Cuba: soon hip and happening? | VPRO World Stories

Cuba: soon hip and happening? | VPRO World Stories


Shall we dance? –
Tell him what ‘mango’ means. ‘Mango’ means sexy man, like him. Fantastic.
– Kisses for everyone. 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 3
lemons from heaven Today it’s two years ago
that Fidel Castro died. In Dutch history books
Fidel is mainly portrayed as a dictator. Here, he is remembered as a hero. I am Fidel, my ‘comandante’. Fidel is incredible.
To me, he’s not dead. He’s still here.
He lives on in everything and everyone. In the organisations. From when the Revolution won.
But I already knew him before. On December 19th, 1958,
our village was liberated. Three days later he arrived, and I sneaked
out to see him. I was 12 years old. On December 31st, the victory
of the Revolution was complete. It was incredible. People were crying
and embracing each other. Fidel was very handsome and tall. I went to stand next to him
to see if I was just as tall. But he was much taller. There’s something Yuri keeps noticing
on his trip through today’s Cuba. He believes the Revolution is a failure. Yet every day he meets people
who wouldn’t dream of leaving. People who use an invincible
optimism and a lot of humour… …to cope with every setback they face. As they do here, in what we Cubans
call ‘the nuclear city’. In 1983, construction
on a nuclear power plant began here. Fidel needed Russian help for this. A city was built around the plant,
with schools and football pitches… …for 13,000 Russians and Cubans,
modelled after Chernobyl. The plant was meant to supply electricity
to a large part of Cuba. All hopes were set
on this Project of the Century. Hundreds of Cubans moved to the
nuclear city to work on the construction. Look. Nuclear physicist Armando
was one of them. He’s a bit scared.
He just woke up. Your grandson?
– Yes. But his mother is jealous
because he’s always with me. This city was very hard to find.
It isn’t mentioned on any road sign. That’s a problem, yes.
It’s officially called the Nuclear City. It’s clear that we Cubans
aren’t proud of this place. There aren’t even signs
to tell you how to get there. But Raúl, Fidel’s brother,
watches over an empty road… …from a billboard saying ‘yes, we can’. Some of these buildings are inhabited,
others are vacant. Maybe that’s why it’s called a ghost town. We are invisible here. Those who come looking for us,
can’t find us. You actually need a guide to get here. When I came to live here in 1984,
construction on the plant had just begun. The first Soviets were already living here. Why did the Russians come here? As advisers. There were
about 400 Russian advisers here. They came with their families.
They had the technology… …all the know-how, and all the equipment. Can we go there to see it? Yes, but it will make you a bit sad. It’s as if you were married to a woman… …for a very long time, and very lovingly… …and then that marriage
fell apart for some reason. You get nostalgic,
thinking how it could have been. On the way to the plant
they run into Deysi. The former head of security now lives
next door and has a vegetable garden. The plant never became operational. It was 80 percent done,
save for generating electricity. So almost everything was done?
– Yes. The power plant was almost done
but was never put into use. This is Yuri.
– Deysi. So you’re farming the grounds
of the nuclear power plant? That’s right. But I only farm a little bit,
forced by the circumstances. Look at what we’re growing here:
beans, cassava. There will be an irrigation system here,
for the garlic. When the plant closed,
I also had to leave. Gradually, all employees were laid off.
We were the last ones. Can you show it to me? How far do you want to go?
– As far as possible. That shouldn’t be a problem, right?
– No. For the first time this trip,
Yuri is joined by a government official. There is nothing over there. She won’t let them go further. No matter how hard they try,
the fence is as far as they can go. This was a dream for almost all Cubans.
It would give us an economic boost. It was the Project of the Century.
That’s what it was called back then. In the 1980s,
it was the most important thing in Cuba. Those were the years of plenty. We were also a lot younger then.
I was 24 myself. We were all full of dreams. And everyone
cried when El Comandante told us… …the project was aborted,
but no one would be laid off. Tell me how that went.
Did El Comandante come here in person? Yes.
Almost all employees gathered together… …and he told us
that the plant would be closed. And then it started to rain,
at that exact moment. He said: ‘Even nature is crying.’
