Me Too in Cuba: four students report sexual abuse at the film school

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Me Too has exploded again in Cuba, again from an independent media outlet. The Cuban magazine The sneeze published a new investigation into the sexual abuse and impunity of which four women, two of Spanish nationality, were victims while they were studying at the renowned International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños, one of the largest audiovisual training centers. in the world, founded 37 years ago at the initiative of the Cuban ruler Fidel Castro, the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez and the Argentine filmmaker Fernando Birri.

After two years of investigation, the report by Cuban journalist Mario Luis Reyes brought to light on March 25 the testimonies of women who denounce rape, sexual abuse, harassment and revictimization by students, teachers and even the management of the school. The testimonies have had no small impact on the community of students who come to the study center mainly from Latin America, Africa and Asia, and also in part of the film industry in Cuba.

One of the victims of Spanish nationality, who asked to remain anonymous like the rest of the testimonies, arrived in 2019 to take an Actor Directing workshop at the school located in the province of Artemisa, one hour from the center of Havana. . In one of the rooms she was raped by the Panamanian composer, sound engineer and guitarist Ayrton Paul. “I woke up because I felt something inside my body, and that’s when I saw that it was penetrating me,” the victim stated. From then on, a time of revictimization would begin for her by teachers, the academic coordinator María Julia Grillo or the director of the center, Susana Molina, who held her accountable in front of her aggressor.

“In addition to the rape, the treatment of the prosecutor’s office and the school itself affected me a lot. When I was there I just kept going, but when I got home to Spain I realized that I didn’t have to live that or tolerate that,” said the former student. Even during her stay in Cuba, she called a support number for Spanish victims of gender violence at the Spanish Consulate, but she did not get any help either. “I called and, although at first they gave me some guidance, when I told them that I had filed a complaint, the response was very vague. I felt abandoned. Neither the School, nor the prosecutor’s office, nor the government of Cuba, nor that of my country cared.”

The other victim of Spanish nationality, who also arrived in San Antonio de los Baños in 2019, reported having been harassed by a student who took advantage of her drunken state to take her to the room and sleep hugging her body. When questioned by more than one schoolmate, the young woman preferred not to report the situation. “One feels that they are going to judge her and she prefers not to tell it. She is also afraid of hanging a sign on you,” she said.

The other two victims claimed to have been harassed or abused by students or professors who still work at the institution. According to one of the testimonies, the school “seems to care little or even not at all” about cases of sexual abuse. Although more than one student approached the professors or directors to report situations of harassment, abuse or rape, they barely found a response. “We never had a seminar on sexual education or prevention, or on mental disorders or illnesses,” said one of the victims.

Four days after the publication of the report, the school issued a statement acknowledging the facts, although they did not mention the independent media that revealed the story nor did they explicitly admit the abuse, harassment or sexual assault. At the same time, they are in charge of cleaning the face of the institution in which great figures from the film industry such as Francis Ford Coppola, Emir Kusturica or Lucrecia Martel have given workshops. “The published statements deeply distress us, as happened when we became aware of some of the cases,” the statement said. “The testimonies fill us with pain and once again motivate a necessary discussion in our community. “We are learning to deal with these situations.”

They also assured that the school implemented a Peaceful Coexistence Protocol, which was created in 2022, but was not formally approved until November 2023. They also say that they have created workshops oriented from a gender perspective, a Welfare Office to manage situations of conflict or violence, a Gender Committee and the Punto Violeta emergency system to care for victims 24 hours a day. So far, institutions such as the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry, the Ministry of Culture or the state press have not commented on the complaints. A week after the publication, however, the Federation of Cuban Women presented the March 8 Distinction to the director of the center, Susana Molina.

Many filmmakers and school graduates have questioned the statement on social media, as some consider it “insufficient,” “revictimizing,” and others call it “shameful.” Several former students have also come forward to talk about their experiences of harassment at film school.

“These types of investigations, although they attack specific cases, also promote collective reflections on the issue and put pressure on power to modify its structures,” says journalist Mario Luis Reyes, who in 2021 published another investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against the troubadour. Cuban Fernando Bécquer. This investigation has not only been one of the main cases of the Cuban Me Too, but it is the first time that the Government takes a complaint made by a non-state media outlet to court. “It is important because the justice system in Cuba does not act effectively against this type of aggression, which places women in an extremely vulnerable situation. Although the problem of gender violence is not exclusively Cuban by any means, the situation that Cuban women are going through right now is serious.”

The gender platforms that work independently on the Island, such as I do believe you in Cuba, MeTooCuba and the Alas Tensas Gender Observatory, have echoed the complaints and have reiterated, as for years, the need for a law against gender violence in a country that closed 2023 with 89 femicides – when Spain, with four times the population of Cuba, reported 55 deaths of women due to sexist violence – and has already accumulated 15 femicides so far this year.

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