The honour of my family and my love affair with Cuba

In my last days leaving Cuba, Shakespeare quotes were running through my head, lines from Julius Cesar and Corialanus, now in England I am listening to Danay Suarez and it all makes sense …………. Yo soy individual y me gusta el blues y me gusta el rock y me gusta el Jazz,   ……….. y  esto no va a cambiar…..

I wish I had more time to spend with you Danay, one day we will meet again and have that cup of tea you promised me.  Like all the wonderful Cubans I connected with you rapidly, and will never forget that interview in your mother’s house in Santa Fe.  But we didn’t get to hang out as we wanted ….. but you are going places and so are we, so I think our paths will cross.  In the meantime all my friends in the UK are going to know about you and your music!

We arrived in Cuba with so much love and TRUST.  We were so glad to have got out of Guatemala, away from the violence and corruption, and so happy to be in Cuba with Rafa working somewhere as wonderful as EICTV, the school he loved so much.  We were safe, we would be looked after.

Or that is what I thought, how wrong I was.  We had been left a 15 year time bomb by the last director and it was ticking ….. Even after she left she had her spies in the school informing her of everything Rafa was doing and was writing public emails to criticise and damage him.  Recently she wrote waving the white flag …… way too late for that!  Maybe she too was a little unstable after 4 years in the school …. anything is possible.

My husband was a student at the film school in the second generation, to him in those days it was a utopia, and it was the school of 3 mundos (3 worlds).  They were pioneers creating a new world of cinema as many of the students that followed were.  I have met a lot of his friends, they are all still great friends and wonderful inspiring people.  Now in 2013, nearly 30 years on, what has it become?  Just another film school?  But a  film school in Cuba with a great heritage, and one lucky enough to have exceptionally good teachers ……….   I met a lot of great people at that school but also an awful lot of fake people holding on to their lies, some more clever than others.  They were the ones that disappeared from the scene when the going got tough.

One woman spent the whole of the first year showering us with presents, the children too, acting as though she was a good friend, I never trusted her and I was right.  I felt sorry for her boyfriend who always seemed to be following one step behind her like a loyal dog.  Another character, who Rafa invited for over a decade to Guatemala for the film festival, paying her flights, was nowhere to be seen.  Did not even call us to say goodbye.  Is this the way decent people react?

My love affair with Cuba was intense and dramatic, of course, how else could it be?  I will always remember MY Cuba.  The sweet kind people that came into my life and they were the ones that were there for us at the end to help and support us, when all the bureaucrats in the government, the foundation and the film school, had done their work at ruining a family life in a few days and possibly psychologically damaging my children.  I still haven’t found them a school place in their new home, we arrived too late.  But who gave a shit about my family in the end?

The other side of the Atlantic, another beach ..... safe and together.
The other side of the Atlantic, another beach ..... safe and together.

A few weeks ago my husband told the children over a Saturday breakfast that he was no longer director of the film school.  Nico, my 7 year old just shrugged his shoulders and sighed and said that at least we wouldn’t have to worry about saving the film school anymore.  But things got tough when they realised they were leaving their beloved French school and all their friends and Cuba ……..

A cowardly, total lack of humanity is the only way I can describe what has just happened to me, and my family.  Ironic that with film school money, a previous director had co-produced a documentary series called Ser un Ser Humano.  Not much humanity came my way from the people with power at the school.  The anger and indignation, and also the horror of what we have just been put through, is lessening day by day, but writing this blog, I hope will be some kind of catharsis, and help me turn the page and leave all this soap opera behind, and move on to better things.

Also ‘me and my blog’ have become one of the characters in this ridiculous story, which should be a film script or a myth.  The British wife is now, like Miss Scarlett in Cluedo one of the characters of this tale, where we became victims of corruption, deception and betrayal.  I remember in the last tough days, receiving a phonecall from a woman (who thinks she is a lady) from the fundacion, telling me that she was a friend and a professional.  I had to laugh, there was nothing friendly or professional about this woman.  She behaved like the worst kind of bureaucrat from the beginning to the end.

My husband has had to take a lot of personal punches in the face and plenty of bullshit over the last few weeks, but everybody who knows him knows that he is an honourable man, who loves and protects his family, and loves Cuba and that film school.  He is also Guatemalan and has been through a war in a country where you are taught to keep your mouth shut, and not share your worries, and at times in Cuba, there seemed no other option.  We always thought we were going to be safe though.

