Local 10 explores underground world of tattooing in Cuba

American tattoo artists host class for Cuban artists

By Hatzel Vela - Cuba Correspondent

HAVANA - With fewer Americans visiting Cuba under President Donald Trump's new policy, private businesses on the island are fearing less profits. 

A lack in tourism could also lead to a lack in materials to run a successful business. 

"They're almost like outlaw artists," Amigo Skate Cuba founder Rene Lecour said about tattoo artists on the island. "They don't feel like that they're taken seriously as artists."

Tattooing is illegal in Cuba and not recognized by the state.

"To them, it's a respectful way to make a living," Lecour said.  

Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela spoke to a tattoo shop owner in Havana, Tere Padilla, who said no one can get a tattooing license on the island.

Without a letter from the state run Health Department, she said artists don't have credibility.

To help with that, a class has been organized by artists from abroad, like Clay Montgomery, an American specialist on sterilization, who re-shaped his message toward his Cuban audience.

"Based on what they have access (to) as far as equipment and chemicals and things like that," he said.

The artists packed a small room on a hot afternoon to learn about blood-borne pathogens, cross contamination and sanitization.

The class gives them some legitimacy, despite the fact that the certificate they get is not valid in Cuba.

But Padilla said it gives them a sense of pride and brings tattoo artists from all over Cuba together to unite and learn.

"I would say 90 percent of them right now are just as sterile and professional as any shop in the states," Lecour said.

As for Trump's changes toward Cuba, supporters said if there are fewer Americans coming from abroad, there may be less access to tattoo equipment.

"They're super, super intelligent and creative and they're figure out ways to get around it and figure out ways to keep doing what they do," Lecour said.

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