In city parks and apartments, on stairwells, in classrooms, and in magazine offices, the people featured in Rethinking Cuban Civil Society grapple with these questions. Can more competitive elections and greater democracy exist in a one-party State? How can LGBTQI activists successfully influence government policy? How can access to the benefits of economic reforms allowing private business be extended to marginalized populations? Can the government help encourage a healthy, independent media eco-system? And how much of the stifling of civil society can be blamed on the embargo and how much is simply home-grown? Thoughtful and engaging, the film is conveniently divided into chapters on class and activism, media, Internet and the blogosphere, political opposition, and Cuban civil society across international borders.
The notion of a Cuban civil society is often neglected or misrepresented by U.S. mainstream media. According to most sources, Cuban civil society is limited to political opposition, which has little impact on Cuban society. Consequently, every year the U.S. government allocates tens of millions of tax payer money to empower the opposition in Cuba. Such a narrative dismisses any instances of pluralism, reform and contestation that are taking place within Cuban society, sometimes in an autonomous way, sometimes inside state-run institutions.
These sectors of Cuban society are very critical of the Cuban government but, since they are not deemed “dissidents” by the U.S., nor receive U.S. funds, they remain invisible for the U.S. mainstream media, as scholars such as Sujatha Fernandes have noted.
In June of 2015, I visited the island and interviewed bloggers, members of religious organizations, members of autonomous intellectual groups, journalists (both affiliated with state institutions and independent), musicians and independent filmmakers, who are critical of the Cuban government but who also share a common view: Cuba has to change in many ways, but it is up to Cubans to decide the way such changes are to be implemented. Further, U.S. interventionist policies are not welcomed by any of these sectors nor by the majority of the Cuban population, and are an affront to deep-rooted nationalism.
The purpose of this documentary is to shed some light on said processes which, in spite of shaping Cuban’s everyday life, remain in the shadows for the American audience, even in the context of having re-established diplomatic relations to begin a process of normalization between both nations.