Juan Condemned To Nothing / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 January 2017 — How to explain to our
grandchildren the economic absurdity of today’s Cuba? What pedagogical
juggling will be needed to detail the black market, the ration book, the
“Hard Currency Collection Stores,” and the capped prices? Will they
believe us when we describe the devalued Cuban peso and its counterpart,
the chavito? The movie The Singular History of Juan With Nothing, by the
director Ricardo Figueredo, could help in this educational endeavor.
The documentary tells of the life – the “survival” – of Juan, a worker
whose only source of income is his monthly salary of 250 Cuban pesos
(CUP), the rough equivalent of 10 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC – each
worth roughly one dollar). Juan is a hypothetical “ordinary Cuban” who
does not receive remittances from abroad, who does not “divert” (i.e.
steal) state resources, or resell products to survive. A citizen living
a grey life, that doesn’t allow him to buy even a new shirt, invite his
girlfriend to a coffee shop, or polish his shoes.
In a little more than 50 minutes, the script details the expenses faced
by this fictional character, inspired by Figueredo’s own brother, in
order to feed himself and pay for basic services such as water,
electricity and gas. The story is based on real testimonies that
delineate a distorted economy, plagued with contradictions and where
honesty is an obstacle in the struggle to survive.
In the voice of actor Luis Alberto Garcia, who serves as narrator, The
Singular History of Juan With Nothing details the products still
distributed on the ration book and their corresponding prices, a glimpse
of the subsidized poverty enthroned by the rationed market which, as the
economist Juan Triana says, also “transmits injustice.”
A selection of archive images helps to understand the misery trap in
which millions of today’s Cubans are snared. It is an explanation
sprinkled with sarcasm and certain historical details that the
government has wanted to bury, such as its promises that shortages would
never reach our markets or that Cubans would never fail to be able to
enjoy their traditional Christmas nougats.
It is likely that this mix of humor and good memory have contributed to
the film’s not having been selected to participate in last December’s
latest edition of the Festival of New Latin American Cinema. However,
the film is already circulating in alternative media networks, which
means it enjoys a larger audience than it would have had in a few
showings in December. So the life of Juan is being seen in the same way
that characterizes it: separate from institutions and away from official
Among viewers, the title of the film awakens the memory of a poem by one
of the regime’s favorite poets, Nicolás Guillén, in which he assures us
that, after January 1959, we Cubans will become “Juan with everything,”
an assertion that becomes a mockery when the protagonist uses a fifth of
his salary to buy soap and deodorant in state-owned stores, at prices
with “taxes of more than 200%,” the documentary says.
The agricultural market and illegal trade networks complete the choices
that the impoverished man must resort to in order to feed himself, while
simple arithmetic makes clear he won’t be able to do so, that no one can
live a decent life with a decent wage. The tension grows and the
audience’s uneasiness rises as the money slips out of Juan’s hands and
his plate remains empty of food.
The interviews with self-employed workers, retirees, state employees and
analysts make Figueredo’s film transcend a mere didactic explanation to
achieve a high testimonial value, a hardened portrait of a Cuba no one
is satisfied with, not even the voices closest to the official discourse
that are heard in the film.
However, the greatest achievement of the documentary will only be seen
later, when the incredulous generations of the future believe that we
are exaggerating by telling them what we have lived through. The
Singular Story Of Juan With Nothing will be like those fossils that,
when unearthed, show the fierce anatomy of an extinct animal, the grim
skeleton of an economy in ruins.
Source: Juan Condemned To Nothing / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez –
Translating Cuba –