Soy Cuba is Kalatozov’s cinematic adaptation of a poem that exalts Cuba and the idea of its revolution form Batista’s oppressive regime:
I am Cuba
Once Christopher Columbus landed here. He wrote in his diary: ”This is the most beautiful land ever seen by human eyes.“ Thank you Señor Columbus. When you saw me for the first time, I was singing and laughing. I waved the fronds of my palms to greet your sails. I thought your ships brought happiness. I am Cuba. Ships took my sugar and left me tears… Strange thing — sugar, Señor Columbus. It contains so many tears, but it is sweet…
I am Cuba.
Why are you running away? You came here to have fun. Go ahead, have fun! Isn’t this a happy picture? Don’t avert your eyes. Look! I am Cuba. For you, I am the casino, the bar, hotels and brothels. But the hands of these children and old people are also me. I am Cuba.
I am Cuba.
Sometimes it seems to me that the trunks of my palm trees are full of blood. Sometimes it seems to me that the murmuring sounds around us are not the ocean, but choked-back tears. Who answers for this blood? Who is responsible for these tears?
I am Cuba.
There are two paths for people when they are born. The path of slavery — it crushes and decays. And the path of the star — it illuminates but kills. These are the words of José Marti. You will choose the star. Your path will be hard, and it will be marked by blood. But in the name of justice wherever a single person goes, thousands more will rise up. And when there will be no more people, then the stones will rise up. I am Cuba.
I am Cuba.
Your arms have gotten used to farming tools, but now a rifle is in your hands. You are not shooting to kill. You are firing at the past. You are firing to protect your future.
It is very similar to Que Viva Mexico in that it was shot in an episodic method and celebrated the impact of the normal Cuban citizen’s role in the revolution. Their goal was not to elevate any one person, such as Castro, but to show the “historic necessity” of the people’s break from Batista’s heavily American influenced government. The film is divided into four stages: colonialism, and its affects on the city, the tragedy of the peasants, the development of the workers/students’ struggle, and finally the struggle in the mountains and the final triumph. But it differs from Que Viva Mexico because the race/heritage of the oppressed was not addressed as a factor for their desolate situation (it was Batista’s capitalist greed and embrace of American economics over a Cuban economy) . The emphasis on the national plight of Cubans is admirable Alejandro de la Fuete, author of “Race, National Discourse, and Politics in Cuba: An Overview,” argues that race actually was an important factor. Revolutionists were trying to distinguish a Cuban identity that separated them from American influence, and they did this by grasping onto their African heritage: “’What is Cuban,’ he said, ‘contains in itself the African and black element.’ Blacks’ presence in all walks of national life was so important, Arredondo concluded, that it was not possible to speak about Afro and Cuban as two different things. ’Our geography, our economy, our history and culture have forged a type of man who belongs neither to Africa nor to Spain [but] to Cuba.” The film did not make race a focus so it would not detract from the collective and unified front that they wanted to portray the Revolution as but it is important to keep in mind de la Fuete’s about the revolution not helping to create a certain “Cuban” race, but rather a citizenship: “we are Cubans, nothing more”. Racial inequalities and struggles would have detracted from the collective struggle against the oppression of the government over the nation as a whole.
Another issue in the film is America’s role as oppressor. It was because of America’s invested history with Cuba’s revolutions and production of sugar that it had so much influence on Cuba’s economy and politics. Chasteen chronicles the U.S’ relationship with Cuba all the way back to 1895 when it lent military support to Cuba in its struggle with Spain for independence. But this “favor” led to the Platt Amendment being imposed on Cuba, which kept the island under U.S.“protection” and gave the government the right to “intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence.” Once the U.S. was invested, American industry moved into Cuba and asserted its presence by bought up many of the country’s plantations, refineries, railroads and factories. Sugar production turned into one of the best economic avenues in Cuba and America’s presence helped the country’s economy flourish. According to “The Impact of the Cuban Revolution: A Comparative Perspective,” by Susan Eckstein, at the time of the revolution, “Cuba ranked among the most developed countries in the region.” Cuba was ranked eighth and fifth among Latin America’s twenty principal countries in gross domestic product…and gross domestic product per capita. This economic boost would seem like a great asset to Cuba but it was creating incredible class stratification between the native Cubans and the American “tourists” that were only economically invested in the nation. Kalatozov visually represents this stratification by juxtaposing images of rich Americans and bikini-clad beauties sipping cocktails with scenes of ramshackle slums filled with hungry children and old people. This class stratification, combined with the economic plight caused by American intervention (capitalism), made Cuba a perfect place for the Socialist ideology of the Soviet Union to flourish. Eckstein says, “Cuba is the only country in the region to have experienced a socialist revolution.” Thanks to the joining of Cuba by Fidel Castro with the Soviet Union and its heavy dependence on their import system into Cuba and Castro’s re-distribution of land, goods, and income the producers of Soy Cuba were able to make a compelling propaganda film.