Is Cuba modern enough for young people? | VPRO World Stories


Cuba after Castro At 19 years old, Yuri left Cuba,
preferably to never return. He started a new life in the Netherlands
and we stayed behind. Now, 15 years later,
Fidel and Raúl are gone and Yuri returns. The question is: Has Cuba changed
enough for Yuri to pick up his life here? episode 4
faith, hope and utopia Which table has finished
more than one bottle of whisky? Come to the front.
He’s the only one who’s had three bottles. And of course you also get
this set with a tray. What a special evening
here in Santiago de Cuba. A warm applause
for tonight’s biggest consumer. This is what has become
of the Revolution. The new religion in Cuba is consumption:
flashing money and flaunting gold. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready… But things aren’t what they seem in Cuba. This host at the Tropicana
also has another job. In reality, he’s a spiritual leader,
a Babalao to be precise. A priest of the Santería religion. This religion is strongly intertwined
with Cuban culture and identity. In the 17th and 18th centuries… …many black people were brought here
as slaves, to build Cuba. Is the majority of Santería followers
in Cuba black? No, there are also white people
with blue eyes here. And they also become Babalao. In Cuba, there’s no connection
between race and religion. Officially, few Cubans practise Santería. On paper, the majority is Catholic. But the official statistics
don’t match the reality. This is a symbolic ritual. Is that alcohol?
– Yes, rum from Havana. In the past, Yuri’s mother
often took him to Santería rituals. And he didn’t always like it. Once he had to drink chicken blood. Sadly he was too young to drink rum. In Cuba, people traditionally
don’t mind animal sacrifices. But you can also use fruit. Today, more
and more people are against sacrificing. They don’t want to harm animals. The greatest sacrifice
you can give Ifá is Omí, water. So that chicken blood was unnecessary?
– That’s right. Really.
– That’s just my luck. Blood has no ritual value in itself. The ritual value
is in the sacrificing of the animal. Then the spirit of the animal
sends a message to heaven. When it leaves the animal’s body. In the past, believing in God wasn’t
accepted, as in every communist country. Yet it wasn’t prohibited. But in state-owned companies,
openly religious people weren’t promoted. And you could only work for the state.
There were no other options. But today, spirituality is accepted. Yuri receives a consultation. Now I’m going to communicate
with your spirit. Yuribert Capetillo Hardy. Grant me insight into the Ifá texts. The scriptures reveal something about
a female ancestor, which I’ll examine now. Shake them with your hands.
Take one stone in each hand. Give them to me. The Santería god says
that if your mother is no longer alive… …you have to honour
your mother’s spirit a lot. If she’s no longer alive. Is she still alive?
– No. Now the ancestral mothers speak,
so this must be your mother’s spirit. Iroso Umbo tells me that your mother
didn’t die of natural causes. It’s very personal. You’re someone who must have been
in this religious world for a long time. I don’t know…
– Is it related to your life? Yes.
I’m not very religious, to be honest. But you’ve definitely hit a weak spot. What’s your advice for calming this spirit? You have to settle some things spiritually. But the priority right now is that she is
where she should be, and at peace. It was mainly caused by her medication.
– Of course. It doesn’t matter what she had.
A depression, or something else. We never go against science. Science comes first. Yes, take your medicines on time.
But also think about spiritual medicine. We’re not only social beings… …but also psychological
and spiritual ones. Yuri, you often resented
your mother’s religion. But during those hard years of major
shortages after the Soviet Union’s fall… …maybe religion was her only support. A lot of people turned to religion
for comfort back then. Religion transformed itself
from a problem… …into an important pillar of society. It did so for many Cubans
during that difficult period. That period was so difficult… …that it was hard to get through
without the support of a religion. Right now, there’s something
interesting happening here. The party leaders from the government… …and the province
meet with us twice a year. They want to know what we need.
– Now you’re confusing me. Really? The highest party leaders.
– From the Communist Party? Twice a year, we sit down
with the highest party leader. He shows us social projects
that are being carried out in the city. Yes, that’s how the opium of the people
sneaked in through the back door. Religious people are strong enough
to make their voice heard again. When the Party debated
the new constitution… …gay marriage was removed
due to great pressure from the church. Most older Cubans didn’t mind. After all, we’re still Latinos. It was high time for a new constitution. The old one hadn’t changed
at all since 1976. The Party didn’t take any risks
and polished the text for a long time. Now we can express our opinion
through a referendum. Behind me, you can see
a government sign saying: Vote ‘yes’. You won’t easily find a sign saying:
Vote ‘no’. Because only the government
can advertise. True, and the streets look peaceful
without all the neon signs… …that abound in developed countries. But because only the government
can advertise… …you’ll meet angry people in the street. There’s no democracy here at all. So what’s lacking then?