That was very aptly put. Because everyone was crying,
and then it started to rain as well. We had hoped that this would allow
the country to develop a bit more. He told us that a lot of international
agreements weren’t complied with. Therefore it was impossible
to complete the reactor. But he said we shouldn’t worry.
No one would become unemployed. The agreements weren’t complied with
because the Eastern Bloc fell apart? What happened to the Russians?
– They gradually withdrew. Didn’t you get frustrated because of this? No, you can’t say that.
Then we Cubans wouldn’t have a life. The only thing for which
there’s no solution, is death. You have to move on.
– And you have to try to survive. If heaven sends you lemons,
you make lemonade. That’s how it goes. There’s a lot I can learn from you. Heaven had few lemons
in store for Nina… …one of the last Russians
still living in the abandoned city. She’s an engineer with a Cuban husband
who studied in Russia in the early 1980s. Hello. Nice to meet you.
I’m Yuri. Yuri, yes.
Because back then… Why do you think my name is Yuri?
– What year were you born? Of course.
Yuri Gagarin. I was named after him, yes.
I’m from 1982. 1982?
His story took place a bit longer ago. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the
first human to enter space, in 1961. This made him a hero to all Russians. I arrived on Fidel’s birthday, August 13th.
I’ve been living here for 30 years. Thirty years? Why did you never go back to Russia?
– Look… You have to choose where to live,
and I have a family here, two sons. Back then, it was worse
in the Soviet Union than in Cuba. Worse in what way?
– After the economic collapse… You don’t know what economic chaos is,
what hunger is. When all economic activity
came to a halt… I simply didn’t have a place to go back to. The problem is…
You’re from the Netherlands, right? You’ve never experienced
a crisis like the one in my country. I’m sorry.
I didn’t mean to make you this sad. Everyone has their own life.
For some it’s easier than for others. Are you the only Russian still living here? No, not the only one.
There are two comrades left. No, three. Are you still in touch with each other?
– Yes, we see each other regularly. The Russian culture is still present here.
– Yes, I put that there on purpose. And when you’re together,
do you talk about Russia? We try to speak Russian, but it’s difficult. When you speak Spanish 24 hours a day
and also think in Spanish… …your Russian comes out kind of broken,
literally translated from Spanish. Constantly looking for words
limits communication. When I look at our stories,
I clearly see similarities. I myself emigrated from Cuba
to the Netherlands. You’re Cuban?
– Yes. But you left in search
of economic progress. With me it was foolishness. Foolishness or not,
Nina stayed here, reluctantly. She arrived in better times, when Fidel
had grand plans and we were hopeful. But our dependence on Russia
became an obstacle for the Revolution. socialism or death For decades, the Cuban fishing fleet
could provide the people with fish. Medero, a navy man,
experienced it firsthand at the time. We had one of the most modern
fishing fleets in Latin America. The fleet could guarantee the delivery
of fish to the Cuban population. To all Cubans. The ships processed
about 70 tons of fish a day… …from frozen fish to fish fillets,
minced fish, et cetera. But the ships used a lot of fuel… …which was supplied
by Soviet oil tankers. But when the Eastern Bloc fell apart,
particularly the Soviet Union… …our fleet couldn’t fish
in remote areas anymore… …because there wasn’t
always enough fuel. We had to buy the fuel
at normal market prices… …which were much higher.
So it became cheaper to import fish. The first fish came from the Netherlands.
– From the Netherlands? Yes, when we couldn’t fish anymore,
we bought fish from the Netherlands. There are a lot of small boats though. Industrial, large-scale fishing is now
impossible, so we do it traditionally. Like those men over there, for example,
who are using a fishing rod. There’s also some longline fishing,
you know? But traditional fishing
only produces a small amount of fish… …which goes to hospitals, hotels, tourism. But it’s not enough to permanently
provide the population with fish. Medero also refers to the time when the
Russian aid stopped and the crisis began. A saying from that time goes:
Chicken for fish. Suddenly there was no more fish in Cuba. The ration book did have coupons for fish,
but instead of fish you got chicken. In Trinidad, four hours from Havana,
heaven is crying too. Just like it did at the nuclear power plant. Hi, I’m Yuri.
