The 1964 film Yo Soy Cuba is meant to be a piece of propaganda to instill Cuban pride within her citizens. An underlying message against the United States created by Soviet filmmakers responsible for producing Yo Soy Cuba encourages Cuban nationals to embrace their newfound way of life, and commit to a life of socialism while denoucning US aid that oppressed them in the past. However, the life portrayed on screen was vastly different than that of a Cuban in post revolutionary Cuba. Two scenes in particular stick out in my mind as presenting what life Soviet filmmakers wanted Cubans to live.
The film begins by showing the side of Cuba that everyone is familiar with — casinos, alcohol and women. However, the view soon realizes that this facade is covering up a dark side of Cuban life. When an American man accompanies “Betty” back to her run down home, he soon realizes that her life spent in bars does not give her food and shelter. Her job as a prostitute pays her bills, and gives her the minimal money that she is able to build her “house” with. This was the true face of Cuba.
According to Alejandro de la Fuente, Cubans primarily wanted to appear as if they had racial equality; having black and white Cubans live in peace together and share the same rights and benefits as each other. After all, they both fought for Fidel Castro under the banner of the revolution and overthrew the “corrupt” American backed government. However, the portrayal of the Cuban slums in Havana showed a village full of dark skinned people. This may have been one way Soviet filmmakers wanted to divide races in post revolutionary Cuba.
A second important scene occurs at the very end of Yo Soy Cuba. A Cuban farmer named Mariano welcomes a friend who is fighting on the side of the rebels. They share a meal, and at one point the friend asks Mariano if he needs to use a rifle to defend his family. Mariano explains that his hands are for working farmland, not fighting. Before Mariano becomes angry and throws his friend out, his friend asks if Mariano wants a school for his kids, shoes for their feet and good healthcare for their well being, or instead, would they live in poverty like him. This was a way for the Soviet filmmakers to encourage Cubans to embrace socialism. These were the things they fought and died for; to end a corrupt regime and have a country that would benefit from a socialist government. However, Susan Eckstein says that in Cuba, the poor lived much better than most poor people in Latin America, but at the expense of the weathly. Rich people in Cuba live in far worse conditions than the wealthy in neighboring countries. This had much to do with the failing GDP under Castro, and their dependency on Soviet goods gained through a barter system.
Finally, I wanted to touch on the blatent anti-American messages portrayed in this film. In the opening scenes, three American men are sitting in a nightclub debating which man will get to sleep with which woman that night. The ringleader of the group (I say ringleader because he was portrayed as the cockiest of the three) says, “Gentlemen! All men are created equal, and that goes for the broads too, so let’s be real democratic about it and draw lots.” Later in the film, a group of US Sailors who are on leave are walking around Havana singing about how that all Cuban women want them because they belong to the greatest navy of the greatest country in the world. In both of these scenes, Soviet propagana is used to portray Americans as drunk womanizers, and use that to denounce democracy.
Yo Soy Cuba was a film that can be praised for its filmmaking, camera work and editing. However, when it’s all said and done, it’s still an example of Cold War era propaganda.