Cuba with Simon Reeve: Interview

December 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Cuba with Simon Reeve, Tuesday 11 December, BBC 9pm

You mentioned that you had to pay a little more than the locals to see the ballet, did you have to pay “tourist prices” to get access to anything else on your trip?
No, I don’t think so, certainly not in the way you mean! We’re very careful about making sure we don’t pay bribes.

What do you aim to achieve with your documentaries?
I’m aiming for a combination of information, education, and of course entertainment as well. it is TV after all.

The viewers are the judges, and we can get a sense of their reaction by how many are watching and how many switch-on/switch-over during the course of the programme. When we get it right viewers are keen to tell us they’ve enjoyed a programme and learnt something from it. And when we get it wrong they let us know.

How much do Cubans know about the outside world, comparably to other one party or autocratic states you’ve visited?
They’re pretty clued-up. The Cuban education system isn’t the best in the world, but it’s nothing like as bad as in other one party societies, or in many other countries in the Americas the state media in Cuba is good at letting Cubans know about the rest of the world, but obviously they focus on examples of where capitalist societies are getting it wrong.

I’ve met a few Cubans who think that a vast army of the suffering poor are freezing to death in the UK

How difficult is it to get to the truth when you’re denied access to the dissidents who have been trying to change the system the most?
Whenever we’re denied the freedom to go somewhere or meet certain people it makes it harder for us to get a full picture of life in a country or an area. But I think the key is for us to be honest with viewers and say these are the restrictions or issues that we had to contend with in bringing you these stories. viewers need to know the truth, even if the truth is that we couldn’t speak to everyone we might have liked to speak with.

Our focus in making the Cuba film was more on ordinary Cubans anyway, so it’s not like we went there to make a film about political repression and were unable to speak to the politically repressed.

Will Cuba be able to compete internationally without the allure of communism as a tourist experience?
I think communism is just a part of the allure of Cuba, the main political attraction is the idea of ‘revolution’ and Ché and the legend of the plucky little country that stood-up to the giant USA. Regardless of whether that’s true or not it’s certainly the tale that Cuba is selling.

But even without the revolutionary romance, don’t forget it’s still the biggest island in the Caribbean, with endless beaches, rum and rumba. tourists will still love it.

How are Cubans responding to the greater presence of branding?
You see very few foreign brands in Cuba because advertising is still in its infancy. Generally Cubans are quite clued-up about the major international brands, and they inevitably equate them with wealth and success.

As Cuba becomes economically more developed, do you think that western cultural homogenisation is inevitable?
Perhaps not exclusively western, but certainly global homogenisation. It does feel like many countries are all starting to look just the same, with the same global brands and the same brightly-coloured plastic shop-fronts

Did you find out what was required to get a licence to be a professional “dandy”?
No, I didn’t, but I’m sure it’s a competitive industry to enter, because a dandy is someone who gets photographed by tourists and gets tipped by them.

Many Cubans want to be working with or near tourists because they can earn more money that way than by working for the state.

How many days did it take you to get tired of Buena Vista Social Club covers?
Day 2.

Is there any concern amongst Cubans that the change in politics could return Batista-like leaders to Cuba with the disproportionate impact Miami money could have as the borders are opened?
I think most Cubans are too busy trying to make a living and put food on the table than worry about what’s happening at the top of the tree. The current reforms are designed to introduce change slowly so that the regime isn’t toppled.

With more American-Cubans returning as restrictions are relaxed, do you think that Cuba will suffer similar problems to other countries that have had to re-unite divided peoples such as Germany?
I think the greater concern would be that if restrictions were lifted, Cubans would try to emigrate out of Cuba. Many of them dream of a better life abroad, particularly in the USA, ironically enough. But I can’t see the US opening its borders.

Gabriella says:

This documentary was weak to say the least. I’m am writing a PHD on Post Special PEriod Cuba and the research was shoddy and hard facts were inaccurate. For example, CUban-Americans cannot come and go as they please, there are in fact stringent procedures involved. How can you analyse CUban SOciety without mentioning gender or race or the Cuban Economy without mentioning ties with other nations especially VEnezuela? why focus on ballet,which is not regarded ‘as a national pastime’; in fact very few Cubans are interested in ballet and why imply that all homes are falling down;. havana is a colonial city, the same would occur in any other colonial city in the world! Even in his last comment, the presenter talks about restrictions being lifted in a theoretical future. Well if he’d done his research properly, he”d have known that from JAn 2013, Cubans will be able to come and go as they please. Having conducted ethnological research in cuba myself, i completely disagree about Cubans refusing to talk or criticise the ‘regime’ as he calls it. they are more than willing to discuss things in detail even if it implicates them personally in breaking the law. the presenter doesn’t even speak SPanish! How many academics were consulted? Books read, journals researched…evidently very few! If the BBC wants to make a documentary on Cuba, they completely went about it the wrong way, given the resources, I could have done a million times better myself!

b jones says:

I found the programme very patronising….sneering at anything to do with state run enterprises and drooling over anything to do with capitalism. It seems Mr Reeve was trying to draw comparisons with western economies which he hoped would show Cuba in a bad light. Yet it is basically stil a relatively poor Caribbean island which stands out as a great place to live compared to many other islands eg Haiti
He talks of continued subsidies from Russia, yet the US have propped up most of the other Caribbean islands
He barely refers to the American embargo, yet that has had a devastating effect!
He was cuaght off guard when the doctor/entrepreneur said he was happy with his lot and wasn’t concerned that he didn’t earn a lot more money as a doctor.
That is the way most Cubans are…they are a happy people, far far, far better off than under Batista. You don’t see anyone sleeping on the streets as in US or UK. They have one of the highest literacy rates IN THEE WORKD a great health service, free to everyone.
Shame on you Simon Reeve. I visited Cuba for a month last year, staying mainly with families in homestays. I saw a very different Cuba to you.
The devastation we are suffering from the failure of capitalism in UK, USA, Greece, Spain, Portugal etc etc should have given you another good yardstick to compare communism in Cuba with. You failed, big time

Terence buggie says:

Loved Simon’s sly sarcastic comments about Cuba disguised as ingenuousness.Just a cursory mention of Batista and the Americans who used Cuba as an offshore whorehouse subjugating the population and shooting dissidents in the streets.
Simon could hardly contain his glee in applauding the new free enterprise culture a version of which was the reason for the Revolution in the first place.
Hooray! Cubans can now sell their homes creating a new property market.
It won’t be long before the Cuban people can embrace the wonderful free market culture we all adore in the West.
Not much mention of the wonderful Education programmes and world beating Health Service.
It’s a pity Simon wasn’t there in the 1950’s but then Batistas Boys would have made short work of him if he tried to interview Cubans then.