by Assoc. Prof. Jane M. Loy, Dept. of History, Univ. of Mass.
INTRODUCTIONThe Cuban Revolution is one of the most controversial events In recent Latin American history. Since Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and began to restructure Cuban society along radically different lines, his actions have provoked both fervent support and violent denuncIations. Hundreds of articles in journals, reviews, magazines and newspapers as well as several hundred books have been published in which the authors debate the direction of the Revolution, Its significance for other Third World nations and for the United States. An up-to-date sampling of this treasure trove of material can be found in Fidel Castro's Personal Revolution in Cuba: l959-1973 (New York, Knopf, 1975) by James Nelson Goodsell.
Film is another kind of source for plumbing the Cuban Revolution. Often overlooked by historians, the camera nevertheless can serve as a unique window into the past and an effective teaching device. Like written sources film provides facts and interpretation, yet unlike books, film plays on the eye and ear at once to evoke an emotional response from the viewer. Film brings historical characters to life, recreates the atmosphere of another time and gives a heightened sense of the "feel' of an era. As Professor E. Bradford Burns has suggested, for scholar and student alike film is potentially a major tool for the study of social history. Two useful analyses of film as history are E. Bradford. Burns, Latin. American Cinema: Film and History (Los Angeles, UCLA Latin American Center, 1975) and John E. O'Connor and Martin A. Jackson, Teaching History With Film (Washington DC: American Historical Association, 1974).
Some excellent feature and documentary films have been produced which deal with the new Cuba. Since 1968 ICAIC - the Cuban Institute of Cinema Arts - has been creating first rate full length movies which interpret Cuban history within the context of the Revolution. The best known ICAIC films are Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) and Lucia (1969) both distributed by Tricontinental Film Center, 333 Sixth Ave., New York, New York 10014. These films are a worthy contribution to the rich tradition of Latin American cinema, but they have drawbacks for the classroom in that they are too long to fit into a single period arid command high sale/rental prices. The shorter documentaries are more adaptable to teaching needs and of these, Robert Carl Cohen's Three Cubans is of special interest. As the first film made by a North American about Castro's regime, Three Cubans is an immensely valuable visual record of the changes good and bad that had been effected by 1964. Moreover, its controversial reception when first aired over public television in March 1965 gives much insight into North American attitudes toward Cuba in the post Bay of Pigs, post Missile Crisis years.
In 1963 Robert Carl Cohen was the first US citizen to receive permission from the US State and Treasury Departments and the Cuban Foreign Ministry to travel to Cuba in order to produce a film. During his visits there in the summers of 1963 and 1964 Cohen tried to measure the impact of the Revolution by focusing on three individuals who, as representatives of the upper, middle and lower classes, would describe in their own words how Castro's regime had effected their lives. After filming mainly in Havana and Santiago, he returned to the United States where the film was developed and edited. Neither the Cuban nor United States authorities viewed, censored or influenced the film. The sponsor, National Educational Television, (NET), included a narrator and titled the program, Three Faces of Cuba.
The premiere of the film over almost 100 public service television stations in March 1965 brought both critical acclaim and denunciations, which included a bomb threat against Channel 2 in Miami. While Miami Herald Radio - T.V. Editor, Jack E. Anderson called the film an eminently fair and realistic look at Cuba today, Ralph de Toledano of the King Features Syndicate, although admitting not having actually seen the film, denounced it as "bad history, bad economics and bad reporting." (Miami Herald, March 25, 1965; King Features syndicated column May 10, 1965)
The "Truth About Cuba Committee, Inc." a Miami based anti-Castro Cuban exile group, branded Three Faces of Cuba as "dangerous pro-Communist propaganda. Regarding the film as a "diabolical effort to subvert the minds of college youth," the anti-Castro group commissioned three self proclaimed psychological warfare experts, Edward Hunter, Karl Baarslag and Oliver Carlson to analyze it as an example of anti-American, "black propaganda. The "Truth About Cuba Committee published their reports along with a complete transcript of the film's sound track in a book entitled: An Expose of the Insidious Film.. .Three Faces of Cuba (Miami, 1965), and sent copies to the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Senate Internal Security Sub-Committee, urging these bodies to investigate Robert Carl Cohen and NET, and prohibit the film's exhibition. As a result, NET was forced to justify its showing of the film before the House Sub- Committee on Latin American Affairs and, despite having had State and Treasury Department authorizations, Robert Carl Cohen was repeatedly audited by the Internal Revenue Service on the premise that his trip to Cuba was "illegal." Several years passed before the IRS acknowledged its error, but the incident throws light both on the depth of hostility toward Castro felt by the Cuban exiles and the internal ramifications of the United States Cold War policies of the 1960's. It is noteworthy that despite the exiles charges of its being "subversive propaganda," when Three Cubans was shown recently at the University of Massachusetts, the students were evenly divided about whether it was pro or anti-Castro.
