“As is well known, Cuba relies heavily on Soviet aid and trade. Had the Soviet Union not come to Cuba’s rescue when the United States government and United States firms broke off relations with the island during Castro’s first years of rule, post-revolutionary Cuban economic history would be very different” (Eckstien 516). This relationship extends beyond the economic situation referenced. Soy Cuba, a film about the Cuban Revolution, was a combination of Russian filmmaking, Cuban actors, and a revolutionary ideology that both shared. However, like any good propogranda film, Soy Cuba chooses to focus on the positive outcomes of the Cuban Revolution rather than areas where Castro’s ideology failed. Each one of the sections of the film is written to highlight a specific success of the revolution.
The first section focuses on a young woman in Havana who is forced, because of her poverty, to prostitute herself for rich American business men in the wealthy hotel district. When her wealthy client leaves the prostitute’s house the next morning, he becomes lost in the slums and must come face to face with the poverty he has helped create. This section shows the “before” pictures of the revolution, a life without Castro and the communist government. After the Cuban Revolution, “Cuba, for example, is the only nation in the region to provide free and near universal health care, primary school education, retirement pensions, and unemployment insurance, as well as free or low-rent housing to the entire populace” (Eckstein 522). These new social improvements, especially housing, unemployment benefits, and schooling, benefit the slums featured in this section of the montage. The film implies that although there used to be a problem under the old “American” system, the Cuban Revolution has fought for the people and fixed the problem. This section also touches on women’s rights. Before the revolution, “Betty” is forced to cater to foreigners’’ sexual desires. After the revolution, women achieved the ability to vote (Chasteen 250), and with this increased voice and more social services, “Betty” is supposedly able to enjoy a more fulfilling and respectful life. This film also reminds Cubans about the benefits of a severed tie with greedy Americans. The nationalist tendencies which were rooted in anti-US sentiment (Chasteen 250) portrayed the Americans as invaders and thieves in the country, and rejoiced in their disappearance from Cuban economic life.
The student protest section also rejoices in the absence of lecherous American Navymen, who brag about being from the greatest country in the world. This attitude rings a bell with Cubans and other Latin Americans, who may have resented the U.S.’s behavior in Latin American affairs, insisting that Latin Americans are the providers of raw goods and the consumers of finished products without having a hand in creation of advanced products. This section also reminds viewers that Labor parties and rural indigenous farmers were not the only active participants in the revolution. Students and intellectuals were also involved (Chasteen 259), giving intellectual legitimacy to the ideas behind the revolution and proving to outsiders that the revolution wasn’t just a riot of day laborers. The story of the students also mirrors Castro’s own story, who was a university students involved in the radical students groups of the time. This draws solidarity with the student population and Castro, and the funeral scene shows the solidarity of all groups against the government.
The sugar planting story as well as the militant farmer story both address land redistribution. The poor old sugarcane farmer has put his sweat and blood into his land only to find the fruits of his labor (as well as his home) taken from him by wealthy foreign conglomerates. Rather than give in, the old man burns the money that would be used by the incoming company. The soldier farmer also doesn’t own the land he works on, and the militant he shelters points out this inconsistency. The focus of the film is that the people working on the land do not own it, nor own the finished product. “The Castro government, soon after assuming power, promulgated an agrarian reform. The reform extended property rights to about 100,000 sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and squatters. The land redistribution program was directed especially to regions where pressure on the land had been intense, land security an issue, and peasant support for the revolution great” (Eckstein 519). Some of the greatest benefactors of these programs were sugar vane farmers (Ecktstein 521), like the old farmer. People familiar with the post-revolution changes will recognize the massive shift from the old way and will (the filmmakers hope) more fully support the goals of the revolution.
However, while the film focuses on the successes of the revolution, it also fails to mention any of the failures. All of the characters, regardless of race, are portrayed as having the same goal. Race is not talked about, only Cubaness, a folly that the pre-revolution government and then later the Communist government who want to avoid the divisiveness of race (De la Fuente 61). It also does not discuss the immense foreign debt incurred through involvement with the soviet union (Eckstein 516)
Ultimately, Soy Cuba is a well-written propaganda film. By showing scenes of poverty and misery before the revolution that were later corrected by revolutionary policies, the movie serves the Cuban government’s purpose as well as their Russian allies. Not touching on policies that failed presents an image of unity and across the board success of the revolution.