Award Winning Cuban Journalist Liz Oliva Fernández Screens Films at Augsburg

Cassandra Hagen, features editor

The Center for Global Education and Experience (CGEE) had the unique honor to host Gracie Award-winning Cuban journalist Liz Oliva Fernández as she presented two new documentary films produced by the independent media outlet Belly of the Beast, which aims for collaboration between Cuban and American journalists.

The documentaries were showcased on Nov. 2, in the Kennedy Center, and co-sponsored by Languages and Cross-Cultural Studies, Latinx Student Services and Theater Arts. This event was a unique experience that showcased two short documentary films that were both immaculately crafted, engaging and deeply informative about the ongoing U.S. embargo on Cuba. They reveal the devastating impact of these sanctions and the economic war that has been waging for decades with a nuanced perspective. 

The first documentary shown, “The War on Cuba – Episode 1,” was the first part of six – the rest of the episodes are available on the Belly of the Beast Cuba YouTube channel. “The War on Cuba – Episode 1” follows Oliva Fernández as she first travels around her home country of Cuba, her interviews and journalism delving into the economic issues the embargo has placed on Cuban citizens. 

The U.S. embargo, called the blockade, has been in place for 60 years and is the longest embargo in history. The documentary shows how it touches every aspect of their lives and how many have to live with scarcity. It also showcased the stories of Cuban people, such as an up-and-coming baseball player, a designer and a farmer with prosthetic legs. The film itself was incredibly informative, rich with perspective, well shot and a great first episode. 

The second documentary, “Uphill on the Hill,” follows Oliva Fernández as she traveled to Washington D.C. this last year to ask important questions about the embargo to U.S. politicians, in order to understand more about the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. This was her first time in the U.S, with her journalism in Cuba leading her to visit. “Uphill on the Hill” showed that under Biden’s presidency, many Trump-era restrictions are still alive and well. 

“It exposes the economic and political interests driving U.S. policy toward Cuba under the Biden administration, which has mainly kept intact Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions on Cuba, fueling an unprecedented wave of migration from the island.” said Oliva Fernández at the showings.

In the documentary, Oliva Fernández interviewed former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez who stated that “It is politically risky to support Cuban policy, and that nothing has changed with the Biden administration because of how cautious he is, and therefore U.S. policy is stuck in the past.”  “Uphill on the Hill” also touched on the fact that Cuba is on the 2020 State Sponsor of Terrorism list, and advocated for it to be taken off. 

During the Q&A after the showings, Oliva Fernández had answers that were intelligent, passionate and dynamic. Students asked questions regarding the current state of migration into the United States from Cuba, her current journalistic work and her inspiration for becoming a journalist, among others. When asked what she believed the future of the embargo looked like for the people in Cuba, she responded, “I don’t know how to tell them if it will get better. It’s painful, it’s hard.” She also touched on her activism and journalism, and how her goal was to talk to Cuban people first and foremost, to have conversations and to target problems in Cuba with her work.

I highly encourage everyone to check out her work, as she is super passionate about this relatively not talked about subject. You can see more of her and other journalists’ work on the Belly of the Beast Cuba YouTube channel.