We have received accusations of being counter revolutionaries and having private meetings with the American office of interest.  So ridiculous.  We met the poor guy 3 times.  Twice when they threw their huge annual party for all the people involved in culture in Havana and the usual Havana personalities, journalists and other diplomats, and once when he came to visit the film school.  We invited a lot of ambassadors to visit the school in the 2 years we were there, and when we invited the Head of Mission we really did not think he would make it, as it was outside their 25 mile zone.  To his credit he applied 3 times and finally got permission.  We admired his tenacity and received him once in the film school, I wrote about it in this blog.  This was our only time meeting him.

Thieves, thieves everywhere ………

When I arrived in Cuba, our house, although beautiful, was a crumbling den of corruption by the sea, the tip of the iceberg of what we were about to discover.  The woman in charge was running a food, beer and coffee business from the house, selling through the rubbish collectors and whoever else.  When I arrived it didn’t take me long to get to the bottom of everything.    All this stuff in the house and there was nobody living there.  Food for hundreds of people, including many luxury items had entered in the last 6 months, we could do nothing as everything had been signed off.  The woman still works in the kitchen at the film school and I dare say she is still stealing.

We could not ignore what was happening, as it was right under our nose in our own house.  As I said, we threw them all out and then our house was burgled.  Nobody at the film school who could help, seemed to want to, in fact the opposite, the head of administration was openly hostile towards me when I wanted help with the police and the investigation after the robbery.  Other ¨friends¨ in docencia (the faculty) told me just to forget about it and it was all conveniently swept under the carpet.  It took us a year to get the guys to pick up the rubbish again, they were really pissed off at losing their business, the British wife had made a stand and she would have to pay.  We certainly did when thousands of dollars worth of money and property disappeared one night from our house.  Rafa was about to travel and only a few people in the school knew that he had cash in the house for a few hours.  Too much of a coincidence.

I tried not to let all this dark stuff get me down, and we were happy to be away from military fascists, narcos and violence in Guatemala.  I loved Cuba but I was wisening up fast.  The people who I had found to work in my house either refused to work with the film school as they described it is a nido de ratas (a rat’s nest) and pushed everything back onto me, or they ended up stealing from me too!  After a year I had almost cleaned it all up and had my great right hand woman in charge.  Without her I could never have got through the last year, she was my rock and one of the most wonderful and honest and hardworking people you could want to have at your side.  Rafa on the other hand had more than a house to deal with …..

I was already falling in love with my Cuba, a world of good and interesting, decent people.  But at times I felt more comfortable on the terrasa of my friend’s apartment in Buena Vista than playing the role of director’s wife in my beautiful beach house.  Many aspects of the film school for me had begun to represent all that was going wrong with Cuba, and I had to keep it to myself.  There were good people in the school, and I tried to focus on them and not the fake ones.  In the second year some great women arrived bringing with them an international vision and experience, there seemed some hope that the school could move forward into the real world.

I loved meeting all the people who came to visit and the wonderful teachers who brought their energy.  When there were a lot of workshops happening the place could be buzzing with healthy energy from outside the madness.

The wise grey haired academics*, always treated me kindly, the good team in production and photography, Luciano and the ladies in the library, the sweet people in the dining room, the humble workers, tired of working amongst a mafia.  But I had become tired of dealing with so many doble caras (two faced people) full of their own self importance.  My Havana life was much more fun and genuine.

* Especially Daniel Diaz Torres who directed one of my all time favourite Cuban films: La Pelicula de Ana.

Every month we had parties in the house to thank the teachers who travel for little money to give classes at the school.  I threw some great parties, we all had fun and danced a lot.  I love music much more than film, and like to push people out of their comfort zone.  My days of working in record companies in London meant that I had a huge appreciation of diverse music.  I will always remember how much people danced in front of the sea and how my favourites became theirs.  In Cuba, I got into my rumba, always loved cumbia, rediscovered Blaxploitation, and fell in love with Danay and her gang.

I always wanted to invite the students more so they could escape from the pressure cooker, but the first time I did invite a group and took some time and had fun chatting with them and made sure they had some special cocktails that we did not normally serve but in the end, someone stole 26 electric candles from me!  I had just bought some new ones on Amazon half price and a German friend had brought them over for me from London.  I felt like a little girl who had just had her birthday present stolen, I loved my cheap but cool candles and everyone knew it.  Another stealing mystery, but we couldn’t touch the students, some of them were just too full of entitlement and hostility.  It seemed I deserved to have my candles stolen ………  In the end some students even stole the words from my blog but that’s another story.

