Has Cuba really changed? | VPRO World Stories

Let’s play domi
– Where’s the rum? Put up some money to buy rum
and then we’ll play. This will be the best documentary ever. Do these go up to nine?
– Yes. It has been a while. Who begins?
– Six. When were you in Cuba last?
– Years ago. You are cheating, bro. 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? Fidel, our hero, has died.
His brother Raúl is slowly retiring. Meanwhile,
we, the original revolutionaries… …are very concerned about
what will happen to Fidel’s legacy. Good afternoon. How are you? Gramps? I’m here. Wine for sale. How is everyone?
Is there no one to welcome me? This is my granddad. episode 1
motherland I’m not even wearing pants.
Dear me. He’s my oldest grandson. Film me together with my leader. Who is your leader?
– He’s up there. Why is he your leader?
– Because of the Cuban Revolution. He led it and managed to win.
Don’t you realise that? He supported us till his death. But we still had his brother:
Raúl Castro Ruz. You want me to dress?
– Your choice. Just put on a shirt.
– Something dressy? Yuri’s gramps
is an old school revolutionary. Like many of our contemporaries
he fought alongside Fidel. Yuri seems uncomfortable
when he talks about his hero. But Yuri’s generation do not know
how life was before the Revolution. Looking at that painting
you said that Fidel for you is… Fidel is my god.
– Your god? Why do you revere him like a god?
– I will tell you. Because I love him more than God,
may the Lord forgive me. Even after his death
he is still higher than Raúl. He still lives, as does Che.
Raúl is subordinate to Fidel. Fidel brought us this far. His daughters know this story by heart.
Their father tells it with pride. When I joined the army
I was hardly educated. I battled my way up
and finished secondary school. In the end I became an army major. When I joined after the Revolution… …I was old enough
to go to secondary school… …but I was illiterate. I could not read. I was one of the 600,000 Cubans
who were illiterate… …in the year that the Revolution won:
1959. The Revolution gave the people a lot.
People often say it gave them nothing. But everybody got an education.
You as well. Yes, you as well. What did it give me? Free teachers, free notebooks,
free books, everything for free. Free lunches. What more do you want? And the hospital is also free. And if this gentleman
needs heart surgery… ‘This gentleman’? I am you grandson. Yes, relax. But listen. If he needs surgery on his heart or
his kidney, it will cost him nothing. Everybody is entitled to health care. That is why I tell our young people: Defend what you have.
Defend what you have. What do you think of me leaving? The Americans imposed their embargo
when the Revolution started. So, people go looking for a better life.
The embargo creates shortages. What we used to import from America,
we now get from Asia, and Europe. We even import stuff from Africa. But from Africa…
– So you think the embargo… It is the fundamental reason
for our underdevelopment. And it continues. The picturesque poverty
that enchants tourists… is caused by, among others,
the U.S. trade embargo. As a result, certain products
are hard to find in Cuba. 15 years ago Yuri emigrated
because of this hopeless situation. Do you think I should have stayed? No. That choice
is up to the individual, my boy. No worries. No worries. Why is Yuri asking
his granddad’s opinion? Does he regret the decision
he made at the time? When I am in Cuba, I am very different. In the Netherlands I am a Cuban.
In Cuba I am a tourist. People say life is better.
You see new buildings, more cars… …entrepreneurs, more entrepreneurs. For the first time they have a president
whose name is not Castro. Is that not reassuring, Yuri? 15 years in the Netherlands
made you more critical than us. As critical as those Cubans in Miami. I am very pessimistic.
Many Cubans emigrated… …because of a lack of perspective
for the future. The key word for the president they now
have is ‘secure’, not ‘renew’ or ‘change’. He doesn’t want Cuba to change.
Cuba needs change, but from within. I hope I’m too sceptical… …because of growing up in the period
of greatest Cuban hardship. Yuri is right. He refers to what we
Cubans call ‘the special period.’ When the USSR disintegrated,
Cuba lost its ally… …and became economically
and politically isolated. The situation in Cuba was bad.
There was so little food… …that zoo animals disappeared
and were eaten. Meat was so scarce that the penalty
for killing a cow was ten years in jail. That is more than you get
for killing a human. The special period was hell.
We had nothing. I often ate cats then. I hunted them and ate them. You could buy nothing,
not even with dollars. People used their wooden furniture
for cooking fires. Most Cubans understand that one would
leave in circumstances like that. Except for a few fanatics
who consider it treason. ‘You abandoned your country.’ Cuba is lovely. Our Cuba.
We feel good here. There is no other country like Cuba. We are still standing.
We are still standing. It is the best country.
Nothing in the world surpasses Cuba. Cuba is beautiful, free and independent.
– Cuba is unrivalled. Can’t you see we are doing well? Liberty.