– Palmero. When it’s dry, Palmero takes Yuri
to a sugar factory… …where he, like so many Trinidadians
over 50, worked a large part of his life. Nice car. It was my grandfather’s. In 1958,
he was lucky enough to win it in a lottery. We now depend on the car
for our income. Excuse me.
– Go ahead. Thank you too.
Bye. Isn’t it illegal to call and drive?
– Yes, but there’s no police anywhere. Why not?
– Because it’s raining. This is where I spent 17 years of my life. For decades, cane sugar was our national
pride and our main source of income. In 1959, the year of the Revolution… …we had 156 sugar factories,
spread across the entire island. But after the Soviet Union collapsed,
two-thirds had to close down. Along with our allies, we lost the
export market for Cuban sugar as well. A disaster for our country. This factory was also closed. Its 4000
employees had to try their luck elsewhere. An ex-colleague of mine. How many hours a day did we work?
– We started at 7 in the morning… …and kept working here for three days. You changed clothes and got to work.
We slept somewhere on the floor. I don’t understand
where the enthusiasm came from. It was like a chain. You knew each other
and could get along with everyone. We depended on each other at work.
If someone fell ill… …you’d say:
I’ll take over his work. Why are you laughing? Because we would get a bottle
of alcohol here at lunchtime… People drank? Up here is where the sugar
was crystallised. After that, alcohol as high
as 90 percent was produced… …by fermenting the remaining molasses. You understand?
We’re still Cubans, right? Yes, we Cubans are very nostalgic. The men enjoy talking about the past
for hours, and they’re not the only ones. Hello, miss. I’m Yuri.
– Mariusky. Mariusky?
That’s a very Cuban name. Can’t get more Cuban than that. Mariusky and Yuri from Russia.
– Yes, we’re Russians. You also used to work at the factory?
– I was born here. I grew up with the smell of sugar cane. Molasses.
– Molasses, yes. I miss it. We used to climb the tractors.
– The smell of sugar cane… And the taste. You could smell the harvesting
from miles away. Everyone was happy.
– And now that the factory is gone? It’s painful for all Cubans, especially
those living near the sugar cane fields. It was hugely important to us. What do you think of the fact
that the Russians… …were so important
for the Cuban sugar production? We’ve always been socialist.
Fidel himself already said that. The only country that didn’t abandon us
back then was the Soviet Union. After the Revolution,
the United States declared war on us. That’s no secret to anyone. Those were the good old days.
Now the factory is a tourist attraction. People are making lots of money off of it. In the past, money wasn’t that important. Human values were more important. You think those values
have changed with time? Yes, money has a huge impact.
It also destroys things. There are people here in Trinidad
who make a lot of money… …and look at you askance. A class difference? No, the Revolution won’t allow that.
All people are equal… …and have the same rights.
That’s socialism. Those are the best values in the world. But the changes
that are happening now… It’s not a good thing,
because our basic principles are different. Money doesn’t make
someone a better person. When the factory closed, work was found
for most of the 4000 employees. Many were transferred
to the tourism sector. They could get a job
in the construction of tourist hotels. Thanks. This is a Cuban spoon. It’s really good.
– Everything is purely natural. It’s organic. It’s refreshing.
– And it has even more qualities. It’s an aphrodisiac?
– Men, you see… It makes you powerful. Today, tourism is Cuba’s
new source of income. Every day, six cruise ships
call in at the Cuban ports… …to spew out hundreds of tourists
for a few hours. After buying rum and taking lots of
pictures, they leave the island satisfied. In the 1990s, my father was one
of the workers who built this hotel. I was very little, but I remember him being
away from home for quite some time. When the hotel was finished,
our family couldn’t even see the result. Cubans weren’t allowed to see
how tourists spent their holidays here. Fortunately, the days that Cubans couldn’t
have any contact with tourists are over. In a way, Yuri is also a tourist right now. In Trinidad, it’s all about tourism now.
