A New Documentary on Power Struggles in Pre-Revolutionary Cuba

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

Signs from Saturn.
Signs from Saturn.

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban history is plagued with notable mysteries. What we are fed at school is a superficial and triumphalist narrative full of exaggerated ambivalence, where heroes are exceedingly good and evil men the worst you could imagine.

I recall that, when I entered university, one of our history professors told us to forget everything we had learned about the subject till then.

Even though he didn’t quite manage to uproot what I’d been taught previously, he did manage to sow the seeds of doubt in me.

Recently, one of those questions was answered.

I knew very little of the murders that took place at 7 Humboldt Street, Havana, in 1957, next to nothing about Marcos Rodriguez’ involvement in the incident and less about the highly publicized, televised trial this man was subjected to in the 1960s.

It was thanks to a documentary screened at Cuba’s Ludwig Foundation (premiered at the recently concluded New Filmmakers’ Festival) that I was able to delve more deeply into this episode of our history.

Los Amagos de Saturno (“Signs from Saturn”), the name Rosario Alfonso Parodi gave her documentary, tries to unravel the tangled mass of facts surrounding the Humboldt 7 case, focusing on the figure of the informer, Marcos Rodriguez Alfonso.

Through interviews with members of the 26th of July movement, photographs and stock footage from the period, 26-year-old journalism graduate Alfonso gathers a number of recollections on the subject, about which nothing is said today.

The documentary – more than an hour long – moves quickly, perhaps too quickly for someone like me, who knows nothing about the subject.

Generally speaking, the film is a good investigative piece that makes us think about the violence of a historical period and the endless power struggles between revolutionary groups in Cuba, the same ones that triumphed in 1959.

4 thoughts on “A New Documentary on Power Struggles in Pre-Revolutionary Cuba

  • I did not look at Wikipedia!

  • Yes Dan, the US figures are astonishing and are viewed with horror by other nations. but on the other hand violence is encouraged by the lunatic right to bear arms (including submachine guns), The US should re-visit its ancient constitution and bring it up to date.
    The conditions in Cuban jails are I believe worse than those in US jails and the reasons for imprisoning people are different.
    Many of those who have been in Cuban jails now live in Spain as a consequence of papal intervention following being jailed as dissidents. As you demonstrate with your frequent critical comments about the US government, you can do so without fear of being imprisoned for your views. In Cuba it is against the law to criticize the regime and people get jailed for doing so.

  • You might want to delve at little deeper than Wikipedia. You also know, I assume that the USA has over 3,000 prisoners – 100% poor, working class, probably black, doing life w/o parole, for crimes such as shoplifting, or possessing drug paraphernalia. They will die behind bars, away from their families. I’ve been in more US prisons than I can remember. I also know Cubans who have been in jail. I would pick Cuba, from what I know.

  • The documentary has the approval of the Castro family regime or it would not be permitted. It is the purpose of the regime to denigrate anything related to what they call “the tyranny”. This is similar to the calculated use of American films like the Godfather which display violence and repetitive use of scenes of violence following racist events in the US and of public demonstrations in the US. The purpose is to endeavor to persuade Cubans that the only alternative to “Socialismo” is the the US type of government. The recent increased use of TV to present file copy film of violence being practised by the Batista regime serves a similar purpose – that is to demonstrate the supposedly good fortune of Cubans in being ‘saved’ by the Revolution and communism.
    The regime is being well served by the Communist Party of Cuba Propaganda Department (YES, there is a propaganda department!).
    As Ms. Nunez Leyva writes: “the film is a good investigative piece that makes us think about the violence of a historical period.” confirming that the propaganda is effective.
    Similarly, the regime cynically uses the old jail on the Isla de la Juventad where the brothers Castro were incarcerated, to illustrate the evils of Batista, but never allows any film or photographs of their jails where they imprison dissidents.
    The world at large criticizes the US for having both physically and proportionately the highest level of imprisonment in the world. But Cuba lurks not far behind. The US has 707 people in jail for every 100,000 of the population and Cuba 510.

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