Liberty and love. Passion, fraternity… That is Cuba. Solidarity. Our streets are safe. You don’t have to be worried
about being molested. When you need something,
people will help you. When you fall in the street, people will
take you to hospital. That is Cuba. In Cuba we have no violence. Only the
police have arms. You are safe here. Thanks to the Revolution.
Thanks to Fidel. Thank you. A hand, people. Give him a hand. Yuri, you may think these people
are brainwashed… …but they seem convinced
and they are many. Some former Cubans are so intrigued by
what’s happening that they are returning. You are sceptic. I understand that. You have to justify the choice you made. Yuri, while you are here, you should
visit one of these Cuban re-migrants. Mariana?
– Hello. Hello, Mariana. How are you?
– Well. You are Yuri? Let me open the gate for you. Is it locked? Do you always lock it? Yes, I lock the gate,
but I leave the door open. I lock the gate as I sometimes
work in the back of the flat. Pleased to meet you.
– You too. One, two or three kisses? If she can’t convince you, who can? The water is boiled. And filtered.
The water is very limy. Spanish or Dutch? I don’t care. What you prefer.
– I don’t care either. Explain. Your Dutch is very good.
– Yes. How come?
– My mom is German, my dad Cuban. When I was 16 by chance
I met a Dutch violin teacher. I am a violinist. I wanted to study in Holland,
but spoke no Dutch. I first had to follow a preparatory
programme in the Netherlands. I lived with a family that spoke Dutch. I am unable to adjust. Why did you move from the Netherlands
to Cuba? Why? Why? I leave, but you come.
Why is that? Now Cuba just feels like home. One year
ago the Netherlands was home. I often did not see the use
of staying in the Netherlands. I felt okay, but “Where can I be
more relevant?” “What part of the world
is more important to me?” The answer is Cuba and Latin America. I didn’t realise, but people
will embrace you quicker here… …or say: “I love you”,
when they don’t have to. I always wonder whether
I am doing the right thing. Whether I’m not selling my soul. Did you feel the same
when you were in the Netherlands? Not because I made music.
I am also a music teacher. And I would think:
They have plenty of music teachers. As a Cuban-German woman in the
Netherlands I sometimes wondered: Why not do this job somewhere else? What is that noise?
– The fumigators. To control what? Mosquitos?
– Yes, mosquitos. You have to be careful because of
dengue. Somebody here got dengue. In this building?
– Yes. Next door.
– That is where they are. Done.
– So much noise, Luis. I did not know you…
– Never mind. I did not know you were filming.
– Never mind. You don’t mind?
– Hello, I am Yuri from Netherlands. I was a sailor
and have often been there. Why didn’t you stay?
– I never considered staying. You don’t regret not staying?
– No, because my family is here. And I feel good here. Cuba has its problems,
just like every other country. Every country has its problems. At least here you have free health care. And free education. I just visited the clinic and it was free.
Medication is cheap. Why would I leave? Why would I stay there?
– Thank you. Cuba is very spontaneous. That is what I love, that spontaneity.
– So much smoke. But there are also certain
cultural differences… …that I have problems with: hearing one
day before that I have a performance… …while I have to play somewhere else. It’s all last-minute here. I am very curious how life here
compares to life in the Netherlands. Economically, you mean?
I did not move for the money. But I can be frugal
and every little bit helps. And I get food
thanks to my ration booklet. You use the ration booklet?
– Yes. Tell me how that works.
Can we see a booklet? My neighbour Chino has it.
– Come on, let’s go. The ration booklet contains coupons
for the essentials. All Cubans are entitled to it. Mariana
asked her neighbour, El Chino… …to get her rationed food products,
while she was at work. Is that El Chino?
– No, Mederos. This is…
– Give us a kiss. How are you, sir?
– Hello, I am Enrique. What a beautiful dog.
– A chihuahua. What is its name?
– Blackie. Feeding her must be very cheap.
– You would think so, but no. She doesn’t eat much, but only meat. Just meat?
– Nothing else. And you only have rice and beans. There is El Chino. See you.
– Thanks. Everything has been fumigated.
– Yes. Hi, how are you? This is El Chino.
– Hello, I am Yuri. He’s called El Chino
because he is slit-eyed like me. Chino, show me the coupon booklet. The booklet is very simple. Here you see the products that you get. This week those are rice, oil, sugar… …cane sugar, salt, pasta and coffee. I want to see. Are those the products? Let’s see them. Black beans. Black beans are a staple
in Cuban cuisine. These are all basic products. Sugar.
– You don’t get white sugar? This is not refined.
– Oil. White sugar. And there’s more. Salt. We get salt this month? And we also get spaghetti. Eggs. Are there peas in the coffee? It is mixed with peas.
