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Posted May 08, 2006 by publisher in Cuban Culture

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By Humberto Fontova | FrontPageMagazine.com

Andy Garcia blew it big-time with his movie The Lost City. He blew it with the mainstream critics that is. Almost unanimously, they’re tearing apart a movie 16 years in the making, which Garcia both directed and stars in. In this engaging drama of a middle-class Cuban family crumbling during free Havana’s last days, Garcia insisted on depicting some historical truth about Cuba—a grotesque and unforgivable blunder in his industry. He’s now paying the price.

Earlier, many film festivals refused to screen it. Now many Latin American countries refuse to show it. The film’s offenses are many and varied. Most unforgivable of all, Che Guevara is shown killing people in cold blood.

“Where did Garcia get this preposterous notion of pre-Castro Cuba as a relatively prosperous but politically troubled place?” ask the critics. All the Cubans he portrays seem to come from the middle class. “Where in his movie is the tsunami of stooped and starving peasants that carried Fidel and Che into Havana on its crest?” they ask. “Where’s all those diseased and illiterate laborers and peasants my professors, Dan Rather, CNN and Oliver Stone told me about?” ask the critics.

Garcia has seriously jolted the Mainstream Media’s fantasies and hallucinations of pre-Castro Cuba, Che, Fidel, and Cubans in general. In consequence, the critics are unnerved and disoriented and their annoyance and scorn are spewing forth in review after review.

“In a movie about the Cuban revolution, we almost never see any of the working poor for whom the revolution was supposedly fought,” sniffs Peter Reiner in The Christian Science Monitor. “The Lost City’ misses historical complexity.”

Actually what’s missing is Mr. Reiner’s historical knowledge. Andy Garcia and screenwriter Guillermo Cabrera Infante knew full well that “the working poor” had no role in the stage of the Cuban Revolution shown in the movie. The Anti-Batista rebellion was led and staffed overwhelmingly by Cuba’s middle—and especially, upper—class. In August of 1957 Castro’s rebel movement called for a “National Strike” against the Batista dictatorship—and threatened to shoot workers who reported to work. The “National Strike” was completely ignored. Another was called for April 9, 1958. And again Cuban workers ignored their “liberators,” reporting to work en masse.

“Garcia’s tale bemoans the loss of easy wealth for a precious few,” harrumphs Michael Atkinson in The Village Voice. “Poor people are absolutely absent; Garcia and Infante seem to have thought that peasant revolutions happen for no particular reason—or at least no reason the moneyed 1 percent should have to worry about.”

What’s “absolutely absent” is Mr Atkinson’s knowledge about the Cuba Garcia depicts in his movie. His crack about that “moneyed 1 per cent,” and especially his “peasant revolution” epitomize the clichéd falsehoods still parroted about Cuba.

“The impoverished masses of Cubans who embraced Castro as a liberator appear only in grainy, black-and-white news clips,” snorts Stephen Holden in The New York Times. “Political dialogue in the film is strictly of the junior high school variety.”

“It fails to focus on the poverty-stricken workers whose plight lit the fires of revolution,” complains Rex Reed in the New York Observer.

Here’s a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) report on Cuba circa 1957 that dispels the fantasies of pre-Castro Cuba still cherished by America’s most prestigious academics and its most learned film critics: “One feature of the Cuban social structure is a large middle class,” it starts. “Cuban workers are more unionized (proportional to the population) than U.S. workers. The average wage for an 8 hour day in Cuba in 1957 is higher than for workers in Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany. Cuban labor receives 66.6 per cent of gross national income. In the U.S. the figure is 70 per cent, in Switzerland 64 per cent. 44 per cent of Cubans are covered by Social legislation, a higher percentage then in the U.S.”

In 1958 Cuba had a higher per-capita income than Austria and Japan. Cuban industrial workers had the 8th highest wages in the world. In the 1950’s Cuban stevedores earned more per hour than their counterparts in New Orleans and San Francisco. Cuba had established an 8 hour work-day in 1933—five years before FDR’s New Dealers got around to it. Add to this: one months paid vacation. The much-lauded (by liberals) Social-Democracies of Western Europe didn’t manage this until 30 years later.

Cuba, a country 71% white in 1957, was completely desegregated 30 years before Rosa Parks was dragged off that Birmingham bus and handcuffed.  In 1958 Cuba had more female college graduates per capita than the U.S.

The Anti-Batista rebellion (not revolution) was staffed and led overwhelmingly by college students and professionals. Here’s the makeup of the “peasant revolution’s” first cabinet, drawn from the leaders in the Anti-Batista fight:  7 lawyers, 2 University professors, 3 University students, 1 doctor, 1 engineer, 1 architect, 1 former city mayor and Colonel who defected from the Batista Army. A notoriously “bourgeois” bunch as Che himself might have put it.

