Profiles Lency, a man who lives in Cuba's central mountains who has a…
The Singular Story of Unlucky Juan
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Seven pounds of rice, five pounds sugar, four ounces coffee, half a pound cooking oil, five eggs, 10 ounces beans, a small bread roll and a pound a half of meat – that’s the monthly allotment for Cubans under the country’s rationing system.
An independent film financed through crowd-funding and without the financial support of traditional Cuban film institutions, THE SINGULAR STORY OF UNLUCKY JUAN is a comprehensive, accessible examination of the particularities of the Cuban economy. Using a fictional worker called Juan as an example, the film shows how the economy affects the daily lives of ordinary citizens – and how badly it squeezes those who don’t have access to hard currency.
Cuba has two currencies: the Cuban Peso and the CUC – a far more valuable currency pegged to international exchange rates. Tourists pay in CUCs and shop at CUC stores, which stock higher quality goods at a huge premium.
Divided into chapters covering rations, the marketplace, CUC stores, private business, corruption, economic migration, and future Cuba, the documentary walks us through how each of these affects Juan and those like him. The film interviews a cross-section of Cuban workers and an economist who favours a more free-market approach, and offers sometimes hypnotic shots evoking economic activity: butchers cutting meat, fruit vendors at markets, shops lined with luxury goods inaccessible to most.
Juan starts the month with 250 Cuban pesos. But once he’s paid for his food rations, extra food to meet his needs for the month, transit, utilities, and the new energy-efficient fridge he was obliged to buy (and use 20% of his monthly salary to pay off over a 10-year term), there is little left. No wonder so many Cubans rely on living with relatives, overseas remittances, or getting involved in corruption and the black market.
As bad as things are, Cubans worry about what the future will look like once relations with the United States eventually become normalized. Speaking about the US, they worry the Americans “will swallow us whole” and use words like “crushed” and “assimilated” to describe what may lie ahead. The door has already been slightly opened – with a new foreign economic development zone and relaxed rules allowing some Cubans to own private businesses. But these are no panacea either. Small-business owners report frequent harassment, ticketing for endless infractions, and bureaucratic roadblocks. “I don’t own this business,” says a tired-looking woman, “I am its slave.”