In the spring of 2016 the Guatemalan dancer ‘Gato’, together with the National Sami Theatre institution Beaivvás, received the Norwegian prestigious Hedda Prize for “Particular artistic effort” (Særlig kunstnerisk innsats), as an important performer and ‘supplier of terms’ for the ground-breaking theater production “Vidas Extremas”. They also received the National Critics Award for Best Play of the year.
Now he is back in Norway as the first SafeMUSE residence artist not being a musician, after a long journey.
Break-dancer Carlos David Catun Quintana (‘Gato’) is one of Central America’s foremost dancers, a prize-winning breakdancer from Guatemala, who for the last three years has been staying in Colombia in a safe space sponsored by SafeMUSE, due to death threats from street gangs in Guatemala. After arrival in Norway he is now working with Norway’s best-known professional dance crew, Kingwings Crew, on a production for a festival in early 2020.
A LIFE VERY LITTLE WORTH
Some of SafeMUSE’s followers might have seen our Facebook page for the support of Gato’s case (Før det er for sent - hjelp oss å få Gato til Norge), and through this knows his long and winding road for a secure life as a dancer.
After return home to Guatemala City from Norway in 2016, he received a phone call from someone presenting themselves being from one of the most violent street gangs (Mara Salatrucha – better known as MS 13), saying he was their next on the list. These gangs see the work of dance crews in Guatemala as a competition, because breakdancers are recruiting young potential gang members into the street dance scene instead of them becoming part of criminal gangs. And while Gato was in Norway touring with the ‘Vidas Exstremas’ production, he received the message that one of his close friends and crew members in Guatemala was abducted and killed – by the same gang calling him. So, this was especially difficult since Gato already had nine of his friends being killed by gangs in the past, including his twin brother a few years before. Now he was next on the list.
In the phone conversation Gato was told what streets he tends to hang out in, and what times he had been seen in the various places. Tired and angry about all the suffering the gangs had inflicted on his loved ones, Gato informed the gang that he does not care about them and that he will continue to live his life as before. But in reality, the phone call resulted in Gato closing in for 2 months before leaving for Europe to compete in an internationally recognized event in the Netherlands. A month before departure however, another friend of Gato (also involved in the preparational Vidas Extremas' workshop process in Guatemala), receives a phone call from someone pretending to be from an elementary school. The lady on the phone says that she has 50 students that she wants to be taught. Gato’s friend is also in Gato's breakdance crew, ‘502 Poker Crew’, and when he arrives at the agreed location for the workshop, it turns out that no primary school has called, but instead the same criminal gang. The dancer is shot three times, including once in the neck. After a number of operations, he survives the murder attempt. (They specifically asked for Gato to be one of the workshop holders, but since nobody had heard from him in a month the crew didn’t mind asking him.)
When Gato then was in Europe – after all this, friends in Norway got to know about Gato’s situation (- although he hesitated to tell the story), and Nicloai Lopez, producer connected to the Vidas Extremas production, contacted SafeMUSE. In short time we pulled together a six-month residence program for Gato in Norway, and invited him for a safe residency. His visa application was however turned down by the UDI (Norwegian Immigration) on strict formal grounds. This in spite of the regulations opening up for using fair judgement in cases like this. (He applied through the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin where he formally was staying as a tourist, and not from his home country – also having in mind the Norwegian embassy in Guatemala had been closed down half a year earlier.)
BACK TO LATIN AMERICA
Judging the realities around his situation, SafeMUSE sponsored his trip back to Bogota and not Guatemala City. And together with Lopez and the family of dancer Pierro Issa (Colombian dancer based in Norway), we managed to put him up in a safe space in Colombia. This was autumn of 2016. Since then SafeMUSE has covered his stay in relatively secure placements in Colombia, made possible also through fundraising via the Facebook support page. In relatively short time friends in Norway donated almost NOK 100.000 (EUR 10.000)!
Colombia is however a complicated society, and for Gato things turned worse. All the time since his arrival in Colombia it has been a goal to invite Gato back to Norway to work with the Norwegian break-environment and have a possibility to develop his artistic potential. A complaint on the visa refusal in 2016 was turned down. But this year we pulled together a new residence invitation, and his visa application was accepted, and he was given a temporary residence permit. His departure and travel were however to become a nightmare.