– Real freedom. Freedom and democracy. A feeling of happiness.
– How would you describe democracy? Democracy is being able
to express myself, to speak my mind. Right now, I’m not being heard.
And they can make me disappear. But you’re speaking your mind right now.
– Yes, to you. But here, on Cuban television? Forget it.
It’s impossible. You have to agree with the government.
You can’t deviate. There is freedom of the press,
but only constitutionally. The system is worn out. We’re living in the past,
but we should look to the future. You can’t run a country this way.
It’s impossible. What do you mean no democracy?
Aren’t we voting on the constitution? Are you going to vote?
– Vote? I’m not crazy. Voting won’t feed me.
It won’t improve anything. I wish they would let the people live. That the communists
and capitalists stop arguing. So you won’t vote?
– You only vote if you’re bored. To distract yourself. And are you going to vote?
– No. Are you going to vote on Sunday? I guess I’ll have to. There’s no alternative.
I have to do it. You really have to?
– Of course. So it’s mandatory?
– Pretty much, yes. Why pretty much?
– I don’t want trouble. I don’t want any trouble
with the government. They will put you on a list. Are you going to vote on Sunday? I won’t tell you.
I keep that to myself. Are you going to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’? ‘Yes’. I’ll vote ‘yes’.
– I always vote ‘yes’. Why ‘yes’? For prosperity. When the contents
of the new constitution became known… …I saw things that I would personally
do differently from the government. But I’m only one person.
There are 11 million other Cubans. A lot of the changes will be good
for many Cubans, if implemented well. And that’s why you’ll vote ‘yes’?
– Exactly, always ‘yes’. For prosperity, a way forward.
A better future. That’s what everyone wants.
I always vote ‘yes’ for Cuba. And if people want to vote ‘no’, they can? That’s a question without an answer. You know?
Because you’ll leave and we’ll stay here. So that’s my answer.
That’s all there’s to say. That sums it up:
You’ll leave and we’ll stay here. We, the old-guard revolutionaries,
always want to get a ‘yes’… …when we come up with something. We think we know what the people want. But, as in other countries,
we do have independent thinkers… …who always find a way
to expose the reality. And maybe that should be possible,
as long as it benefits the country. For example, this young journalist
wants to raise environmental awareness. Good morning.
– Hello, Yuri. But in Cuba, the environment
is a very touchy subject. In our pursuit of economic progress
we’ve neglected it a bit. And our government doesn’t want
to be reminded of this all the time. Nearly all countries are working
to clean up plastic. But here, we’re still
not doing anything about it. The waste ends up here, because
the people who live along the river… …often aren’t environmentally aware. And apart from that,
things aren’t made easy for them. There are no waste containers. Or they’re simply used
to throwing rubbish into the river. We want to put it on the agenda,
because it’s not a topic of debate in Cuba. There aren’t any reports about it either. We want to highlight topics
that are important to Cuba. But there are so many problems in Cuba
that this topic is sometimes neglected. This layer has been
accumulating for many years. When you dig,
you see plastic everywhere. It’s embedded in the soil. Just look: plastic everywhere. A month ago, we published
a photo series on this subject. One photo showed a boy
on a surfboard in the river. He couldn’t go further
because of the rubbish. I think this photo might urge people… …to clean up
the heavily polluted Quibú river. Geisy is one of the journalists
writing for Periodismo de Barrio… …a digital platform
for independent journalism. Who are your readers? We’re an independent medium. And because independent journalism
is illegal in Cuba… …we can only appear online. Not everyone has internet access,
which limits our reach. Most of our readers have
a decent income and internet access. Yuri attends an editorial meeting. These take place
in a new place every time. The independent journalists
can’t afford an office. How are you, Tomás?
Give me a kiss. Hello, I’m Yuri. Nice to meet you. All of them used to work for official media
like the paper Granma and Radio Rebelde. How do you practise
independent journalism in Cuba? It’s complicated.