I met many lovely students on an individual basis, especially in my first year, but as we entered our second year, they seemed increasingly more interested in complaining about petty issues rather than looking at the big picture, and their way of dealing with everything seemed to be with hatred and violence and lynching amongst themselves most of the time, but the Rapidito Mafia (as they had become known) were always happy to lynch anyone available from what I could see.  A Shakespearean mob manipulated and misinformed and sometimes unstable.  One week they would be saying one thing and the next ……

As a psychologist I began to find their behaviour erratic and often disturbing.  I felt a bit sorry for them, maybe this so called utopia had turned into something more akin to Lord of the Flies or One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest then anything more poetic or wistful.  The isolation of the school and the intensity of the community did not seem healthy anymore.  Havana was so close but so far.  It seemed cruel to isolate these young people from life and Cuba.  If you ask me the school should move to Havana and maybe things could be a little bit more normal rather then some over-rated psychological experiment that has passed its sell by date.


I just wish I had had more time to dance with my friends, instead of listening to the problems Rafa was dealing with, night after night after night. It drained me.  This organisation was on its last legs and we were realising that even people we had considered friends could not be trusted ….. and the time bomb was ticking louder and louder ….

The Cuban State is what it is and it seems they have been looking for scapegoats everywhere in these last few years.  Two Brits just got out of prison, there are now 20 Canadians in prison, all for minor allegations.    They threatened my husband with prison 3 times, mainly for irregularities which had been going on at the school for over 15 years.  He took it like a man as they told him to do so!  Then they took him to the school and did it in front of the whole school like a crucifixion, with no chance for the truth to come out.  The people who should have been up there, those that had been sucking the cow all those years, were nowhere to be seen.  Cowards!

When we were thrown out of our home and the whole family left the country in just 2 weeks.  I had to give away most of my possessions from a family life of 10 years and 3 children, everything in my kitchen, most of my clothes, my books.  I was scared of what could happen to us.  Can you imagine going through that?  I wept as I tried to decide which books to keep from the children’s collection, which memories.   Hiding their Lego in boxes to be taken away.

They were unable to say goodbye to their school and half of their friends, they had to see their books, bicycles and toys being sold and given away,………or disappearing, and their mother working like crazy under enormous pressure to organize everything in record time.  We could not have done it without the help of all our wonderful friends.  We shipped a few precious personal things to Guatemala where we were not going, and ran with 5 suitcases to England leaving so many things in the house to be given away.  The school paid nothing towards the move.  Everybody warned us, don’t leave Rafa behind, you all have to get on that plane together.  At the airport security they went through everything in my hand luggage touching my underwear with much interest and studying my magazines.  It was pathetic, I had to bite my lip as I snatched a pair of my favourite knickers from his hands.

But in those last 2 weeks, our house was full of Cubans looking after us and keeping us safe in more ways than one, some people who had been friends since the beginning, others who appeared like knights in shining armour to help us with everything and anything.  Filmmakers and their families, artists, students, actors, writers, dancers, and our wonderful team in the house making us eat, and helping by taking the children out to have fun and keeping things as normal as possible for them.  Thank you everybody we couldn’t have managed without you.  Maybe you were the counter revolutionaries we were supposed to be meeting with?  I think you were all just decent people and wonderful kind friends!!!  To be a counter revolutionary in modern Cuba is I believe verging on an oxymoron, if that makes any sense.

Also everyone in the diplomatic and international business community who reached out to us, my great friends in the international press, UNESCO, NGOs and human rights organisations and of course the wonderful Mums in the French school, an eclectic bunch.  I will never forget all those people, friends for life who came to sit with us and give us hugs and love in our stunned bewilderment.

It seemed that some Cubans were grateful for the truth, but horrified about how we were being treated, they were truly ashamed, therefore they couldn’t do enough for us.  Nothing seemed real, but we just had to keep our mouths shut and get out, but we thanked them for their solidarity.  One thing I can truly say is that we came to Cuba with a lot of love and left with even more.

I miss my Cuba and my friends and my Latin world of good and genuine people some of whom I never got chance to say goodbye to ……. but as we would say in English ………. We were always between a rock and a hard place.  Or that is how it felt like to me, and maybe to those Cubans crying in my house …… so much emotion.  As Danay sings ……….. lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas, lagrimas…….. (tears)

Does utopia exist? I don’t know but what happened to my family is a reality.  That everyone involved in this ridiculous fiasco has to live with their shame and they all know who they are.

And still some people kept telling us, stay calm, stay quiet ……. Think about the school.  Phew ………….  Think about the school?  What about my 3 children and half of my possessions, and how they were trying to dirty my husband’s spotless reputation????

But on the upside I have never received so many messages of love and support ever in my life from all over the world, messages that touched me and got me through the toughest times.

