"All of Us Cubans Who Live Abroad Are Political Exiles"

The director is remembered in Cuba for several documentaries that honestly address social issues and in which journalism and art are mixed. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 1 November 2019 — The filmmaker Eliecer Jiménez went on a trip to the United States five years ago to “catch a break,” but in the end he decided to stay in that country. This week he returned to Cuba invited by the Hanna Arendt Institute of Artivism (Instar) to exhibit several of his works and confirm that the Island is still the point around which his life revolves.

“I went on a trip to Miami and then I tied it to another to New York and there the doors began to open. When my wife arrived, we went to Miami and began to create a life from scratch with the help of many friends. It is a city full of the best of Cubans, like Cuba, but we don’t know it because the people here [in Cuba] cannot speak with absolute frankness,” he tells 14ymedio, a day before his return to the United States.

Jiménez confesses that he did not travel outside the Island with the idea of staying. “Upon arriving in the United States we were building a life little by little until last year I decided to start as a student of the bilingual master’s degree in journalism at the FIU (Florida International University),” he says.

The director is remembered in Cuba for several documentaries that honestly address social issues and mix journalism and art, such as The Face of the Waters and his first work, Usufruct, for which he won the prize of the International School of Cinema and Television of San Antonio de los Baños, at the Gibara Film Festival.

Jiménez says he has never completely left the country. “On a formal level, the United States is what I want, on a conceptual and spiritual level what I want is Havana, Vertientes, Camagüey.” Something that he corroborates also when he sleeps. “The space where my dreams are developed is Cuba, it is with my father, the cows and in my origin as a guajiro.”

The door of the return to the Island remains open for him. But “it is very difficult to do it because Havana is screwed up and the rest of the country is worse, but on a spiritual level for me it is a nice bath of the  warm water of affection for people who are very grateful,” acknowledges the artist.

In the American academic world he has seen everything. “I have been invited to many universities to give talks about my work in independent and documentary films.” To those who ask stereotyped questions about the reality of the Island, he recommends “living a year” in Cuba, and doing it in the way that ordinary Cubans live. “And then w will talk later.”

“It is very clear to me that all Cubans who live abroad are political exiles. If you leave here because you are hungry, it is because the government did not do something to avoid that, and that is called politics,” he clarifies to those who want to label him as an economic emigrant.

“If you leave because you do not find space for your vocation, it is because there is a government that is malfunctioning and if you leave because you shit on the mother of the ruler, which seems very authentic to me, then it is the same. A governmental mechanism has not been generated. in which all people are included.”

In his five years living in the United States he has been a metal worker, film projectionist, producer, editor and cameraman. “Now in addition to having two jobs I am also a student. I have found a space for myself but I am still more or less the same person.” Because “there are things that change but not the essence, it is very difficult to escape from Cubanness, you can’t.”

In that country he has made six short films and also remains attentive to the cinema that is made within Cuba. Especially those “cimarrones [escaped slaves] like Jorge Molina, Miguel Coyula, Alejandro Alonso, Ricardo Figueredo and Yimit Ramírez.” Audiovisual creators who said that “no one stops them, there is no revolution to stop these people.”

He claims not to hold a grudge because he had problems at the University of Camaguey, where he studied journalism, with two materials considered “conflicting.”

“Then I went to film school in San Antonio with a small grant and wanted to enroll in the regular day course but a teacher warned me that they would never accept me there. I felt that every time I wanted to get put my head up, they knocked me down.”

What he has taken from those years has been productive. “In the end I have been what I wanted to be. Those who insulted me and humiliated me are what other people have wanted them to be.”

In October he met again with part of his Cuban public at the headquarters of Instar in Old Havana, with a personal exhibition that included twelve works, of which six had not been released in Cuba: Now (2016), Elegía (2016), TPara Construir Otra Casa (2016), Semiótica de la Mentira (2019), Mater Dei (2019), and El Eterno Retorno (2019).

These works have also been the result of a great personal sacrifice, stealing minutes from rest and paying a good part of the expenses. “When you get there, the CIA does not receive you, the American Government and Yankee imperialism do not receive you. None of them give out money to produce films, that is false,” says Jiménez.

“You have to do it all with your own means, generate your spaces and your time to do that. What did I do? In my time to sleep I did everything, between the jobs I’ve had, I did the movies and filmed on the weekend, editing at four in the morning, that was my choice. I feel sad when people give up.”

Jimenez would like to see a Cuba where there was an art and rehearsal cinema where he could present his films without anyone shouting “counterrevolutionary” or insulting him. “I am not interested if it is a radical communist who stands up to give an opinion about my film, I appreciate that, now the insults seem to me regrettable.”

“I have two very strong struggles in the United States, one is not to become a cynical and another is to deal with my dreams.”


The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. You can help crowdfund a current project to develop an in depth multimedia report on dengue fever in Cuba; the goal is modest, only $2,000. Even small donations by a lot of people will add up fast. Thank you!