We don’t want to criticise the government. We want to practise a kind of journalism
that’s lacking in the official media. A kind of journalism that’s not one-sided,
but that shows all perspectives… …on the country, and on life in Cuba. Can you publish freely right now? Yes. The only censorship
is that we don’t have full access. But nobody checks what we write. Nobody tells us
what we can or cannot write. We can write whatever we want,
but not as much as we would like. We are limited by the press laws. We have less access to sources
than the other media. They close the door on us
when it comes to information. So that limits us.
– What do you mean by other media? The official media. It also doesn’t help that the Cuban press… …is run by the Communist Party’s
ideological department. Everything press-related
is politically charged here. And another thing
is that in the new constitution… …about which a referendum
is being held… …the article about the press
has been changed. Nothing will really change
for these journalists. Except that it will now be in writing
that unofficial media aren’t recognised. What will really change for you
due to the new constitution? There’s always a scenario of uncertainty. One day, we might have to suddenly
go offline, or we’ll be arrested. That’s something we’re afraid of.
But I think it will be fine. There are more independent media and
many people who identify with our stories. They’re tired of being manipulated. Well, our official media
also produce good things. But these young people are brave. And they clearly love our country. This love is less obvious
in other independent figures… …like Luis Manuel, a famous visual artist. Hello. Hello, I’m Yuri.
– I’m Luisma. He benefits from the economic openness. He travels the world
and makes a lot of money with his art. But he’s not satisfied,
and he doesn’t trust the referendum. What does it say on your T-shirt?
– No to decree 349. The intention of that decree
is to check everything. It legitimises an important figure:
the inspector. An inspector could simply
enter your house and say: ‘That’s porn, that’s sexism, that’s vulgar.’ And then he takes your house
and musical instruments. A reggaeton musician without a licence
could lose his studio and even his house. That’s one of the ways
decree 349 could be used. Why does the system
persecute you as artists? What’s the reason for that? I believe that all systems
in the world use art. Art is an instrument.
It has a magical, chemical component… …that addresses a person directly. Robert Mapplethorpe
was an American photographer. He opened millions of people’s eyes
to homosexuality… …and to sexual freedoms,
through photography. One photo can influence
millions of people. Through art,
artists can communicate very directly. Systems are afraid of that. Luis Manuel has just had an exhibition
at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Why did he come back
if he’s so critical of our country? I came back because I love Cuba. Because I feel a responsibility. I don’t condemn emigrants.
Those who emigrate, do so because… …often, the system is damaging them.
It’s destroying them. They also force you to emigrate. The independent artist
is forced to escape. Otherwise you can’t work. If I can’t exhibit my work in Cuba,
what am I supposed to do? If someone comes to tear it up… …and confiscates all of this,
what can I do? I’ll have to leave. And so he did.
Two weeks later, this artist left for Spain. What happens to people like you,
who devote their lives… …to speaking their mind
and exposing the truth? I haven’t talked to my mother
in five or six months. The police come to her house
to intimidate her. They say something bad
could happen to my family. In two years, I’ve been arrested
four or five times. They put you in a taxi and take you away.
And every time, you think… How long were you in jail?
– Three or four days. We’re professional artists.
I’m an art historian, not a criminal. In Cuba, protesting is prohibited by law. When Luis Manuel protested
in front of a government building… …he was arrested
and jailed for several days. I have an education.
I have the right to live and work here. I’m using my rights.
– Also to make art. Yes, also to make art. This is for all Cubans.