The Cuban way to turn a blind eye is not what Raul is spouting in his doctrine of anti-corruption.  But change is tough, and Cuba, or at least the film school, was not ready to change, now it has to ……… as all the truth came tumbling out …. THAT’S WHAT THEY WANTED.

La Candela!

Te quiero MUCHO Cuba ……you are survivors, just like Rafa and I, and my family and I wish you all the best!

Hasta luego

Me and my Cubanita!

15 thoughts on “The honour of my family and my love affair with Cuba”

  1. Wow, that really sucks. I can’t help but feel from your writing though that you really didn’t “get” Cuba despite living there. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and find that many of the things (like bringing electric candles and video games in) you write about could easily be perceived as going against the government. It seems like it was a bad fit from the beginning for a Guatemalan and a Brit who enjoyed their comforts of home. I hope you find a place to belong and look forward to reading the rest of your journey.

    1. NO I think I ‘got’ Cuba more than anybody.
      bringing in stuff from outside …… everyone does it, some people that is how they make their living, and many Cubans live with much better cars and toys than we had, they are much more used to getting round the system, of course! we lived a fairly straight life compared to most people around us. we could not believe the amount of iphones and gadgets people had. that was why in the end we gave into our children. if our custodio was sitting outside with his kids nintendo ….. why couldn’t they have one.
      the problem is that people don’t understand what Cuba has become and what you read in the press is not the truth. YOu are much more likely to read the truth here in this blog from now on.

      you should have seen the Cubans getting on the plane from Mexico they had TVs, stereos, you name it

      Rafa did what Raul wanted but it was a no win situation he dared to fight the corruption but everyone had their finger in the pie and they don’t like it when someone tries to stop them

      believe me not because of a few electric candles

      anyway stay tuned ……

  2. I apologise for the slightly rough round the edges version. I had to repost this 3 times as something weird happened with my blog. I think it was hacked and I lost various more polished versions. few commas missing here but hey I did my best. lets see if this one stays put!

  3. Oh Jo, I knew corruption was bad there, way worse than Italy, but darn thing, should it end up crumbling your lives like this..?? It’s not fair, not fair!!! True is what they say that unless many many many more like us give a damn about sticking up for what really matters (= love and justice, family and friends, people’s lives!!), not much will change at all, and we will get treated like the idiotic few obsessed with our deep sense of humanity.. And so be it, I rather feel human, be human! Glad to see that you too!! See you back in England.. next week.. will call you!

  4. How can I respond? It was a very sad read. Crushing. How people can be so cowardly and corrupt is an absolute indictment of the human species. Power disfigures beauty. Regimes become rapidly corrupted no matter how well meaning their original principles. Poverty robs a culture of grace and pride. You were idealistic innocents (a brilliant thing) believing that being good and honest and creative would transcend the decades of corruption but all the machine wanted to do was break you like butterflies in its cogs because you reminded it of its fall from grace. I am desperately sorry it turned out like this. When you are back at full strength I am sure your indomitable spirits will absorb it, analyse it and channel it and turn it into political art which will then mobilise the humanity in your audiences to take action in their own lives.

    I am looking forward to wine and conversation here in France.

    1. Jack

      Your words are so beautiful and wise and I have just read them to Rafa. I knew since I first met you that you understood where I fitted into to this world and so looking forward to having that wine and chat.

      muchos besos

      and as one lovely Cuban friend used to call me la hada de la fiesta ….. the fairy of the party *sounds better in Spanish!.

      oh and by the way you write brilliantly

      off to get the 3 year old to bed

  5. time to put it all behind and find happiness in new endeavors/ we were all so optimistic when Rafa became director and you brought a sense of vitality and hospitality to those of us who taught at eictv.
    good luck and good wishes

    1. Thanks Sandy. I know there were many people who appreciated Rafa’s endeavours and vision, especially the teachers. I loved meeting all of you, and the energy the teachers brought to the school I know inspired Rafa to soldier on when times were tough, especially the ones from my own country! I hope our paths cross soon. I’ll let you know when we come to London.


  6. My dear, sadly you are another one that have discovered the “real” face of the cuban revolution. Be thankful that you and your family were able leave the country at the same time and in one piece. Welcome to the club

    – Cuco el de la yuma

    1. I am thankful that we all managed to leave together and also taking lots of great memories of great Cuban friends with us. I will never forget all the help and support we received from Cubans especially in those last two weeks, and I was lucky to know such kindness and solidarity.

  7. Realmente no importa si lo publicas o no, lo fundamental es que ademas de que supieran de que los entiendo, puedo imaginarme lo que les hicieron, lo que sufrieron y demas, pues que el tema a tenido y tendra repercucion y que precisamente en este sitio se hablaba de ellos, a veces un poco vulgar y reaccionarias, pero las razones que les dan son reales, realmente fueron ingenuos y muy bien intencionados. Saludos y muchos existos.