The elimination of the NET narrator and the restoration of the title, Three Cubans, in the current version of the film has brought it back in line with Cohen's original expressionistic concept. From the vantage point of the 1970's, it holds its own as a fair and balanced account of Cuba's isolation from other nations in the Western Hemisphere, the film can more ably fulfill Cohen's goal:
"To help Americans better understand the contradictions of our past policies so that we may instruct our elected representatives in developing constructive, supportive relationships with other nations." (Robert Carl Cohen to Jane M. Loy, April 30, 1975)
The First Cuban, the Exile is one of the more than 500,000 Cubans who fled the island to live in the United States. His name is not revealed because his family remains in Havana. A professor and member of the upper middle-class, the Exile relates how Castro's supporters converted what had begun as a democratic reform movement into a full-fledged Socialist Revolution. He discusses life before the Revolution: the losses of Cuban property owners and businessmen since the control of Castro; anti-US sentiment, food shortages and the failure of agrarian reforms; how Castro gains support; political prisoners, the Cuban army trained and supplied by the Russians, youth groups, and relations between the Catholic Church and Castro's government. During this narration, the camera focuses on a variety of Cuban scenes highlighting Havana and Castro addressing a gigantic rally. In the background can be heard Cuban folk and revolutionary songs.
The Second Cuban, the Revolutionary is José Garcia Nicolas, who was formerly a bill collector and part-time mechanic but today is an officer of the People's Militia and personnel manager of a nationalized tobacco company. As a member of the new middle class, Garcia is an ardent supporter of Castro and the movement. He is seen at his job, attending a political rally, doing guard duty, relaxing at home with his wife who is a telephone operator, at night school, taking part in voluntary farm work and participating in the neighborhood Revolutionary Defense Committee.
The Third Cuban, the Worker is Francisco Consuegra Salgado, a manual laborer who came to Havana from Oriente Province. Salgado took no active role either for or against the Revolution, but he is grateful for the material gains it has brought him. He discusses the shabby living conditions before the Revolution for the lower class and how they have improved since Fidel. Other comments reveal his ignorance of either Marx or Engels, his belief that Socialism and Communism are beneficial; his satisfaction in the school his children attend and in the small luxuries he is now able to afford.
Exile sums up the three presentations by suggesting that the Cuban
is not an isolated problem but a challenge to the developed
He concludes with a question:
"Unless the West develops a rapid constructive Democratic Alternative this story will inevitably be repeated among the economically underdeveloped two thirds of mankind."
SUGGESTIONS FOR USING THE FILM:
Because Three Cubans offers several interpretations of the Cuban Revolution, it is important that the students be familiar with the history of Cuba in the twentieth century and especially since 1959 before viewing it. The teacher can further prepare the class by suggesting some important points to look for in the film. The students should be encouraged to try to discover the purpose of the producer and to identify strengths and weaknesses of the film as history and as art. Finally, they should also note those aspects of the Revolution that only a film can convey - for example: the physical presence of Castro, racial mixture in the Cuban people, the spirit reflected in Cuban music.
Communism, exile, exploit, Imperialism, indoctrinate, militia, nationalize, the people, propaganda, revolution, Socialism
1. What was life like In Cuba before Castro's takeover?
2. What changes in Cuban life under the Castro regime are documented by the film?
3. What Insight does the film offer about the personality and leadership of Fidel Castro?
4. What are some of the negative aspects of the Cuban Revolution from the standpoint of Western democratic ideals? Values?
5. Why would the anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the United States have branded this film "insidious propaganda"?
6. Why Is there anti Americanism In Cuba?
7. What should American policy be toward the Cuban Revolution?
8. What was the producer trying to do in this film and how well did he succeed?
9. What insight does the fIlm offer about the Revolution that could not be gotten from a book?
Polando E. and Valdes, Nelson P.
Richard R., Brody, Richard A. and O'Leary, Thomas J.
Ramon Eduardo. Cuba:
Truth About Cuba Committee, Inc.
PERTINENT FACTS:(circa 1975)
1492: Discovered by Columbus, thereafter ruled by Spain.
1762: English occupy Havana for one year.
1868-78: Revolt known as the Ten Years War. Spain promises reform.
1886: Slavery abolished.
1895: Jose Marti and Calixto Garcia among the leaders of another revolt against Spain.
1898: US Battleship Maine mysteriously blows up in Havana Harbor. US declares war against Spain. Spanish American War. Spain grants Cuban independence.
1901: Cubans adopt Constitution that includes Platt Amendment.
1934-44: Fulgencio Batista rules as dictator.
1934: Platt Amendment nullified.
1952-58: Batiista rules again as dictator.
1953: Early Castro rebellion known as the 26th of July Movement.
1958: Large-scale civi! war breaks Out in Cuba.
1959: Castro, overthrowing Batista, becomes premier & dictator.
1960: Castro seizes almost all American owned property.
1961: US breaks relations with Cuba. U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion by anti-Castro Cubans fails. Castro aligns Cuba with Communist bloc and declares Cuba a socialist state.
1962: Russian-built missile sites discovered by US in Cuba. Ultimately removed after tense U.S - Russian confrontation.
1964: Castro cuts water supply to US Guantanamo Naval Base.
1968: Castro nationalizes all private businesses.
1968-75: Trade blockade.
1975 - June: OAS members vote to determine individual national policies toward Cuba.