot be compared with those of previous elections, because they are “processes of a different nature” and because of the changes that the country has undergone since then.

Experts believe that the reasons for abstention are multifaceted, although they coincidentally point to the boredom and frustration of the population after two years of serious economic and energy crises as common elements.

The sum of the pandemic, the tightening of US sanctions against Cuba and errors in domestic economic policy have caused a great shortage of essentials from food to medicines and fuel, plus galloping inflation, prolonged and frequent blackouts and massive emigration.

In the west is added the damage caused by Ian, with winds of up to 125 miles per hour, which caused damage to more than 100,000 homes and serious damage in the countryside. Repair work is progressing slowly despite efforts.

Experts go beyond the economic and say that electoral criticism points to the entire political system in Cuba. This is pointed out by Ortega and Hilda Landrove, Cuban researcher, cultural promoter and candidate for a doctorate in Mesoamerican Studies from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

The latter reminds EFE that these demobilization percentages were not recorded even in the so-called Special Period, the serious economic crisis that followed the fall of the Soviet bloc.

“In Cuba 15-20 years ago, the speech of unanimity continued. We cannot forget that when there are elections, what comes into play is the validation of a system,” concludes Landrove.

Despite the adverse data, Alina Balseiro yesterday declared the election as “a victory for the people.” The president of the CEN even went so far as to say that the participation was a “clear expression of support” by “a majority.”

Electoral Transparency, which already made a critical statement at the end of the first round, made public a second text in which it insisted on the need to carry out an audit to verify the data of elections that are “incontestable.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Brenda Diaz, Cuban Trans Protestor of July 11th (11J), is Imprisoned Among Men

Ana María shows the photo of her trans daughter Brenda Diaz, on 18 July 2022, in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Juan Carlos Espinosa, Havana, 20 July 2022 — The face of the Cuban Ana María suddenly changes from total seriousness to a smile from ear to ear when the cell phone rings and she sees that Brenda is on the other end.

It is her trans daughter – an option that Cuban legislation does not contemplate – who is imprisoned in the men’s section of a prison for participating in the anti-government protests on July 11, 2021.

“Hello, my life!” shouts the mother at a bus stop in Havana, dressed in a white T-shirt with the image of the 28-year-old girl emblazoned with the word “freedom.”

Brenda Díaz is serving a 14-year sentence in the prison of the Güines municipality (Mayabeque). It is a special penitentiary center — with a section for men and another for women — for people with the HIV virus, like her.

Although in prison she has never lacked her retrovirals –essential in the treatment of HIV-positive people. Ana María must bring her medications for other illnesses she suffers from, such as chronic gastritis and kidney stones, and which are not available in prison, according to what her mother said in an interview with Efe.

“Before I used to see her every 15 days, but now the (prison) directive has changed and I won’t be able to visit her until the end of the month,” Ana María complains bitterly. The last time she saw her was on July 5.

A municipal court sentenced Brenda last March for the crimes of public disorder and sabotage, according to her sentence, to which EFE had access. continue reading

Díaz was arrested along with her 16-year-old brother, Luis Manuel, who tried to prevent the arrest. The minor was released 17 days later, with a fine of 1,000 Cuban pesos.

The sentence claims that Brenda threw stones at one of the controversial foreign currency stores in her Güira de Melena municipality, entered the establishment with a group of protesters and stole a “wall fan, a pressure cooker and a box of jams.”

According to the prosecution’s indictment, Brenda – who was tried as a man and under her legal name, Freddy Luis – had the flowered dress she was wearing at the time of participating in the march confiscated.

Once in prison, she was shaved and placed in the men’s section. Her hair, which she cared for with devotion, vanished in a matter of minutes and that caused her to fall into a strong state of depression, according to her mother.

Ana María reviews the details of the case with a stoicism that is interrupted when she begins to relate that her daughter has already suffered a sexual assault in prison.

Her voice cracks with a tone that mixes anger with sadness: “Sometimes I can’t even talk about it… she’s my life. Because of her illnesses, because of everything. I still can’t get over her being locked up.”

Her daughter’s sentence is not final and on June 17 the appeals trial was held, with which Ana María hopes that the sentence can be reduced or that Brenda can serve her sentence in freedom. So far, the family has not received any notice from the court.

Until June 22, the Cuban Public Ministry had reported firm sentences against 488 11J protesters, with maximum sentences of 25 years for crimes such as sedition, public disorder, attack and contempt.

In the accusation against Brenda, the Prosecutor’s Office collects data that, for the journalist and trans activist Mel Herrera, is “re-victimizing” and “stigmatizing.” For example, in the brief it is highlighted that Díaz wore a dress, that she is HIV-positive and her gender identity is confused with a “sexual orientation.”

“The clothing had nothing to do with what was being judged. It was not a weapon, it was not conclusive evidence. That dress, by pointing it out, is simply revealing a prejudice because the State is wanting to say that that person is in disguise,” complains Herrera in a telephone interview.

In addition, in a paragraph the court highlights that before the 11J protests she was rejected by her neighbors for “engaging in disturbances of the public order,” without specifying what is meant by that.

Herrera recalls that in Cuba it is possible to change the legal name of a trans person on their identity card and also the photo, but not the gender registered at birth.

This legal vacuum allows other arrested trans people like Brenda to end up in prisons that do not correspond to their gender identity. The 2019 Cuban Constitution recognizes the principle of “non-discrimination based on gender orientation and identity.”

In addition, the country will submit the Family Code to a referendum in September, a legislative package that seeks to legalize same-sex marriage, among other issues. However, this will not include changes in legislation to facilitate gender change.

The case of Brenda “shows that although there is political will and an openness from the government, it is very difficult for this to be reflected in practice,” concludes Herrera.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.