Soy Cuba

Like last week’s film, Que Viva Mexico, director Mikhail Kalatozov attempts to display the primary rationale behind communist revolution and the faults of the Soviet Union’s capitalist counterpart, the United States, in his film Soy Cuba.  Putting aside questions of bias and propaganda, the movie is divided into four chapters, the first two showing the oppression resulting from class warfare, the third chroncling the rise of an organized movement led by Fidel Castro against the regime, and the fourth displaying the need for military action against an ideologically unyielding foe.

From an economic standpoint, Soy Cuba is fairly historically accurate.  According to Susan Eckstein, at the time of the revolution, “Cuba ranked among the most developed countries in the region.”  The revolutionary nation placed “eighth and fifth respectively among Latin America’s twenty principal countries in gross domestic product…and gross domestic product per capita.”  Eckstein also points out “foreign capital, above all United States capital, played a major role both in agriculture and in industry” (503).  Kalatozov, while necessarily displaying the sufferings of the lower classes, shows Cuba’s development through its nightlife, the commercial investment of the United States (exemplified both in the presence of U.S. tourists in the first chapter and the purchase of the sugarcane farm by a U.S. corporation in the second chapter), and the polished capital city of Havana.  Soy Cuba only makes a slight mistake when a United States corporation takes over a sugarcane plantation shortly before the beginning of the revolution.  Eckstein claims that the United States’ “role in sugar production…had been declining” during this time period (503).  There is no reason to say that Kalatozov recognized the decline in United States investment in sugar production, since a single purchase of a sugarcane plantation does not indicate an increase in investment.

The director likewise accurately shows the opposite side of the spectrum, the underdeveloped areas of Cuba.  Kalatozov’s portrayal of vast segments of land apportioned to sugarcane growth is rooted in the fact that “only three” Latin American countries “were more dependent on a single commodity for trade” than Cuba, that commodity being sugar (503).  The conclusion of that chapter of the movie is symbolic in that the sugarcane farmer, having lost his rights to his own crops, burns them to the ground in protest against a government that overly relies on a single export to support its economy.

Soy Cuba also succeeds in painting an accurate historical picture from an ideological perspective.  The director of the film tactfully places anti-capitalist and anti-American thought alongside of communist and nationalist ideologies.  During the third chapter of the film, the revolutionaries are very hostile towards anything related to the United States, from both an ideological and a moral perspective (for example, when Enrique protects the girl from the Navy sailors).  John Charles Chasteen, in his book Born in Blood and Fire, points out that “nationalism was at the heart of” Latin Americans’ “anti-US attitude,” and that “frequently, nationalism joined in a powerful combination with another ideology, Marxism” (250).