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Fernando Rojas: Santa y Andrés will not be shown, to defend 'a people and a great cause'

'Santa y Andrés'.

A few days before it was announced that the film Santa y Andrés would be censored and not be presented at the New Latin American Cinema Festival, the controversy surrounding the film was already flooding social networks and Internet pages.

What began as a post on a blog and responses on the Facebook walls of some filmmakers, including the director of the film himself, Carlos Lechuga, ended up becoming a debate that drew in Fernando Rojas, Deputy Culture Minister and President of the ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry), Roberto Smith de Castro.

The incident makes it clear that the limits on creativity in Cuba remain drawn along the lines traced by the regime's cultural commissars, whenever they consider the image of the Revolution and its main figures to be tarnished.

Fernando Rojas versus Dean Luis Reyes

On November 25 Fernando Rojas responded to journalist Dean Luis Reyes, who, the previous day, in his article "I want to see Santa y Andrés", published in OnCuba, denounced the work's censorship.

Rojas reproached Luis Reyes for only addressing censorship in the abstract, and alleged that his conception of art ignores "its organic connection with the purposes of a Revolution like ours."

According to Rojas, reaction to the film is not due to “spite” or “censorship” (according to him, “nonexistent”) but rather the “irresponsibility and naive responses of external, malicious 'sponsors.'” He added that any decision made sought to defend “a people and a great cause.”

He concluded by accusing the makers of the film of promoting "manipulations and extremism," and defended the officials who had been, according to him, unjustly described by Luis Reyes as "a handful of cultural minions."

"They, and I, are driven by a vocation of service inspired by a clear commitment to the Revolution and its values," Rojas said.

Roberto Smith de Castro versus Eduardo del Llano

On November 29 Eduardo del Llano joined the controversy, seeking to explain the censors' logic. According to the director, "the ICAIC does not listen to those it is supposed to represent," and instead of ably handling complaints, only stirs up more disputes.

Del Llano denounced the situation faced by the creators and cited more recent cases of people who have had to leave the island due to their artistic positions and ideas.

"Injustice generates rebellion. And weariness. The artist does not stop creating, but he stops creating here. We have [the cases of] Ian Padrón and Juan Carlos Cremata in the last three years," he said.

Regarding the issues addressed in Santa y Andrés, such as censorship and the way artists are treated, he stated: "Historical errors like those reflected in the film affected, and affect, many people."

And he rejected the idea "that both history and our lives must be designated from above," and the eternal excuse that "this is not the time" because "as long as the censors act with impunity, the time will never come."

While Rojas replied to Luis Reyes, Smith de Castro sought to respond to Del Llano.

The ICAIC president said that, despite the "painful moment" of Fidel Castro's death, he had to write immediately.

"I respond, precisely, for Fidel," he wrote.

According to the official, the ICAIC, exercising its “legitimate right,” decided not to show a Cuban film at the Film Festival.

“The decision regarding the film is a matter of principle. Regardless of its artistic merits and the possible intentions of its creators, the film presents an image of the Revolution that reduces it to an expression of intolerance and violence against culture. It irresponsibly uses our national symbols and makes unacceptable references to our comrade Fidel,” he added.

“Standing on principle, we will not accept the presentation of a film featuring these elements at the Festival.2

Smith said that he spoke with the creators of the film and other filmmakers, and explained to them the ICAIC's reasoning, and that, obviously, “the final decision is up to the institution.”

He added that the judgment was not an “expedient” or “practical” decision calculated to prevent “debate” and will not mean and end to the ICAIC's support for independent production.

“The ICAIC will continue to defend the images of our national symbols, of the Revolution itself, and of our heroes and martyrs, both in cinema, whose production we support, and the selection of the films shown on our screens,” he wrote.

The institution he heads up “will continue to defend free, diverse, critical and deep creations committed to the Revolution's ideals of social justice and human freedom,” he said.

The origins of the controversy

On November 16 Arthur González, a government journalist working at, posted on his blog El Heraldo Cubano a diatribe against the film and accused its leaders of defamation and distorted allegations, such as censorship and “political persecution and attacks on the Island that have not taken place.”

He also noted that the film intended to “denigrate the work of the Revolution” and was “evidence of the purpose of telling a story (...) portraying the Cuban socialist process as a monster."

The answer to González came through Facebook.

On November 18 the director of the film, Carlos Lechuga, published on his wall: “The slander and attacks begin. I know that in the future I will receive many more. This is not an attack on just Santa y Andrés, but against all independent film.”

Film director Kiki Álvarez weighed in on the controversy with another post on Facebook.

“It is a misreading to interpret the character of Jesús as an attack against the Revolution. Jesús, I repeat, is not the Revolution, but a way of understanding and defending it that this film and its director question and seek to address,” he said.

Santa y Andrés tells the story of a relationship between a homosexual writer harassed by the authorities for his political views and a peasant girl sent to watch him so that he does not attend a "Peace Forum" and speak out there against the government.

It premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada, and was presented at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in Spain.

There, Lechuga won the SGAE Award (General Authors and Editors Association) for the film's script.