Cuba: Islands and Life is a 2011 52 minute long film (episode) of the Islands and Life series. The documentary-style short film is about the socio-political, economic and cultural diversity of the Caribbean Island. The film's central theme is to show that the country Cuba has virtually stayed the same regarding trade, culture, socialist ideals, and geography for nearly fifty years. However as seen by policies such as free health care, use of traditional medicine and passion for ballet and gymnastics (USSR influence) Cuba is undoubtedly extremely diversified.
The film starts with a background story where Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, proclaimed he had "discovered" the island and claimed it for Spain. The result of this "discovery" was the total wipe-out of the natives as immigrants from mainland Spain made the journey across the Atlantic to settle in the new colony. In the following century, African slaves from the motherland were brought to work in the sugarcane plantations of the rich tropical country.
With the arrival of both Spanish natives and African slaves, the Taino and Siboney indigenous people were exposed to a whole new range of communicable diseases like smallpox and measles, which they had never encountered before in their isolation. A good number of the natives were put in reservations where the living conditions were deplorable. Hence, the present Cubans owe their ancestry majorly to Spanish and African immigrants.
The documentary notes that Cuba is a proud communist state. There is a clip of Fidel Castro as he ascends into power in the now famous 1959 Cuban revolution. As of the time of the documentary's production, Fidel has retired from active politics. It is his brother Raul Castro who is now at the helms of leadership in trying to keep Cuba afloat in a Capitalist world. However many Cubans are struggling with poverty, and the economy is still unstable. As one watches the changing landscapes from green tropical rainforest to a Havana street with narrow alleyways, to revelers enjoying themselves on a sandy sea, a man transporting water on a donkey, you are left all the more curious on Cuba. The recurrent theme from the beginning to the end is the struggle of a Communist country to hold on to its ideals in a rapidly changing world where consumerism and capitalism is the order of the day. The film offers a unique look at a country where politics influences not just the governance of the people but also the economy.
Despite strict policies regarding trade and commerce, the government's decision to allow for private businesses in Cuba may offer a sneak-peak into the future. It is possible that shortly Cuba may become a Capitalist nation or a hybrid of sorts where socialism influences the people's way of life or culture and Capitalism is used to conduct business and commerce. As of the moment (2011), Raul Castro is adamant at keeping Cuba's 50-year history with communism, but the future could always change.
In the past, Cuba has been the recipient of harsh trade embargos and sanctions by the United States and allies for its associations with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a useful ally during the Cold War, providing food, fuel, and medicine to the isolated nation. It makes sense that Cuba is a great tourist destination with its retro 1950s vibe in the cities, the breezy, relaxing beaches and the rich vein of tropical climate. The United States still has travel restrictions and bans, but that does not seem to have affected the tourism industry at all. Majority of the tourists are Canadian citizens.
Fidel Castro was a devout communist to the core. He collaborated with other communist countries especially the USSR. The relations forged with the USSR also made ties with Western countries such as the USA and Great Britain very frosty. He was the one who recognized tourism had potential in bringing in foreign currency and generating domestic revenue. However with only a handful of allies such as Communist China and the USSR sourcing of ingredients for the restaurant business was a challenge. Fidel Castro could have had more talks with the Western countries, but he was a purist who did not believe in conformity. In the late 1980's Eastern European states started breaking off from the USSR and in its place was formed Russia. Cuba lost a prominent ally when the USSR was broken up. That is the main reason why Cuba has remained one foot in the twentieth century and another foot reluctantly hovering over the twenty-first century.
Cuba is unique in not only being the only island communist state in the world. The religion in Cuba is a syncretic union of Spanish Catholic and traditional African practices to form what is called Santeria. Initially, public worship was illegal, but new policies have made that possible. In some parts of Cuba, such as Santiago de Cuba African gods are worshipped for example Caridad del Cobre Virgin. The Babalawo priestesses in Havan charge tourists for spiritual readings, something which has made the Santeria priest concerned about commercializing religion.
It can be seen that Cuba is changing and nobody knows what the future holds for this country. Will Cuba maintain ties with communist states despite the geographical distances? Will communism appeal to present and future generations? These are pertinent questions which only the future can answer. The music is also changing with local Reggeaton group Kola Loca creating waves. The challenge for Cuba is hence maintaining social equality among its people and balancing changing economic times and cultural trends.
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