– It is a mix. It say it here: 50 percent peas. But coffee is a Cuban product. Cuba cultivated a lot of coffee,
and still does. So why do they mix in peas? We don’t produce enough coffee
for everyone. That is why it is rationed. Such problems are the result
of that small embargo. ‘Small’?
– It makes life more difficult. Very different from your
Saturday groceries, right Yuri? These are not starving people.
Yet nearly all Cubans need the booklet. Want me to help? It’s been ages since I took a bus. They’re quite packed here. This is new: music in public. And that in a bus. Excuse me. Sorry. Excuse me. Excuse me. Look, a computer. El Chino does Mariana’s
booklet shopping… …but fruit and vegetables
are not essentials. Mariana must buy those herself. Hello. How are you? I see a lot more products
than when I left Cuba. I can’t compare the present to that period. You were not here. This cost me 34 Cuban pesos. That is about…
– 1 euro 50. About 1 euro 50. And how much do you earn? 1500 pesos, which is about 60 euros. About 60 euros. Do you pay any rent?
– No. Many people here own their own homes. My house is truly mine. What do you pay monthly
for gas, electricity and water? About 1 euro. Occasionally I pay 5 pesos for water. That is about 25 euro cents.
What else? It’s all small amounts. It is not bad. It is almost symbolic.
– Right. In the Netherlands I felt stressed… …about the rent and health insurance.
That was about 80 to 100 euros a month. Those were the main…
And transportation. The stress I felt in Cuba
was a result of the idea… 15 years ago, right? In the morning I had
no idea what I would eat at night. That stressed me out.
But that seems to have changed now. It has for me. Did you really fear you would starve?
– I often did not have anything to eat. My father was born
before the Revolution. He went hungry very often. You are talking about political stuff.
You cannot do that here. Okay, we are leaving. Thank you and we apologise. So naive, Yuri. Don’t you know
that everything is political here? That is why we prefer chit-chat. Talking about food is political here. In the whole of South America
the questions of land distribution… …and food distribution are political. In Brazil people who are less well off… …do not wonder what they will eat,
but whether they will starve. Sorry, but would you compare
Cuba to Brazil? I see Cuba as a Latin American country. So, I compare the poverty in Cuba… The situation here is comparable
to that of poor people in Latin America. I think you cannot draw comparisons
to Europe, or the United States. This region was colonised by them. They owe their wealth to us. That’s why I often draw this comparison.
Everybody always looks north, not south. I am not in a position to judge… …when someone chooses
to find a better life elsewhere. When people migrate for economical
reasons or because they starve…. …it becomes political.
When you have nothing to eat. If, in two years, I am still primarily
occupied with getting food… …will I still have the same opinion
of these dilemmas? My friend told me to join you. What are you talking about?
– It is a bit complicated. I am in the student council.
I was not born yesterday. Where’s your school?
– There. As a young man
he migrated to the Netherlands. One of the things he remembers most
about his time here… …is not knowing whether he would have
anything to eat at night. I asked him whether he ever suffered
starvation and… Was that in Cuba?
– Yes. Oh dear. You just call the pizzeria
and you are set. Who do you call?
– The pizzeria. Or you go to the shop and for 40 cents
you buy pasta, water, sauce… …and… Bob’s your uncle. Having fun with the camera? Thanks, sweetie. The new generation clearly does not
understand Yuri and Mariana. Starvation, in Cuba? Just go to the pizzeria or the shop.
Yuri, Cuba is doing better. The reasons Mariana moved here… …are also the reasons
that sometimes make me doubt… …whether I was right to leave Cuba
to move to the Netherlands, or not. It is… She talks about… …the people she knows here.
Her neighbours are like family. The warmth of the Cubans
is something I miss. A big problem is the fact
that many families were torn apart… …by mass migration since the eighties. Sons and daughters left
and their parents stayed. With a heavy heart Yuri
said goodbye to his mother. He is still wondering
whether it was the right decision. This is my mother. She is the reason that returning to Cuba
for me is always emotional. How are you? I will come up later. How is Raulito? This is where everything intersects.
I grew up in that building. I lived on the fifth floor. Down there,
in that bar with the gate… …I met my first wife. Thanks to her
I migrated to the Netherlands. There, in that spot… …my mother landed. She jumped
from the fifth floor and she died there. How are you? Who are you?
– The neighbour. Your mother did my hair. Highlights. Really?
– Yes, man. You did not know?
– No. Whose son are you?
– María Elena’s. How long have you had this shop?
– Some seven years. Wasn’t this the lift originally?
– Yes. It was in a bad way.
– This was a lift. Now is a hairdresser’s. Did you re-model it?
– Yes. It did not even have a floor.
– Right. The gate to hell.