By 1961, however, workers and campesinos (country folk) made up the overwhelming bulk of the anti-Castroite rebels, especially the guerrillas in the Escambray mountains. And boy, would THAT rebellion make for an action-packed and gut-wrenching movie. If by some miracle it ever got made you can bet these learned critics would pan it too. Whoever heard of poor country-folk fighting against their “benefactors” Fidel and Che?

The New York Times’ Stephen Holden also sneers at Garcia’s implication that “life sure was peachy before Fidel Castro came to town and ruined everything.”

In fact, Mr Holden, before Castro “came to town,” Cuba took in more immigrants (primarily from Europe) as a percentage of population than the U.S. And more Americans lived in Cuba than Cubans in the U.S. Furthermore,  inner tubes were used in truck tires, oil drums for oil, and styrofoam for insulation. None were cherished black market items for use as flotation devices to flee the glorious liberation while fighting off Hammerheads and Tiger Sharks.

The learned Mr Holden is also annoyed by “buffoonish parodies of sour Communist apparatchiks barking orders.” Apparently, Communist apparatchiks should be properly depicted as somewhat misguided social workers, or as slightly overzealous Howard Dean campaign staffers.

It’s no “parody,” Mr Holden, that the “apparatchiks” Garcia depicts in his movie incarcerated and executed a higher percentage of their countrymen in their first three months in power than Hitler and his apparatchiks jailed and executed in their first three years.

Andy Garcia shows it precisely right. In 1958 Cuba was undergoing a rebellion not a revolution. Cubans expected political change not a socio-economic cataclysm and catastrophe. But I fully realize such distinctions are too “complex” for a film critic to grasp. They prefer clichés and fantasies of revolution. Garcia might have followed the laudable examples of “historical complexity” and “accuracy” shown in previous movies on Cuba. Take two that these critics compare (favorably) to The Lost City, Havana and Godfather II.

In Havana, the brilliant director Sydney Pollack casts Fulgencio Batista with blond hair and blue eyes. In fact, Batista was black. In Godfather II, Francis Ford Coppola, to show Havana streets on New Years Eve 1958, casts more people than marched in Los Angeles last week and depicts them in a battle scene right out of Braveheart. In fact, Havana streets were deathly quiet that night.

I don’t presume to the exalted position of a film critic. So I don’t comment on the dramatic and cinematic criticisms made by these august critics. I’m not saying, or even implying, that The Lost City is a better movie than the Godfather II. I’m simply criticizing the critics on their criticism of The Lost City’s historical accuracy. In these reviews we see—in all their splendor—the Mainstream Media’s thundering and apparently incurable ignorance on all matters Cuban.

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  1. Follow up post #1 added on May 09, 2006 by MiamiCuban

    I don’t agree that Andy Garcia depicts pre-Castro Cuba accurately.  My father, who worked in heavy industry, left Cuba in 1955 precisely because he was unable to find work with a living wage that would allow him to step up into the middle class.  Many Cubans left prior to the revolution for that very reason.  It was the peasants, and people like my father, who fueled the revolution.  As for Che Guevara being depicted as a cold-blooded killer, again, I find that difficult to believe, unless he had a split personality.  My cousin was a soldier in Batista’s army, and when he was wounded fighting the rebels, it was Che Guevara who tended to his wounds and sent him home.  If Andy Garcia had done his research, he would have found many stories similar to my cousin’s.  The Lost City does nothing to convince me that the Cuba he’s conjured up, the one seen through the eyes of those affluent enough to leave,  is any more real than the Cuba I know through my own family history as well as other historical accounts.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on May 11, 2006 by J. Perez

    There is a lot of truth in Mr. Fontova’s article and also in the comments posted above by MiamiCuban, however contradictory that may sound.
    Mr. Fontova must surely admit that the “socio-economic cataclysm and catastrophe” he refers to, was in great measure brought about by the hostility displayed by the U. S. towards the new regime from its earliest days. In the context of Cold War politics, you were either with the U. S. or the USSR, there was no middle ground especially for a small country 90 miles from the U. S.
    The UNESCO report of 1957 is a realistic account of Cuban economic conditions at that time and so are the comments Mr. Fontova gives us with respect to social conditions. The fact in my view(and I was there) is that the overwhelming majority of Cubans supported the “rebellion” or revolution, whatever we choose to call it, peasants, workers, middle and upper classes.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on May 25, 2006 by Ralph

    It is true that a lot of cubans,the vast majority supported the M-26-O7, that was more than 40 year ago,but NOW is also true that the majority,the vast
    majority( not 2 hundred as somebody said) are at each other’s throats over
    the the course of the robolución,that’s why anybody can see the rampant level
    of repression in Cuba,b/c without repressing the clout of the government is
    going down and keep the power is all what really matters for the cuban officials.My family was,as the majority of cuban families involved in the fight
    against Batista regime,I was a very little boy,but I could remeber my family
    life on the duress at those times and now many of us are on exile,but at the

  4. Follow up post #4 added on May 31, 2006 by REALMIAMICUBAN

    MiamiCuban lost all credibility when he stated that Che Guevara tended the wounds of a Batista soldier. He may tell that one to the Americans, but he can not tell that one in Miami. Cubans have migrated to the United States since the 19th century but in the 1950’s not “many” Cubans did.  MiamiCuban is, of course wrong about the peasants and working class “fueling” the robolucion. I was there too and the majority of the leadership and the fighters who fought Batista were middle to upper class Cubans. MiamiCuban’s family must be fidelista and the history he speaks of must be the same history that is going to “absolve fidel”. Fat chance!

