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Copyright © 2007 riceNpeas
As Fidel's health fades, questions about Cuba in a post-Fidel era arise. An inside glimpse at Cuba through a RNP journalist's experience during the making of our latest film.

Driving through the streets of Havana, it is easy to feel the revolutionary spirit, with the old cars, colonial pastel coloured buildings, and propaganda posters. Cuba is a country that has defied the West, representing an inspiration for non-aligned nations and offering guidance for resistance struggles against oppression, colonialism, and apartheid. Poignant billboards denoting the injustice of the war in Iraq, the horrors of Guantanamo Bay, the suffering caused by the US blockade, and Cuba’s commitment to community and welfare, all rang true. However, determined not to get caught up in the romanticism of the Revolution, the riceNpeas team sought to encompass the diverse opinions of the Revolution in the latest documentary With or Without Fidel.

Talking against the Revolution comes at a cost, as exemplified in March 2003, when 75 activists campaigning for a referendum were imprisoned. A culture of censorship, and in turn self-censorship, has been successfully cultivated. Many people we spoke to, despite supporting the Revolution, feared to talk on camera or were warned by others not to partake. However, a process of liberalisation has taken place in Cuba notably in the last 15 years, with vibrant and progressive cultural institutes in existence.

There is now space for discussion, with magazines such as Temas offering readers an analysis of the social and economic realities in Cuba. Subjects such as inequality, racial discrimination and political participation are broached, with public debates and round table discussions a firm part of the intellectual circuit. Twenty years ago, such behaviour could have been condoned as anti-revolutionary, but it now forms part of the collective and participatory debate within society.

Allowing a certain level of democratic participation is an important means of sustaining consent, which the Cuban government has recognized and responded to. In other so-called democratic nations, people can intellectually masturbate over the legality of Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq or the justification of royal expenses. While this certainly reflects a degree of freedom of expression, it also has the capacity to transform radical protest and rebellion into harmless and controlled dinner party conversations. Within all societies, there is also a limit to freedom of expression, and it is therefore crucial to understand concepts such as “freedom” or “democracy” as relative.

Cuba’s surveillance techniques, heavy policing and omnipresent intelligence services can be understood within the context of its relationship with the US. The US imposed a blockade against Cuba in 1962. According to a declassified US State Department document in 1960, the blockade aimed to "bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government."

The blockade has certainly brought extreme economic and cultural hardship, but has inadvertently also served to intensify nationalism and strengthen collectivism. Furthermore, despite the enormous suffering generated, the Cuban government has never abandoned her social plan, guaranteeing health, education, employment and food rations for every citizen since 1959.

US acts of aggression extend beyond the blockade. They include an unbelievable 638 CIA attempts to assassinate Fidel (as reported by Fabian Escalante), the sponsored military invasion of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, and pumping millions of dollars to fund "dissidents" inside Cuba. These acts of aggression led Noam Chomsky to remark that, “Cuba has been subjected to more international terrorism than probably the rest of the world put together.”

If the US government really did want “democracy,” which, in their view, is a change in the regime and leadership, they have shot themselves in the foot by funding dissidents. As Rafael Hernandez, the Editor of Temas magazine explains: “All political opposition to the Cuban government that I know, is an opposition which accepts the support of the US. Thus they lack credibility.”

Just like the 26th of July Movement and the historical evolution of the Revolution and its principles, change in Cuba must be an organic and independent process. Civil society has blossomed with opportunities for influencing policy, development and change in a post-Fidel Cuba. As capitalist influences, the black market and inequality have all increased in recent years, Cuba needs to develop economic and political strategies to resolve her internal contradictions. The need to incorporate the views generated from civil society will be crucial in the period of political transition for the long-term sustainability of Cuba’s socialist model.

With or Without Fidel offers viewers an intimate account of these issues from all layers of civil society. It is a unique documentary that features Cuba’s leading politicians, intellectuals and dissidents, who debate the future direction of the Island’s 48 year-old Revolution. The film analyses how the Cuban people and government will cope without its charismatic leader, encompassing the debates surrounding the ideals of democracy and freedom of speech.

With one of the sharpest intelligence services in the world, it is highly likely that the government knew we had interviewed the country’s most prominent dissidents. However, whilst the BBC, CNN and other correspondents were expelled from the country while we were there, we were given unprecedented access. In keeping with our previous films and Cuba’s recent liberalisation measures, we were entrusted to produce an honest and balanced portrayal of the Island, untainted by Western propaganda.

What will happen post Fidel? Will the Revolution survive? With or Without Fidel promises to be the most insightful and thought-provoking documentary on Cuba of its time…

With or Without Fidel

PREVIEW SCREENING + Q&A: 3rd June, 4.30pm
Frontline Club, 13 Norfolk Place, W2, BOX OFFICE: 020 7479 8950

PREMIERE + Q&A: 29th June, 6.50 pm
Tricycle Cinema, 269 Kilburn High Road, NW6, BOX OFFICE: 020 7372 6611

1st June 2007

With or Without Fidel
By Natasha Tsangarides