    Esta direccion de correo es real, asi que si lo desean pueden enviarme correo aqui, saludos desde “la bella Cuba”

    1. Rolo

      Gracias para tus comentarios! Si tu estas viviendo en Cuba que bueno que tienes internet no todos puedan! y que bueno que tu estas tan valiente a escribir aqui por que seguro que estan leyendome todavia.

      Solo queria decirte una cosa. no fuimos a Cuba para apoyar a los Castros! Yo digo que para mi esposo fue solo para intentar a salvar la escuela que siempre tenia su lugar importante en la historia de nuevo cine latinamericano. Talvez fue un reto ridiculo pero bueno ………….

      Yo queria conocer Cubanos en su pais, bailar mucho y disfrutar ser mama en la bella isla …… nada mas ambiciosa!

      suerte y saludos

  8. Josefine, ciertamente como Ud. dice me siento muy afortunado por tener Internet aquí dentro de Cuba y desde mi casa, aunque tentativamente solo puedan ser como promedio 20 minutos diarios, o sea, 10 horas al mes, que es lo que puedo conseguir y además pagar por ello 20 cuc, es decir 2 cuc cada hora.

    Y si de seguro la están leyendo, para eso sabe que en la UCI muy cerca de la escuela en donde Uds. laboraban existen muchas personas dedicadas a eso, ya lo dijo Eliécer Ávila en aquella conversación con Ricardo Alarcón, “monitoreo y combate” en la Internet.

    Quizás no me exprese bien o no me ha entendido Ud. en lo personal no creo que Uds. viniesen a este país en apoyo de “los Castros” o incluso del partido gobernante, estoy convencido que vinieron por sus experiencias profesionales (el caso de su esposo claro), su deseo de ayudar y de crecer como artista. Pero realmente como muchos en el mundo parece no conocen bien como funcionan las cosas por acá, (extraño por demás, pues según pude entender su esposo se graduó en esa escuela precisamente y ya debía conocer todo esto si fue así), acá todo tiene que ver con la política, con el partido único PCC y además pues con quienes lo custodian todo, la seguridad del estado, DTI y otras agencias.
    Aquí todo es relativo y te dejan funcionar y crear hasta que les convenga, cuando no sea así, bien porque quieres cambiar ciertas reglas que “no convienen” aunque sean muy justas y honestas, o porque de cierta manera vean que obtienes ciertos apoyos y amistades precisamente por esa buena actitud de Ud., como se dice en un comentario, le cortan “el piso” y todo se viene abajo. Desde que Ud. llega, mas siendo extranjero, pues ya tiene un “expediente abierto” este de a poco se va nutriendo de informes, fotos con distintos personajes, en distintos sitios y demás; al final mientras Ud. no resulte incomodo o perjudicial, todo queda archivado por los siglos de los siglos AMEN.

    Si por casualidad no ocurre así, pues su suerte esta echada, ahí se destapa aquella foto casual suya saludando a Richard Pamly (O el de turno) en un sitio en el que habían 500 personas y el era uno mas, o aquella otra en que asistió a la Oficina de Intereses por algún motivo X, este modo de proceder ya Ud. y el mundo lo a visto con las personas que piensan distinto al gobierno, que son seguidas y filmadas las 24 horas, no importa lo que cueste…..!!!Para eso hay dinero !!!!.

    Cosos hay de sobra y habrán, quizás no iguales a los vuestros y salvando diferencias, pero si el mismo proceder, empresarios de muchos países que los han explotado y dejado invertir hasta que les convino, después le inventan un caso de extorsión, prostitución infantil, soborno, trafico de drogas, en fin lo que deseen y fuera del país (en el mejor de los casos) o a la cárcel. Ahí tiene a Max Marambio que era de los “de ellos”.

    En fin nadie escarmienta por cabeza ajena como se dice por acá, y la experiencia viene con los años y los golpes. Como cubano me solidarizo mucho con Uds. y jamás hubiera deseado que pasaran por lo que les hicieron pasar. De cualquier manera considérense a pesar de todo MUY AFORTUNADOS y den gracias al DIOS de la religión a la que pertenezcan todos los días, pues como debió haber pensado desde el primer momento pudieron haber quedado separados por muchos años, Ud. alla con los muchachos y el aquí en una carcel de mala muerte. En este sentido me alegra que al final las cosas hayan sido asi, claro teniendo en cuenta esto ultimo. Mis saludos y respetos

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