Soviets in Cuba, a Documentary

Irina Echarry

Enrique Colina. photo:

HAVANA TIMES, March 14 —  With the sentence: “What’s curious isn’t how history is written, but how it is erased” begins the documentary “The ‘Bolos’ in Cuba: An Eternal Friendship.”

This is a film that delves into people’s recollections of the more than thirty years of Soviet presence in Cuba, something that is almost never mentioned anymore.

Its director, Enrique Colina, is remembered for the TV program “24xSegundo” and several social documentaries. In this case, he again chose to use dialogue from the street as his thread, while visually (both in interviews and archival material) he recalled the decades of the 1970s and ‘80s, which is to say the same period that was discussed.

Since what interests the director are the recollections of ordinary citizens, he went to the places like the Latin American Baseball Stadium, the Alamar neighborhood (a community where many Soviets used to live) and a barbershop.

There, he spoke with regular people as the recalled family stories to create an atmosphere of nostalgia, with those reminiscences marked by shortages.

The film makes its broad brushstrokes with journalist Jorge Smith describing the “Russian invasion” of their artists, movies and cartoons; while the writer and rock musician “Yoss” reveals that his first approach to the world of rock was through Russian groups.

The poet Juan Carlos Flores reads a poem about the relations between Cuban and Soviet children, the writer Heras Leon recalls his attraction to Soviet war literature, and the visual artists Estereo Segura and Lazaro Saavedra are shown recreating the relationship between Cuban and Soviet culture in their works

Another group of people talk about their romantic experiences with Soviets, where Russian language translators married “bolos” (Russians) and how one Cubanized “bolo” has lived here for so long that he even has a Havana accent.

The term “bolos” is discussed by different people. Some suggest that it comes from the word “Bolshevik,” others point to the name “Volodia,” and a few say the nickname was inspired by the coarseness of the Soviets – but none of the definitions are commented on with any hostility. All of them are full of nostalgia and good feelings.

The bulk of the comments come from Cubans on the street who remember the great epoch of canned Russian meat, Raqueta and Poljov watches, tough Russian boots, matrioshka dolls, Aurika washing machines, Soviet apple sauce and cans of powdered milk.

One woman talks about the ongoing benefits of the Cuban-Soviet fraternity when (showing her home) she tells us that many of the improvised second floors of houses in Havana were built with wood from the Russian Siberia that arrived in boats.

A younger man talks about how there was everything back in those years, and a tremendous level of development, but how now he believes that development has stagnated.

While people recall those times, the ideological propaganda of the period begins to saturate the viewer.

The images of the various Soviet presidents who came to the island and those of Fidel Castro visiting the USSR cause us to reflect on an aspect that the film barely touches: What could have been done in those years with the abundant assistance we received from the USSR and why wasn’t this done?


One thought on “Soviets in Cuba, a Documentary

  • “What could have been done in those years with the abundant assistance we received from the USSR and why wasn’t this done?”

    This was the biggest sin of the Cuban Revolution: not investing in industry while it could!

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