Everyone works in it. The guide speaks better English
than the tourists. It does look odd,
our beautiful colonial city… …full of people in shorts
with expensive cameras… …their white skin burned red by the sun. To be honest, I don’t mind all the tourism. For people who want to see Cuba
in a colonial, quiet way, it will hurt… …but for me as a Cuban, it means more
money and development for the Cubans. So I’m happy about it. I don’t mind tourists.
I also kind of feel like a tourist here. I am a tourist. Yes, you’re right, Yuri. We Cubans all gain something by tourism. Do you also work in tourism?
– Yes, now I do. What do you do?
– I used to be a teacher. But now I run a little hostel. Here, at home?
– Yes. What do you think of tourism? Tourism is a source of income
for the country. Do you also work in tourism?
– My image works for tourism. My image.
I’m a character in the old centre. Guide Isabel is actually
a linguist and journalist. She takes Yuri to a bar run by young
people who also studied something else. A doctor, an engineer, a journalist. Why don’t they work in their field? What did you study?
– Chemistry. But the salary wasn’t nearly enough. How much was it?
– 14 euros. What do you do?
– I’m a journalist. My parents rent out rooms in their house. I help them.
The bottom line is that it’s our livelihood. Cuba is one big hotel. Everywhere,
you’ll find so-called ‘casas particulares’. In Trinidad, they’re all over the place: Restaurants, bars, hostels.
Everywhere. Five years ago, 20 percent
lived on tourism. Now it’s 80 percent. Everyone is focused on tourism now. With a city tour I earn the same in one day
as I normally do in a month. The tips alone could already be more. But it’s pretty hard to give up the
beautiful profession of being a doctor… …to serve drinks in a coffee house. Showing groups around the city
is something I enjoy as well. But I studied very hard for five years… …mainly because I wanted to be active
in my field on a daily basis. That contradiction is a result
of the lack of options. All these smart young people
work in tourism… …because their own profession
doesn’t bring in enough. Some believe that at some point
you can’t go to the doctor anymore… …because he’s doing something else:
opening a hostel or restaurant. But Yuri, before you think
everyone’s only in it for the money… …pay a visit to your uncle Juan Capetillo. A doctor who works tirelessly
for his patients every day. Good morning. Uncle Juan?
– Hi, nephew. How are you?
– Come here. Good to see you.
– You too. It’s been way too long. You look good.
– I’ve grown fat. Is that your cart?
– That one? No, we’re going to walk.
– Walk? What’s your specialisation? In the beginning you do everything. Later I started to do geriatrics.
Elderly care. What’s that?
– A centre for the elderly. A sports teacher makes sure… …that the elderly stay active and fit. The municipality organises
this support for the elderly. This battle has been won. Women live to age 81 on average,
and men to age 79. A life expectancy most developed
countries would be proud of. This is my nephew.
– Nice to meet you. Are there people here for a consultation?
Who’s first? Before the Revolution, the average
life expectancy was 63 years… …the level of a developing country.
Now we’re up there with the Netherlands. Here, uncle Capetillo sees patients
whom he refers to specialists elsewhere. But most patients can’t come to him.
Those he visits at home… …where nearly all are cared for
by relatives and neighbours. How are you? Hello, big guy. You look better. Bend over a bit.
Let’s have a listen. In the Netherlands,
if someone is in such a state… …he’ll be admitted to a nursing home. Have you thought about doing that?
– No, he’s my father. Why would I do that?
Now is when he needs me the most. What’s the use of putting him in a home?
He’s my dad. See you next time, pal. You’re responsible, you know? See you later. Thanks.
– You too. One of my biggest fears is that in the
Netherlands, with its different system… …I’ll end up in a nursing home. Here, everyone dies
surrounded by their families. And I think that’s the ideal transition,
the ideal way to die. Good afternoon.
This is my nephew. How are you? How do you feel?
– Bad. Let’s check your blood pressure.
Did you take your pills? Yes.
– Yes? Are you sure?
– Yes, but I don’t like it one bit. You don’t like to take pills, do you?
High blood pressure. Your heart is fine.
You have a strong heart. Hello. We should preserve these values,
such as respect. Respect is very important.
