Will The Revolution Survive Tommorow?

ability to import vital medicines and technology. US citizens who wish to travel to Cuba face the prospect of a $50,000 US fine, and the threat of property seizure. Additionally, for the past 44 years, the US government has prevented Cuba from conducting legitimate trade in everyday produce by banning any ship which docks at a Cuban port from docking at a US port. It levies hefty fines against US companies which trade with the Island and refuses to conduct business with foreign companies which trade with Cuba.  These policies have had the effect of deterring many international companies and governments from investing in the Island and have resulted in a stagnant economy dependent upon tourism and with no prospects of infra-structural development. This has had a heavy impact on the Cuban economy and helps put into context the ramshackle state of the Cuban infrastructure. Cubans who wish to escape the depressing conditions and shortages are further galvanized by US policy which applies only to Cubans: that any Cuban who successfully steps foot on US soil is instantly granted full and automatic US citizenship.  It is therefore no surprise that many of the Island's citizens harbour the ambition to abscond to the United States.

Norma Guillard, a Clinical Psychologist said: "Many people go away thinking that they will find paradise in other places, leaving behind what they have here and later wanting to return because they find out that the paradise is not what they had imagined and that there is a lot of propaganda about the imagined paradise."  Cuba's continued resistance against the world’s only superpower has defied all the pundits’ predictions. It is a phenomenon as to how under such conditions Cuba has managed to sustain its sovereignty and not succumb earlier to the demands of Global conglomerates and corporations, which have been hovering over the island’s decaying carcass for almost half a century, anticipating its final breath. Cuba’s ability to sustain its population, fed, housed and educated, with a free health system the envy of the developed world, remains an embarrassment to the US government, which is fearful the socialist example may contaminate the rest of Latin America.

These fears are now being realized in Venezuela, Uruguay, and Bolivia. From the Bay of Pigs invasion to the grotesque public exhibition of the Elian Gonzales charade, the western media has succeeded in presenting a public image of a Cuban society oppressed and destitute at the hands of a merciless dictator. Western propaganda has sought to saturate the public's minds with the ideal of a single solution in the forced spread of democracy.  Given the image the west has been spoon-fed about this isolated Caribbean Island for the past half century, it is easy for the people of the west to view the Cuban society as a lost cause without considering the responsibility of the US and other western governments for the continual oppression of the Island.  Hasta Siempre is a documentary which, through the eyes of the ordinary Cuban, seeks to examine the underlying causes behind the current economic and social crisis and dares to ask the million dollar question:
Will the revolution survive tomorrow?

By Ishmahil

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1st January 2006

"We are not free in Cuba; we are not free to leave the island. I want to be able to see the world, to have my own house, to own a car, to buy nice shoes, to have the nice things that you have."  These are the words of 19-year-old Julio Sanchez. I met Julio one unbearably hot afternoon amongst the throng of people that busy themselves within the labyrinth of Havana's dilapidated and overcrowded side streets.  Julio would have remained an anonymous face amongst the fleeting crowds were it not for his pronounced youthful swagger and the Nike logo conspicuously tattooed on the side of his face. Two coffees and countless cigarettes later, he lifted his shirt to reveal a twelve-inch tattoo of the Statue of Liberty emblazoned across his torso.  He also revealed a secret he had been harbouring for the past few years: the desire to flee the island as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Such discussions of escape or of life in what the West describes as a communist dictatorship are common but are not well-received by the ubiquitous eyes and ears which make up Cuba's ever alert intelligence community; so Julio and I hastily retreated to a venue where he could feel more relaxed and speak openly.  It was there that he disclosed to me his feelings of entrapment and his yearning for the freedom so propagated in Cuba since the ideals of western culture have infiltrated Cuba's borders. His view mirrors that of many Cubans who, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990's, have seen the Island open up to tourism and other outside influences. Tourism has unwittingly opened a window into a lifestyle of carefree spending and material excess that has been a catalyst to the massive public desire for change. Many foreigners arrive with their expendable incomes, spend extravagantly in Cuban terms, and tip wherever they go. This has led to an exodus from the rural areas from where the people flock to seek their fortune around the tourist destinations and has led to the government stopping migration to the Capital. 

Joel James, a Marxist intellectual and Director of The House of the Caribbean, a cultural centre situated in Santiago on the eastern tip of Cuba, states: "The development of tourism in Cuba has affected the daily life of the Cubans. Tourism is an inevitable misfortune. A misfortune because where there is tourism, there is a modification of the customs and traditions of culture. A tourist in Cuba enjoys the nature and possibilities of Cuba much more than an ordinary Cuban and the Cuban is aware of this. Tourism has seriously hurt us; there has been a political price to pay due to tourism."  In a society where a Doctor earns on average $25 US per month, it is easy to recognize the importance and impact of tourism on the economy. Those who work in the tourist industry can earn in daily tips what the ordinary Cuban earns in a month. The frightening reality of this economic infiltration ignites a flood of comparisons to the social conditions that the Revolution of 1959 sought to eradicate: an expanding contradiction in living standards, a rise in prostitution, and the re-emergence of class divisions.

At seventy-eight years of age, Fidel Castro has held the title of Head of State of Cuba for forty-six years, making him one of world's longest reigning heads of state. Undoubtedly in the near future, historians and critics will be hotly debating the legacy of this most controversial and outspoken world leader of the twentieth century.  Historical legacies, however, are very rarely determined by facts, but rather, from how far to the left or to the right the author stands from the subject he or she intends to document.  It was for this reason I determined to investigate the mortality of Cuba's socialist revolution devoid of romantic idealism and, as objectively as is possible, attempt to make sense of Castro's Cuba amidst the transitional tide of change which threatens to destabilize Castro's vision of a socialist utopia. Julio Sanchez and Joel James were just two of the scores of people I interviewed for the forthcoming documentary Hasta Siempre.

The documentary takes the viewer on a journey through the lives and ambitions of ordinary Cubans who talk openly about the changes sweeping through Cuba and their visions of the Island's future. Julio was deprecating about his prospects as a young man in Cuba, but he also wanted to make clear that he was a "Fidelista" and that his dreams of escape were not fuelled by resentment towards his Island's social idealism, but by the economic hardships and shortages which most Cubans face due to the US blockade: a blockade that impedes trade in commerce and agriculture and even limits Cuba's