The 1968 drama Soy Cuba seeks to portray the many facets of life in Cuba during the years leading up to the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Clearly a product of its time, this Soviet film uses cold war propaganda to demonize the United States, stressing the role of the US as the main reason for economic hardship among the masses. My cutting images of the Cuban elite with anthems of the US military, the film makers declare that Fulgencio Batista exploits his people and acts as a Cuban figurehead to serve American interests on the island.
The role of American business interests in Cuba is highlighted in the second vignette. The United Fruit Company, an American company, buys the land of a sugar cane farmer, leaving him with nothing. In Chasteen’s book, the United Fruit Company is specifically mentioned as a company that “invested” in Latin American nations. However, this investment often took the form of purchasing lands and installing equipment long considered to be obsolete “the result, logically enough, was factories planned not to be competitive with those in the United States.” The arm of American business was shown to impact life in Cuba even in the most basic way of what goods people purchased from local venders. After the children of the sugar can farmer go to town, the two order Coca-Colas as opposed to any sort of local product. Though seemingly unimportant this detail is significant in that it shows the prominence of American brands over locally produced goods. By the children spending money on foreign goods, less is going back into the local economy, thus bringing the nation further economic despair.
Though the film makers spent a great deal of time expressing the worst stereotypes of US businessmen, they completely overlooked the negative impact of the Soviet Union on the island once the US embargo of Cuba took effect. Susan Eckstein argues that Cuba’s trade with the USSR lessened the economic impact of the embargo, but goes on to say funds lent to Cuba were too great to be repaid by the trade agreements between them. “The funding therefore fails to address the root cause of the island’s balance-of-payments problem: its inability to generate sufficient export revenue to offset import needs or to advance import substitution to the point that trade is less vital to the economy… Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union drive up the island’s import bill. Thus, the superpower contributes to the debt burden that it helps alleviate.” In a system much like the reviled “company towns” established by coal mining companies in the United States, the Soviet Union enacted a plan that would keep Cuba indebted to the nation without hope of recovery.
To call Soy Cuba anything other than propaganda would be a misrepresentation of the film. By showing the United States and Batista as the only sources of suffering for the Cuban people is to over-simplify pre-revolution era Cuba. Had the film makers wanted to provide a truthful view of this point in history, they would have shown the exploitation by the Soviet Union as well.