HAVANA — A dispute is brewing in Cuba over the estate of a prominent intellectual and close associate of the Castro brothers after authorities carried out a surprise search of his home.
Officials say they conducted an inventory of art, books, furniture and documents belonging to the late Alfredo Guevara, and three valuable paintings were determined to be missing.
His family members accuse authorities of carrying out an unjustified and intrusive weekend raid, breaking down doors, hauling away various items in trucks and refusing to explain their actions.
"We are very taken aback," granddaughter Claudia Guevara, an actress and model who lives in Mexico, told The Associated Press late Wednesday. "They entered our house without giving us prior warning, for no reason whatever and without us being in the country."
Alfredo Guevara was a filmmaker and longtime devoted communist with ties to Fidel and Raul Castro dating back to the brothers' days as young bearded rebels. He was a major figure in Cuba's cultural world following the 1959 Cuban Revolution until his death April 19 of a heart attack, at the age of 87.
Gladys Collazo, president of Cuba's National Council of Cultural Heritage, said authorities became concerned last week when neighbors reported that people were coming and going from Guevara's home at night, and deployed police to secure it.
"The family ... is not in the country and we were very worried about the possible loss or removal of important objects," Collazo was quoted as saying by the official magazine La Jiribilla, after word of the search got out. "Our position from the very beginning has been to protect our heritage."
But relatives were indignant.
Family members said more than 20 cultural officials and police carried out the search Saturday and Sunday and were still inside the home. The granddaughter said friends witnessed state agents removing various items in two trucks, and the family had tried unsuccessfully to reach Cuban cultural officials.
"I would love for somebody to contact me and say what my brother and I, who are the legitimate owners and inheritors along with my parents, have done to cause them to remove all our belongings and even change the locks on the doors," Claudia Guevara said.
In an online exchange, she said she was positive nobody had been removing valuables before the raid because the house was under lock and key.
Authorities denied breaking down doors, saying the home's caretaker let them in and cooperated with their inventory. Collazo also said the family had been informed that they had 60 days to register any belongings that qualify as objects of cultural heritage.
Cuban law allows individuals to inherit and own such items, but they must be entered into a special registry and may not be taken out of the country.
A man who answered the door at the Guevara home Wednesday night declined to comment.
Guevara was the founder of the Cuban Art and Cinematography Institute and the Festival of New Latin American Cinema, and a number of envelope-pushing films, such as "Strawberry and Chocolate," were made on his watch.
Many credited him with nurturing filmmakers, directors, writers, artists and musicians and sheltering them from criticism by Communist authorities. However some criticized his close ties to the Castros and said he did not do enough to defend artistic freedom.
Collazo said three unidentified "masterpieces" of Cuban painting were unaccounted for at Guevara's house, and a police investigation is ongoing.
"We are conducting an exhaustive review of the items of various types," she told La Jiribilla. "In the home there are paintings, works of art, documents, photographs, furniture and other objects of cultural interest."
"What we are doing is rescuing (Guevara's) extraordinary legacy," Collazo said. "The work of Alfredo Guevara is essential for our political and cultural history, and his tremendous contributions to cinema and Latin American and world culture should be permanently preserved."
Claudia Guevara argued that his will should be respected.
"My grandfather Alfredo's will makes clear that absolutely all his belongings and documents belong to his son, his daughter-in-law and his grandchildren," she said.