I’m afraid that with all the changes… …the mentality can also change. If you instil these values in young people,
they will put them into practice. But if you teach them bad things,
they will incorporate those. Then they won’t help
elderly people on the bus. Or pregnant women,
or women with children. But if you teach them, they will. Because that’s how Cubans are.
No matter what. Before the Revolution as well? Then there was much less respect.
The people were neglected. Uncle Capetillo isn’t just committed
to his patients… …but he also passionately supports
the Revolution and its achievements. This running fanatic
is also a fan of the Revolution. On the second anniversary of Fidel’s
death, he takes part in a group run… …towards the mausoleum that holds
Fidel’s remains, in Santiago de Cuba. I am Fidel. Why is Fidel so important to you? Because he’s the one
who taught us everything about life. He’s the father of the country. What did you feel
when you first shook his hand? It felt like your father
embracing you for the first time. It felt like he was my father. He will always be our father.
He lives on in our hearts. He lives in our hearts.
He lies there, but to us he’s still alive. It’s the anniversary of Fidel’s death.
Nobody calls him Castro here. All day he’s being commemorated
on TV as the Great Leader. The elderly are glued to the tube
and watch their hero in admiration. I saw him on January 1st,
when the Revolution won. We were at the same restaurant. He had four plates of fried rice. And two pints of milk. I was so impressed, I could barely eat. I feel good, because everything I have,
I’ve achieved on my own. And thanks to the Revolution.
– That’s true, thanks to the Revolution. I want for nothing in this country.
Nothing at all. I have one son in Brazil, one in Miami,
and they’re doing well. I go there every now and then.
But live there? This is my country.
I don’t have any problems here. Three of his four children live abroad… …but his son Carlos lives with him,
with his wife and son. As a filmmaker, Carlos has been abroad
several times, visiting film festivals. So far, he’s always come back. Carlos. But the fact that he’s staying
doesn’t mean he’s not critical. Fidel was a politician
who solved problems. He had… …an opinion about things.
He implemented his ideas, you know? But the current politicians in Cuba
don’t have Fidel’s mentality anymore. I consider myself a socialist. But according to the socialism
that’s implemented here in Cuba… …you have to put your own opinion aside
and replace it with the official view. You don’t develop yourself that way. How can people
who have had a good education… …develop themselves further?
Socialism has always failed at this. You’ve never considered leaving?
– I’m still hopeful. That’s why I’m staying. The people who left were brave.
They left everything behind… …to make a brand new start. I feel brave because I’m staying.
But on the other hand… …I also sometimes feel like a coward. I’m different because I still
feel confident that I can stay here… …and that the social system
can be improved… …so it will benefit the people. Socialism is very good for the people. It kind of feels like an obligation. An obligation towards a city,
a country, your family. It feels like that’s imprinted in my brain,
in my entire system. As a Cuban and as someone
who emigrated, I don’t know… …whether I should see you as a visionary
with a fantastic vision for the future… …or as someone who doesn’t get…
– A half-wit? But I do think that we need
a lot more people like you… …to get this country on its feet. I hope all your wishes will come true.
– I hope so too. But it’s very easy… …and also very beautiful… What’s with you today, Yuri?
You’re making everyone cry. I keep being confronted with things
I’m struggling with myself, as a Cuban. Could I have done something
for Cuba, if I had stayed? What was so moving to you just now? I don’t know.
Maybe it was the thought… …that a small person can do great things. By devoting himself to something great. If I leave Cuba now… …there will be one less person
who could do something to make sure… …that the younger generation
will be heard. Then my voice is lost. He sometimes feels like a coward
for staying here. But I feel like a coward for leaving. In Holland, I had to shut myself off and
focus on being the best version of me. That also meant knowing
that it wasn’t good for me over here. But now that I’m back, these kinds of
arguments make me doubt all of that. Should I have stayed or not? My mother
might still be alive if I had stayed. Maybe I could have become a filmmaker
in Cuba, like him. He’s also doing it here. I’m a bit confused, again. Understandable.
It’s easier said than done: Follow your own path
or fight for a lofty ideal. But it’s not that simple.
You don’t have to choose yet, Yuri. Fortunately, we still have time
to answer your question: Will you come back to Cuba or not?

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