Documentary film produced by
Rachel Dannefer and Heather Haddon
45 min., English and Spanish, with English subtitles, 2004

The UN General Assembly regularly and nearly unanimously rejects the 40-plus-year-old U.S. economic blockade against Cuba. Yet the U.S. government intensifies its assaults. Public knowledge about U.S. policies and awareness of what’s happening inside Cuba are both limited.

One remedy is widespread showing of Rachel Dannefer and Heather Haddon’s documentary film “Bloqueo,” released in 2004. Their 45-minute exposition of blockade history and the mechanisms of how economic sanctions work provides essential information for people new to Cuba and for Cuba solidarity work.

“Bloqueo” was the official selection of a number of U.S. and international film festivals, including in Havana and Venezuela. As the producers admitted to Irish filmmaker Bernie Dwyer, who interviewed them Dec. 5 for Radio Havana, they knew very little about Cuba and the blockade before making “Bloqueo.”

The self-taught filmmakers’ need for a documentary subject was answered when they happened upon Pastors for Peace and joined that group’s 2001 Friendshipment caravan. They told Dwyer that they learned a lot as the caravan wound its way to McAllen, Texas, through Tampico, Mexico, and on to Cuba with tons of humanitarian aid. The viewer learns a lot too, and that’s the film’s strong point. Prior knowledge is not required. The film reports on U.S. policies and Cuba’s response in an orderly, comprehensive fashion.

Every year since 1992, Pastors for Peace, a New York based ecumenical group, has taken humanitarian supplies to Cuba in purposeful defiance of U.S. laws. The film features riveting interviews with the Rev. Lucius Walker, the Pastors for Peace leader, whose clear, reasoned condemnation of U.S. policies puts the project onto a moral and legal high ground.

“Bloqueo” tells the story, too, of Cuba’s survival of the “special period,” 10 years of shortages and deprivation following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Cubans interviewed for the film spoke of new directions taken by their government. They were critical of tourism, the rise of private enterprise and foreign currency use, but they appear to have understood the rationale for the innovations. In interviews with professionals and regular citizens, the film highlights achievements in sustainable agriculture, health care and environmental protection that took place despite dire shortages.

But “Bloqueo” stays in the mind for other reasons. It’s a shot in the arm for old hands in Cuba solidarity work — for this one at least. Beautiful landscape views unfold in the film, as do movement and color. Island sounds quicken the blood.

Full disclosure department: the present writer, having traveled on several Friendshipment caravans, knows many of the people interviewed in the film, knows them as lifters of boxes, truck drivers and translators. The good sense they display squares with their already demonstrated integrity and dedication.

“‘Bloqueo’ raises important questions about the legitimacy and efficacy of the more than four-decade-old U.S. embargo against Cuba,” Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) said. “I applaud this film for bringing our attention to this outdated and hurtful policy.”