AIR CANADA NOT FOR GUATEMALAN DANCERS
Tuesday 15 October Gato had an Air Canada flight from Bogota via Toronto and Heathrow to Oslo. His visa for Norway and Schengen was issued by the UDI 17 September 2019. He was however rejected at check in on the grounds that his transit visa for Canada (eTA) was not stamped into his passport. The eTA is an electronic transit visa linked to the passport number, and should not be stamped in his passport. Even though, he was harshly rejected from the check-in. And the Air Canada personnel at the airport did not either want to speak with us over telephone from Norway, or our contact at the Norwegian embassy in Bogota. He was rejected and was not allowed to travel. (It also goes with the story that Gato is a holder of a US Green Card.)
Due to the feedback we got on our complaints to Air Canada, we chose to buy a new ticket directly into Schengen and Europe with Lufthansa.
FRANKFURT IMMIGRATION FOR PERSISTENT TOUGHS ONLY
His next attempt on departing from Bogota did not either pass without problems, but he managed to get on board his Lufthansa flight via Frankfurt for Oslo on the 23 September. But while in transit during a security check at Frankfurt Airport the day after, he was detained by the Federal Boarder Police for almost four hours for no formal reason. We lost contact with Gato when he was detained shortly before 5 pm. The general information at the airport helped us to call him up at the airport several times with no result. At the same time, we called the police office at the airport, but no one answered. Finally, just after 8, the boarder police called us after being asked several times by Gato to contact the inviting host in Norway. At this point he had been detained for more than three hours. During this time nothing was done from the police to contact us as inviting hosts for clarifying the situation. His onward flight was at that point boarding in 43 minutes.
The police claimed his visa for Norway was not sufficient. He was supposed to have a ‘D-visa’ for Germany. The police officer also claimed his passport would expire shortly after his visit to Norway, and that this was against the visa regulations.
We responded that this is a Guatemalan artist and dancer invited to Norway for a six months artistic residency, and that Norwegian immigration authorities, the UDI, has granted him an appropriate visa/ a temporary residence permit for this purpose. And as long as he is going to Norway and not to Germany, and Norway is a part of the Schengen passport region, a ‘D-visa’ after German law is not relevant.
We also said that his passport is the passport that was used for the visa application and for the given period of his granted stay, and should be valid for this trip. If needed we will assist him to obtain a new passport by Guatemalan authorities while in Norway.
In addition, we also allowed ourselves to remind the police officer that Germany is a part of the 2005 UNESCO-convention on Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Article 16 – ‘Preferential treatment for developing countries’ reads: “Developed countries shall facilitate cultural exchanges with developing countries by granting, through the appropriate institutional and legal frameworks, preferential treatment to artists and other cultural professionals and practitioners, as well as cultural goods and services from developing countries.”
We informed the police that this is an artist that already has been through a lot, that he is threatened for his life in his home country by street gangs, and that he should be treated with respect and not harassed.
After this conversation it was 10 minutes to boarding. Calling back the Boarder Police at the airport again some minutes later we were told that they had got the confirmation needed from Norwegian Immigration and that our guest now was boarding the aircraft for Oslo.
After Gato’s arrival in Oslo, we got his version of what had happened in Frankfurt. His phone, passport and papers were taken from him, and he was not allowed to call his contacts in Norway before after more than 3 hours. The police spoke to him in English and German. Gato speaks Spanish, and he was denied to use Google Translate to try and understand what was going on. He perceived the situation as very threatening and unpleasant, and he was shown what he considered being the police isolation cell. In addition, after our first telephone conversation with the police, Gato tells that the police report that had been written during his detainment was torn apart and thrown away.
FINALLY IN NORWAY
David ‘Gato’ Catun arrived on time at Gardermoen Airport, Oslo Friday 24 September – tired and relieved. The day after the breakdance-environment in Oslo had prepared a welcome party, and already on the Monday he was in preproduction with the Kingwings Crew.
The way the Norwegian break-dance environment in solidarity has supported and assisted their Guatemalan friend and colleague is impressing and exemplary. And of course, without the enduring support and cooperation with producer Nicolai Lopez this would never have been possible to pull through. In addition, also others have given very valuable support throughout the whole process.
A big thanks to everyone!
SafeMUSE has, following this, an unanswered claim towards Air Canada for an unreserved apology for the way Gato was treated by the Air Canada representatives in Bogota, and claim for a full compensation for our financial loss following the need for a new ticket.
In addition, we put forward a claim for an explanation from the Airport Boarder Police at Frankfurt Airport. Their formal response is just a repetition of what was said over the telephone by the officer in charge on the 24 September.
Gato may be seen on stage with the Kingwings Crew opening the Northern Lights Festival (Tromsø) – January 24th 2020
BBOY for LIFE (2012 by NadusFilms) - a documentary on break-dancers in Guatemala City with Gato as one of the main characters.
Vidas Exstremas (2016 by National Sami Theatre institution Beaivvás) - excerpts by Avvir.