Cuban Film School Official Fired After Attending Free Speech Rally in Havana

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Cuba’s world-renowned International Film and Television School (EICTV), located on the outskirts of Havana in the town of San Antonio de los Baños, has found itself at the center of a brewing state crackdown on internal dissidence in the wake of renewed diplomatic relations with the United States. Over New Years, the coordinator of the EICTV’s humanities department, Boris González Arenas, was detained along with a handful of other individuals for attending an artist’s intervention intended to open up a space for public dissent in the capital’s iconic Plaza de la Revolución. The event was stifled when the artist in question, Tania Bruguera, disappeared the day before, detained without explanation by the Cuban state security apparatus.

Those who were unaware of Bruguera’s disappearance showed up at the event’s scheduled time only to be summarily rounded up by Cuban security agents and imprisoned for several days without access to their families or loved ones. Upon his release, González Arenas returned to his post at the EICTV to find that a committee led by the school’s acting director, Jeronimo Labrada, had voted for his removal on grounds that he had “published articles critical of the state and its leaders.” While this type of action is not uncommon in Cuba, it comes as a surprise given that, as an international school independent of the Cuban government, the EICTV has traditionally enjoyed a level of free expression seldom seen in state institutions.

González Arenas himself graduated from the school’s Directing department and subsequently made a name for himself as part of a new generation of outspoken Cuban bloggers like Yoani Sánchez, who are highly critical of the Cuban regime yet continue to work from within the island. His firing comes on the wake of a controversial changing of the guard that saw the EICTV’s Guatemalan ex-director, Rafael Rosal, removed from office for supposed financial irregularities; a move that has led to speculation that the decision was politically motivated. In a statement published by Marti Noticias, González Arenas claims that Rosal had protected him when government agents originally pressured for his dismissal, and suggested that this ultimately played a role in Rosal’s removal from office in 2013.

The EICTV was founded in 1986 by a group of Latin American filmmakers and intellectuals, including Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez and Argentine documentary master Fernando Birri. Films made at the school are regularly found in competition at high-profile film festivals like Cannes and Berlin, and among its graduates are internationally lauded filmmakers such as Spaniard Jaime Rosales (Las horas del día), Dominican Laura Amelia Guzmán (Sand Dollars) and Venezuelan Mariana Rondón (Pelo Malo).