  5. Follow up post #5 added on June 15, 2006 by Julio, from Habana -Miami

    Ernesto “Che” Guevara tended one of Bastista’s injured soldiers and sent him home.
    Not even Che would believe that one if he were alive.

  6. Follow up post #6 added on August 18, 2006 by J.

    I think people like this MiamiCuban should ask himself why he is in the United States and not tending to Fidel’s wounds.  How dare you come to live the good life in this country and talk such bs.  As a true Cuban you should read up more on the history of our country and perhaps even talk to a wide variety of Cuban exiles.  This may broaden your understanding of the real Cuban experience.  Andy has done more than any other Cuban entertainer.  He has told his story and taught America a little more about our people.  It may be just a few of our experiences but at least it puts us on the American conscience.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on March 28, 2007 by Jennie

    A great deal of courage is always required to swim against the tide—whether literally or metaphorically.  In the case of The Lost City, Andy Garcia made a courageous choice.  He did so out of pride, memory, and love.  All three are part of his Cuban heritage and are more eloquent a statement about the soul of Cuba than any rhetoric spewed by Fidel Castro or his cohorts.  Was there room for change in pre-Communist Cuba?  Certainly.  There is always room for improvement.  Nonetheless, as Fico’s father (the voice of reason in the film) gives us to know: violence is not the correct tool for achieving it.  Regardless of the ease with which Marxist ideas and Machiavellian maxims may roll off the tongue, the end does not justify the means.  Cuba is today a country “educated” into ignorance. People who visit come back with quiet and painful observations—the for-show hotels that tourists are steered toward while black market B & Bs operate behind pulled blinds; the lucky who drive a cab and the unlucky who are out of sight; the sense of a people repressed, many of whom know nothing of what their grandparents knew—and loved—in and of Cuba.  Something is there in the memory of a people, though.  Something essential that survives.  Cuba’s rich culture has not died, I think, but it is dormant, lying fallow, until such time when libertad and igualdad rise again on an island paradise.  Not an Eden, but a real place with challenges and opportunities , as exist in other real places, real countries.  Andy Garcia should be applauded thoughtful, passionate, multi-talented, and heroic; long may he survive the politically-correct and often woefully ignorant entertainment industry.  Having one’s heart in the right place is not enough; the heart needs an educated mind to support it. Garcia may have more compatriots than he knows; they just may not have the courage to speak up in his behalf.  (Now, I ask you: Where’s solidarity when it’s needed?) One lovely achievement of Garcia’s film—and all those who contributed to its making—is its conveyance of intense longing and pathos.  Indeed, the voices seems to say, the soul of Havana and of Cuba is too rich to kill.  It has only gone into hiding until it is safe to emerge.

  8. Follow up post #8 added on October 06, 2009 by Eddy

    Escuse my english, I came from Cuba 5 year’s a go and the history that I see in the film is the version of my mother speaking realy low in the house [this is the real one] not the version in the school that we most to hear ...Thank’s Andy Garcias ..I bought the DVD & sent to someone that I love but never believe in my mother version…This person send me a letter with just a few word “Yo te quiero mucho tambien’‘[I love you very much too].I feel realy proud of cubans people that have the chance to show the real live before and after of my lovely country…Thank’s for the 30% of my friend’s that never feel the taste of the liberty and for the other 30% that doesn’t know but at least they are alive in Cuba

  9. Follow up post #9 added on October 07, 2009 by Andres

    I am interested in the Country of Cuba and it’s very interestiing culture.

      I know that there are different views regarding the events and history of
      Cuba. Humberto Fontova stated that Cuba was integrated 30 years before
      Rosa Parks was dragged off of a bus in the U.S.

      Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1st 1955.  I have read that that
      Batista was not allowed membership to the Havana Country Club ,because
      he was not white.  When I visited the Hotel Nacional with my Cuban friends
      they told me that they would have been denied entry to the Hotel,before
      the Revolution because they are mullatos.

      My friend in Santiago de Cuba told me her father was denied access to
    medical school,because he was black. This was before the revolution and she
    is now an attorney.

    I understand that although there are laws ,in all countries sometimes the
    culture does not enforce them.

    I wish all Cubans a better future.

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