Freedom, damn it. Freedom. According to the official data… …86 percent voted in favour
of the new constitution. So you would say that we all agree. But the new constitution mainly benefits
entrepreneurs and foreign investors. Yes, Yuri, I can already hear you sneer: ‘What a nice kind of socialism
if it welcomes big business.’ ‘While it oppresses journalists and artists.’ But shouldn’t we get ahead
economically first… …before we loosen the reins
in other areas? This is Mariel, Cuba’s free trade zone. Foreign companies can move here
and do business. It has existed for five years
and is our hope for a better future. Hello, Oscar. This government official with very
ambitious plans is the project leader. We have a vision of what this zone
should look like in a few years. This area used to be
completely undeveloped. Now there are dozens of miles
of roads, railways and bridges. We’ve built electricity
and communication networks. If a company that’s located here
needs manpower… …can they recruit them
among Cuban citizens? Yes, one of the objectives was
to create employment for Cubans. At the moment, there are
40 companies here, from 18 countries. What does this project mean to Cuba? This project should become the engine
of socioeconomic development in Cuba. That’s where a Unilever-Suchel factory
is being built, a joint venture. Here, groundwork is being done
for a Cuban-Italian joint venture. They make disposable diapers
for adults and children. Those buildings belong to a Mexican
company that produces paint. We’re not against foreign capital. But when you come here,
we determine the rules. This is the head office
of a Dutch transport company. They’re in the crane and forklift business. They rent out machines and trucks. Womy is a Dutch transport company
that has been in Cuba for a few years. And business is going well. The manager, Tony, knows all about
the many rules he has to comply with. It took him almost a year… …to get the permission
to import three cars for his company. Shall I speak Dutch or Spanish with you? Preferably Dutch, to be honest. Your main customers
are located here, within the zone? We have more than 200
pieces of equipment across the country. Is it going well? The expectation was
that Mariel’s growth would be faster… …but I think it has been delayed by fear
among companies to invest in Cuba. And the US economic blockade
is also a reason… …why growth is not as fast
as desired here. Why do you think companies
are afraid to invest here? Cuba is something else, you know?
A different regime… …a very different way of doing things,
a completely different dynamic. But to me, it’s a nice challenge. And I think that Womy has achieved a lot
here and that we can continue to grow. There are opportunities here. And what do you pay in taxes?
– The system is pretty complicated. But you can assume that the government
deducts about 70 percent… …and that the employee gets 30 percent.
That’s what it comes down to. That seems like a lot,
and it actually is quite a large amount. But I would like to add
that the salaries of employees here… …are still extremely high compared
to what people earn outside Mariel. You could be talking about four to five
times the regular salary outside Mariel. So 70 percent of the employee’s salary
goes to the state, which makes sense. Cuba should also gain from it, even more
so since Trump tightened the embargo. We have to take what we can get. Havana’s historic centre
is slowly being restored. The project started in 1993,
at the peak of the economic crisis. Old Havana’s many
monumental buildings… …were once inhabited
by rich Cubans and Americans. After the Revolution,
we threw the Americans out… …and many rich Cuban families
followed them to the US. After that, poor Cubans
could appropriate these beautiful houses. But they didn’t have enough money
for maintenance. Do you live here?
– I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve never wanted to leave.
– No? You were born here as well?
– Yes. I’m used to living in the centre.
My family lives here too. Were you born before the Revolution?
– Yes. Was it very different before?
– Yes, especially socially. No black people were allowed.
– In this neighbourhood? I wouldn’t be able to walk here?
– You could walk, but not live here. So it was segregated?
– Yes. After the Revolution,
all of that was quickly abolished. When the Revolution was accomplished,
everyone could go anywhere. We hope things will get better. But people can survive around here. People can do that here. This elderly gentleman
is clearly very fond of this neighbourhood. But maybe his house
will also become a hotel one day. Hopefully it won’t be
as it was before the Revolution… …when rich and poor lived separately. Let’s hope ordinary Cubans
will still be able to live here. This building is from the early 20th
century, when this square was built. Now it has a new life as an office building. At the Urban Renewal department,
Orlando is in charge of restoration. These buildings
are in a very bad condition. Structurally, they are about to collapse. There are problems with the water pipes,
electricity and sanitation. Do the people who own these houses
pay for the restoration? No, they don’t have to.
They have the privilege… …that the Urban Renewal department
carries out the restoration… …to preserve the buildings. And since 2011, we also see
a lot of people selling their house. Those houses could then
become bars or restaurants. I remember that the residents
of the building I grew up in… …didn’t want to move.
They were attached to their house. In the end, we always work it out.
We always come to an agreement. In the end, we don’t just try
to preserve the building… …but also the people living in it. The residents of the old centre are
often offered a house on the outskirts. They would rather stay in the centre,
but progress demands sacrifice. This will be the cruise terminal. The rest
will become stores, a small hotel… …recreation areas, cafes, restaurants. The city has to adapt to the cruise ships,
which have to keep coming. But if things go on like this… …those ships should also be able
to moor in other places… …right outside the historic centre. When I think of change in Cuba,
or transition… …something I’m very afraid of
is that people will change. That Cubans will no longer
see the social side… …lose the warmth towards each other
and choose money over family. It’s less about doing something together,
more about your own personal gain. And that’s a direct consequence
of capitalism. Suddenly I realise that socialism
wasn’t so bad after all. Not all bad. But Yuri, if you feel that way,
why don’t you come back? Maybe Mariana can get you
to answer that. How are you doing?