– It is. You are the expert. Who have we here? Are you alright? How are you?
– Fine. And your family?
– Fine as well. How is Raulito?
– Fine. This man used to be my neighbour. My brother. Family. His son has also emigrated,
like me, to get a better future. How long ago did he leave?
– Seven years ago. He went to Galicia. It really hurt my mother when I left.
How did it effect you? I saw how it effected your mother.
She had two attempts. The first time I caught her from behind. You were upstairs then? And I also witnessed her second attempt. She landed there. She had a hard time. Her nerves… It was strange. She had just been offered
a flat next-door. She could move right in. But apparently, she was too far gone. I remember looking up.
I looked up at the fifth floor. She fell five floors. A beautiful young
woman. A fabulous woman. She was a good neighbour.
These things just happen. She often talked of you. You were most important for her.
She only talked of you. We all tried to help her. But there came a point in time
where there was nothing we could do. She gave up. Your aunt did her shopping. The money you sent, she put in the bank.
That is what she told me. She saved it for when you visited. She didn’t want to spend money
you worked so hard for. It was the first time that happened here.
Such a traumatic death. She closed herself off. Thank you. Come up later on.
I will show you our flat. You want a coffee? First, we’re going all the way upstairs. Let’s go upstairs. Great to see you, sweetie. Hey, how are you? Remember Bernice?
– Sure. This is Yuri.
– I just walked right by you. Sorry, darling. You are nice and chubby. You’ve changed,
That is why I just walked by. How are you nowadays?
– Fine. Nice to see you. Were you also home when it happened? I was here, in this spot. Do you really have to go upstairs?
– I was raised here. That is why I have to go upstairs. Every floor is the same. Look. This is so… It is so sad, this. This gives me the urge
to migrate again. I want to leave the country again
when I see this. This has changed. There used to be
slats here. Old, but they helped. Hello. How are you? How are you, sir? I was just fixing something. A nice breeze.
– The open door creates a draft. When everything is shut,
it is sweltering in here. There is nothing here. Your mother suffered a lot,
but you have to live your life. I lost my mother as well.
It happens more often now. We have nothing.
Just laws, and more laws. ‘You can’t do this, can’t do that.’ It is a disgrace, an epidemic.
That’s what it is. I want to see it. I don’t know whether I’ll go inside. This is the fifth floor.
This is where I lived. It’s been a while
since they last painted this. This used to say ‘Yuribert N.Y Aimee.’ That is my mother’s name. This was the door to my home. No, I don’t want to go in. You can see the sea from there. Yuri is still not certain
why his mother jumped. Because of the state of Cuba?
That cannot be the whole story. Yuri lost his mother.
Granddad his daughter. Go ahead. Feet, ears, ribs, tails. I sell them all.
– We want to see you on the telly. We have a look here,
we have a look there. I have ribs. How many, madam?
– I have no money. Come on, get your money out. I don’t have any. You want these? If I get them for free.
– You have to pay. Money, money. Take it. Feet, ears, ribs, tails. Gramps.
– Hey, mister. How are you? Let me park the car. There I am. Did you put your hair in a bun? See how it has grown?
– It’s really long, yes. How are you?
– Fine. What are you doing?
– Peddling. Trying to earn a bit of money. It has been how long
since your mother died? Almost ten years.
– That long? The two want to know more
about her final days. Together they try to find out
what happened. You know this place? This is the church my mother went to
her last few years. A friend of my mother,
who she went to church with, lives here. Pleasure to meet you. You don’t remember me.
– I was too little. Do come in.
– Thank you. Sit down, gramps.
No, first come in. The last time she was here, was three
or four days before the incident. You had just left. You were just gone. She always talked about you. It is not that she…
Let me answer this. Yes? Who is this? When she was depressed,
she would always come here first. We always tried to cheer her up. She would stay here all day.
She would leave at night. Did you know her illness
was not clearly visible? My mother suffered from schizophrenia.
– She never told us. She always said she became depressed
after you left. Because you were so tight.
She felt very alone. Be strong, be strong. Take a deep breath. Tell me something nice about my mother.
– She could be very happy. Very cheerful.
‘Let’s go here, let’s go there.’ Moments of great joy and great
sadness. It was horrible for us. What can I say? We should not remember her
with sadness. I am so sorry for you. Oh, Yuri. You know my address. From now on you have a second home
and a second mother. A bit older, at 64. You still have a mother here. You are not yet as old as Havana.
– Only the fortress is older. We Cubans are very adept
at laughing our misery away. That is very healthy.
Yuri has to go on with life. Let me take you home.

  1. I look forward to emigrating to Cuba from the United States soon. Too much starvation here today

    Look forward to living in a real community

Leave a Reply

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