No money for Havana Biennial because of increased repression in Cuba

September 2003 -

The Prince Claus Fund and Hivos will not provide financial support to the 2003 Havana Biennial this year because of increased repression by the Cuban government. Hivos has also cancelled its financing. However, Hivos still supports other Cuban projects. What considerations prompted this decision?

During the past few months 75 Cuban activists have been picked up and given long prison sentences. These sentences spell a drastic deterioration in conditions for intellectuals and artists. The Havana Biennial in November is an international art show with artists from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. The organisation of the biennial is affiliated with the government and has not distanced itself from the policy of persecution. This was reason enough for the Prince Claus Fund to cancel its collaboration. In 2000 the Prince Claus Fund contributed 90,000 euros to the event.

Hivos has also cancelled its financing for the biennial. However, Hivos still supports other activities in Cuba, as does Novib. Dutch labour unions and human rights organisations have voiced considerable criticism of Hivos and Novib in the newspaper Trouw. This includes Hivos’ support of the artist’s union UNEAC and the cultural centre Casa de las Americas, which according to the critics is part of the repressive system used by the government. UNEAC has repeatedly expelled critical writers from the organisation, according to Cuban dissidents.

Hivos has fourteen partners in Cuba, five of which are cultural organisations. A number of these organisations are closely affiliated with the government. Others are individual organisations; however they cannot get any support without approval from the state. In spite of the criticism, Hivos stands behind its choice to support Cuban projects. 'We do not believe in isolating a population,' declared director Manuela Monteiro. 'It is important to continue the dialogue. This promotes the advancement of a society and promotes other ideas within the society. In that respect the Hivos policy is in line with that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.'

If dialogue is important, then why withdraw its support of the biennial? 'Because we received notices that artists’ submissions were being censored,' explained Paul van Paaschen of the Hivos Culture Fund. 'This crosses the line, in our opinion. It is precisely because of the refuge that the Biennial has offered for diversity for a number of years – including artistic expressions that are critical of Cuba - that Hivos has supported the event.'

This opportunity for free expression is important to the Prince Claus Fund as well. Staff member Marjolein Tummers: 'The Prince Claus Fund operates in zones of silence: regions where people do not have the opportunity to freely express themselves culturally, frequently due to political circumstances. We always weigh how you can support individuals and organisations as well as possible in their own environment. Our decision to withdraw support from the Havana Biennial is an exceptional decision.'

Hivos withdraws its support when an organisation takes a position that actively opposes human rights or violates human rights itself. UNEAC has crossed this line: given the resolute stance of the UNEAC’s president in supporting the strict measures taken against the Cuban dissidents, Hivos must withdraw its support.