Startup Cuba exists to collectively amplify the voices in the space between the United States and Cuba.
El Malecón Havana Photo credit: Alejandro Rojas

We spent the COVID-19 quarantine stuck at home, hard at work resetting Startup Cuba for different times. It’s indisputable that the world has changed for now and the future in ways that are yet to be revealed. So the path we were on with our project needed to pivot too, to change with this new world.

You can imagine my wife’s face when I literally said, “Fuck it. I’m going to Cuba to make a documentary.” Yes. We’re still married.

Taxing to the terminal after landing in Havana for the first time.

So I’m excited to share the slightly reinvented Startup Cuba with you — StartupCuba.tv. What started as a nine-episode online documentary about Cuba’s entrepreneurs has evolved into a platform designed to amplify the collective voices in the space between the United States and Cuba. A mix of written, photographic and video content that tells stories that bring us together. 

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But to set the stage, first I’m going to take a brief step back and share a bit of the Startup Cuba story in the time before COVID-19 — an exciting, albeit often challenging journey.

The Startup Cuba docuseries trailer

In early 2017, we went to Cuba to make our docuseries, Startup Cuba, about Cuba’s cuentapropristas (entrepreneurs or specifically, the “self-employed”). Personally, I had never made a documentary. In fact, other than my Canon G7X Point & Shoot, I didn’t even own a camera (true story). I was fortunate enough to have teamed up with my friend Tamara Park who showed me the ropes and listened to my bad jokes.  

For me, this was a very special project: Cuban-American culture was part of my life growing up in South Florida. I had secretly always wanted to be a filmmaker (but was too scared to put myself out there), and as a lifelong entrepreneur the subject matter was near and dear to me. The project checked off three of the biggest passions of mine all at once, thus making it a literal opportunity of a lifetime. So, I got on a plane to Havana.

Clandestina’s latest, “actually, estoy en el gao.” Available on their online store. Photo credit: Ken Deckinger

(By the way, you can imagine my wife’s face when I literally said, “Fuck it. I’m going to Cuba to make a documentary.” Yes. We’re still married.) 

My personal ethos is driven by a desire to break down barriers. I want the same thing that I believe most people want: a Cuba that is prosperous and open.

Fast-forward to 2018 and we produced the documentary series. I am incredibly proud of the work that was accomplished by our entire team. And, slowly, the nine-episode series dripped out for the world to watch on Facebook. Twenty-four months later, the series and our social media videos racked up over eight million views and we had a following of tens of thousands on social media.  

The Startup Cuba trailer.

Spending so much time in Cuba taught me as much about myself as it taught me about cuentapropismo and Cuban people. It also opened my eyes to the idea that Cuba is much more complex and multifaceted than most of us have been taught in the US (right-wing propaganda much?). Beyond what we already know about Cuba, Cuba is also…Cuba. It’s home to a people that are creative, loving, open-minded and resilient. It’s a country that is caught in the vice grip of contrasting political ideologies causing disproportionate suffering first and foremost to the lovely people of the island.

I’m not an activist. I’m just a bald guy with a passion and a microphone who believes that we have to break the cycle. I’m convinced at my core that the more we can know each other, and trust each other, the more amazing things we can do together now and for our children. 

Photo credit: Alejandro Rojas

My personal ethos is driven by a desire to break down barriers. I want the same thing that I believe most people want: a Cuba that is prosperous and open. A Cuba that respects people’s rights. A Cuba where parents can see their kids’ dreams come to fruition, on the island. And a Cuba that is actively part of creating its own future. I mean, mira. Whether you believe in engagement or are a hardliner, if you’re a human being with any empathy whatsoever, you want the best for others no matter where they are in the world. 

More Great Stories From Startup Cuba

I believe that continued forced isolation does nothing to move the ball forward. In fact, I have seen first hand how the hardline U.S. policies of the past 60 years have only repressed progress. If you don’t believe me and aren’t willing to go to Cuba yourself, spend some time learning about the Obama era when relations eased up. Not only was there much more engagement between people in the US and Cuba, but countless new and creative —and successful— small businesses popped up as Cubans saw an opportunity to make it, without leaving the island. Then compare that to what’s happening now with the current administration’s restrictions. We’re going backwards and we’re dragging Cuba with us. 

So, that’s what we’re doing now — bringing people into the fold by creating a collective of storytellers.

I’m not an activist. I’m just a bald guy with a passion and a microphone who believes that we have to break the cycle. I’m convinced at my core that the more we can know each other, and trust each other, the more amazing things we can do together now and for our children. 

The author at his casa particular in Havana.

And this brings us back to today and the new Startup Cuba that we created while stuck at home. 

There are so many people involved in the space between the US and Cuba. People that I believe collectively can help us get to know each other. They’re in the US and in Cuba and around the world, and they have such beautiful stories to tell. To share, and to play a little role in adding to the narrative. So, that’s what we’re doing now — bringing people into the fold by creating a collective of storytellers. They’re writers, content creators, journalists, filmmakers, academics, photographers, and people who just want to close the space between Key West and Havana by sharing knowledge and experiences. 

So what started as a video platform to make documentaries for social media has shifted today, in the time of COVID-19, into a new multimedia platform. You may not always agree with everything you read (except for my review of El Café — go there in Habana Vieja and try to disagree, I challenge you). But, hopefully you’ll at least have been touched by an additional facet of this complex relationship and be encouraged to give some besos and be inspired to resolver, together.

(In other news, the author loves to give besos and is incredibly frustrated by the restrictions that COVID-19 is imposing on those efforts.)

Besos with @cravingcuba and @cubanochris

P.S. StartupCuba.tv is completely independent and unaffiliated. We do not work with or take money from the government of any country. Nada. Learn more here.

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