Strange thing is the sugar, Colón.
It contains so many tears, but it is so sweet.
After World War II ended, the spike of industrialization in many Latin American countries stagnated. As Chasteen explains, the US still had a plan for industrialization below the border: US economists reasoned that “Latin American coutries should do what they do best: concentrate on their “comparative advantage” as low-wage producers of raw materials and foodstuffs” (252). Industrialized countries should continue at their skill: the production of the really good goods: the value-added gizmos and gadgets. Incidentally, the Latin American industry described would NOT interfere or compete with US industry. Industrialized countries like the US would gain fame and honor for producing this technology, while the Latin American hands behind the scenes would go unnoticed. Clearly, “the 1950s were a time of frustration for most Latin Americans” (Chasteen 257).
The US was living the good life thanks to their technological industry boon. Yet, much like today, we still wanted exotic fruits like bananas, the caffeine fix of coffee, and cheap sugar from Latin American countries in our daily life.
This dichotomy is epitomized in the film in the man that “won” a date with “Betty.” The night after their date, the man wakes up, and without acknowledging or asking for Betty’s approval, eats Betty’s tangerine which to Betty was much more than just a fruit: it was sustenance, it was a gift, it symbolized a relationship. Not five minutes later, he wakes Betty to ask (or tell) if he might buy her cross necklace. Again, the necklace obviously has sentimental value to Betty, yet the American man places only a one-dimensional, insufficient monetary value on the necklace. A final significance of the this strange interaction between the American male tourist and “Betty” is the American’s total disregard for Betty’s true culture: without trying to learn about her, he simply places an American name on her, tries to impose his language on her, and in doing so treats her culture, language, and personal life with disrespect.
Why are you running away?
You came to have fun. Don’t avert your eyes!
Casinos and hotels are what you came for.
But I am also the land, children, and elders.
In 1947, the US drafted the Marshall Plan to combat communism in Western Europe and Asia. Ironically, any sort of aid factored in to help their Latin American allies in World War II was essentially absent: between 1946 and 1959, Chasteen notes, a mere two percent of US foreign aid went to Latin American nations. “Instead of aid, Latin Americans got a lean diet of diplomatic pressure from the US” (257). Latin America’s “good neighbor” had disappeared, leaving in its wake the old familiar face of imperialism. The scene in Soy Cuba depicting “Old man Pedro” burning his caña fields symbolizes this tragedy: Pedro and his family had worked these fields all his life. Driven literally insane by the sweat, blood, and tears that each year yielded only pocket change (the US, after all, needed a cheap sugar supply, and we had bigger fish to catch now in Europe and Asia) Pedro destroys anything that ever meant sustenance for him. The US of course, does not bat an eye at this–we avert our eyes once again, import more sugar, export more tourists, and continue living “the good life.”
Interestingly, Alejandro de la Fuente extends this averting of the eyes to racial diversity and tension in Cuba. One obstacle to hurdle before completely unifying a nationalist front in revolution was race. While José Martí argued that unity would be won through “triumphant love, … with all, and for the good of all” (De la Fuente 44). Yet De la Fuente argues that to silence the good and bad implications of racial diversity would be to, in a sense, respect and comply with the colonial discourse that focused on the “incompatibility of race” (44). This “myth of racial equality” has been acknowledged by scholars as elite propaganda to unite the masses via “deracialization” of blacks and mulattos, popularized by a few select intellectual voices rather than the people at large (45). Eventually, black Cubans decided on the ethnic identity of “Afro-Cuban,” a mixing of both cultural identities. Having resolved this issue for now, Cubans of all ethnic backgrounds continued into the struggle for economic and political independence.
Your hands are used to holding tools,
But now they are holding a rifle.
They fire into the past–not to kill,
But to protect the future.
After years of neglect on the US’s behalf (and direct negligence via support of military dictator Fulgencio Batista), Latin American nationalists began forming ideas of Marxist revolution (Chasteen 264). Cubans related quite well to Marxist ideologies of class exploitation (see Betty’s shantytown, Pedro’s backbreaking caña farm) and a dominating, profiting privileged class in cahoots with “the outsiders’ imperial plan” (see Batista).
Growing Marxist sentiment is evident in Soy Cuba as university students gather, angered by recent murders, toil with ideas and plans for revolt. Enrique sees no option but to rise up in armed revolt, murder the corrupt Batista, and take back the people’s land and government. Eventually, Enrique gains the support of many: as he marches through town bearing a symbolic slain white peace dove, hundreds follow. Although Enrique is eventually murdered by Batista’s gunmen, Cuban flags flying at his funeral seem to symbolize not only death but the future renewal of the Cuban people, manifested in the region’s only successful socialist revolution: The Cuban Revolution (Eckstein 502).
Eckstein concludes, through an extensive study of socioeconomic changes in post-revolution Cuba, that the rural and urban poor did experience an increase in social and economic standing (via social expenditure, redistrubution of wealth, elimination of bourgeoisie), making Cuba “by far the most egalitarian country in Latin America” (530).