Sometimes we are led to think that everything is black or white. However, between these two there is a full range of colours. Films like Hasta Siempre? remind us of this. This film portrays, in a very honest manner, day-to-day life in Cuba explained by the Cubans themselves. The filmmakers tried to be as objective as possible and they tried to show Cuba as it is, with neither romanticism nor pandering to the usual rightwing arguments that “Cuba is a dictatorship”.
Hasta Siempre? is one of the latest productions of the London based independent film making crew Rice n’ Peas. The film itself was made by a British student in Cuba aided by his brother and one of the most popular speakers in Hyde Park’s Speakers Corner.
The film starts with the affirmation that the 1959 Cuban Revolution led to the end of capitalism on the island. Then it jumps to the interior of a very busy cab in Havana where different individuals express their concerns about their lives and how they relate them to the problems that the island is facing because of the US blockade.
After the footage taken inside the cab, there is a succession of interviews with young people, workers, intellectuals, housewives and even a ‘dissenter’. One of them, a black intellectual, states that there is a certain degree of racism in Cuba. This racism, the intellectual says, is generally expressed in a subtle way, i.e. there are no black waiters in the hotels, but cleaners are generally black. Sometimes it is openly expressed, some black youngsters recognise that the police have stopped them in the streets with no apparent reason at all. The same intellectual and other interviewees also talk about the rise of prostitution and drugs on the island. Nevertheless, all of them ‑ apart from the dissenter ‑ can see that they do not reach the awful levels of discrimination that exist in the US. Yet, it is shocking to know that even this level of racial discrimination survives so many years after the revolution.
The explanation for this is to be found in the years of the so-called “special period” from the end of the 1980s and during the1990s. After the fall of the Soviet Union the Cuban economy, which was strongly linked to the USSR, was near to collapse. Different economic measures were undertaken at the time. Some of them meant the reintroduction of capitalism in certain areas of the economy, as in tourism.
As the film tries to show, tourism may have given some oxygen to Cuba’s economy at the beginning of the 1990s but it also introduced some negative elements that could undermine the revolution. Indeed the tourist industry is one of the Trojan horses that capitalism has in Cuba. The other tool is cinema. Cubans can get all US films without paying, despite the lack of official contact between Cuba and the US. Actually there are a lot of US film screenings all over Cuba. These films of course offer a very biased and one-sided image of US society.
The film also pays a great deal of attention to the opinions of young people and it matches them with the opinion of people that belong to older generations. Because young people grew up during the “special period”, they are not the most enthusiastic layer of the population. The young interviewees moan about the lack of opportunities that the country offers them. Some of them very naïvely think that if they go to the US or Europe they will find opportunities, which is far from the truth.
Throughout the film we can see the differences in the way young people and the older generation think. There is a material reason for this. The young people have lived through the hardest years of the revolution, yet the older generations can still remember how bad life was under Batista, when the country was the playground of US businessmen.
Young people complain, and they are certainly unhappy about their lives, yet when they are asked whether US democracy would be good for Cuba, the most critical of them categorically state “The US is the worst example of democracy”. There are also big differences between the interviewees that belong to the “intelligentsia” and the normal working people. In spite of this, most of the intellectuals, who show up in the film, are completely with the revolution. They express serious concerns openly.
In a trip to Santiago de Cuba (the second largest city in Cuba) a young man talks about his desire to go abroad. His mother thinks he is utterly wrong. She had been to Germany and she found that in Cuba she was better off. “Here everybody is free, we do not have money at all but not everything can be bought with money”.
Before going to Santiago de Cuba the film crew interviews a middle aged housewife who explains how the Cuban Revolution gave her a house and dramatically improved her family’s life. “I’d sacrifice my life for the revolution” she says.
One of the roughest sides of present day Cuban society is shown in the interview with an 18-year-old prostitute. She explains that she gets US$50 per customer. They are all tourists. However, she also says that in spite of the hard times that Cuban people are living through, “nobody starves to death”. She openly blames the criminal embargo imposed by US imperialism for the situation. “Our economy is not in a good state because of the US,” she states.
The Filmmakers also made sure they got foreigners’ opinions on Cuba. It is very enlightening when a US tourist, who travelled illegally to the island, shows all the basic stuff like toilet paper and so on that she had brought with her from the US. She had clearly been influenced by the misleading propaganda on Cuba, but once there she saw with her own eyes that half of the terrible things that are said about Cuba are simply not true.
The last question that the filmmakers pose is on the future of the revolution after Fidel. All of them (apart from the dissenter) are confident that the revolution will survive. Hasta Siempre? finishes with the statement of a Marxist intellectual. “Aqui va a haber revolucion para rato, con Fidel o sin Fidel” (We are going to have revolution for a while, with Fidel or without him).
Hasta Siempre? is a film that offers a very honest portrayal of Cuba, and on top of that it has a very interesting soundtrack that includes very fresh hip-hop and salsa tracks with the best Cuban revolutionary songs.
See also www.ricenpeas.com