How are you? I’m fine.
– Me too. It’s been so long.
– A long time, right? How was your trip?
– Fine. But let’s talk about you first.
I haven’t seen you in months. On the one hand I’m more settled now. But I’ll also start
a couple of new projects soon. But will you come back
to Holland with me? No. And you?
After everything you’ve seen? We’ve talked to a lot of people:
doctors, journalists… …musicians, poets, loonies, artists… …poor Cubans, and even rich ones.
I didn’t expect to see those in Cuba. Your trip was intense,
with special moments… …and people who made you think
or who simply moved you. 60 years since the Revolution. If you get lemons, make lemonade. Oh, man. Call the pizzeria and you’re done. It feels like I’ve missed a party. Let’s have some whisky.
– You drink whisky? I’ve learned a lot.
I’ve seen great contrasts in this country. In what way?
What exactly have you learned? I’ve learned to let go
of my scepticism a little bit… …and see the country in a different light.
Although I always see a dark lining. You’re sceptical because of your past,
but now you’ve also seen the other side. If you were only guided by your past,
you’d still feel the same way about it. But now you could
see things at a distance. I definitely see the changes. People can express themselves
much more freely than before, when I left. There is less fear. The hope in this country gives me hope.
That makes me very happy. But when it comes
to freedom of expression… …that’s one of the main reasons
why I couldn’t live here. We’re not there yet. Freedom of expression
is a very complicated subject to me. I’m very sceptical about freedom
of expression in general. I’m not saying we have it here, but
many other countries don’t have it either. After so many years in Europe,
it seems to me… …that I can’t get used to it anymore.
So I have nothing… I have nothing against the system itself… …but it should be possible
to have different opinions. Everyone should be able
to say and do what they want. You should be able to become a politician
if you want, or have your own law firm. All I wish for Cuba
is economic prosperity… …and the greatest liberties that exist.
A dynamic system. I don’t like politics,
but sadly it’s all about politics here. Wait, I think
it’s all about politics everywhere. Like when you eat.
You can’t separate that. A lot of my friends don’t want to talk
about politics, but life is political. Where does our money go? But imagine if I worked
for a company like Shell. I don’t want any money from Shell,
but it’s my job. Do you see yourself as an idealist?
– Yes. I’ve thought about it a lot,
but I can’t stand idealists. You’re the only idealist I can stand.
Why would that be? The problem that I personally have
with idealism… …is that young Cubans who grew up
during the Special Period had to believe… …that the next generations
would benefit from our commitment. ‘Share it all, for communism.
And be like Che.’ I was so bombarded with those ideals… …that I’ve become allergic to it.
I’m sorry for saying it like this. You’ll leave again soon, right?
– Yes. You already know when you’ll come back? Let me first say that eventually I want
to end up in Cuba. Whatever happens. Even if it’s only for my own funeral. This is my country.
I love this country. And I want the best for this country. The conclusion is that you’re an idealist
and I’m a pragmatist. And you’ll visit us every now and then.
– Yes, with my wife and children. Yes, nice.
– But now I’m going to buy you a beer. Are you offering me a beer?
– Yes. I won’t say no to that.
– Okay, let’s go. Shall I help?
Last time you wouldn’t let me. Let me take that.
– We’ll each take a bag. That’s still a bit Dutch, right? Yes, you’re half Dutch, but also Cuban. We’ll bravely carry on here
and try to rely on our own abilities more. We’ve depended on everyone else
for far too long. A lot of things have changed,
but we’re not there yet. And where are we going?
No one knows. But we hope that you’ll come back to us.

4 Replies to “Is Cuba modern enough for young people? | VPRO World Stories”

  1. @03:50 – Then the spirit of the animal sends a message to heaven – "These guys are murderers!! Don't let them into heaven!!"

  2. Thanks for the documentary vpro. Sad to see that "democracy" which in fact means big money will most likely ruin this happy people eventually… Viva!

  3. Bolsheviks wouldnt be ashamed by this "documentary". Religion portrayed as evil force, "modernity" as pure atheism and consumption.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *