Can The Castro Regime Ban 3D Movies... And Survive?

The Cuban regime is not quite sure whether to call 3D film technology the newest enemy of the revolution. A week after issuing an all-encompassing ban on movies using the technology, the Castros might be changing their mind.

On Nov. 2, the Cuban government announced in the state newspaper Granma that "cinematic exhibition (including 3D rooms) and computer games will cease immediately in whatever kind of private business activity." Ever since Raul Castro took over the reins in Cuba, the regime has been loosening its grip on the economy, allowing for some private ventures. This journey into the third dimension appeared to be the latest example.

The note itself cited economic reasons for the ban -- "to ensure the economic reforms proceed in an orderly fashion." The private screening rooms, a big success on the island, compete with state-run cinemas. According to Sampsonia Way, an online magazine devoted to freedom of speech, the movie theaters are rooms in private residences, with a capacity ranging from 20 to 100 and are equipped with air-conditioning, 47-inch TV sets or 200-inch screens, 3D glasses and decent sound systems. They offer snacks and popcorn. Unsurprisingly, an afternoon spent in an air-conditioned room enjoying such goodies and watching slightly dated 3D Hollywood blockbusters such as "Star Trek" or "Ice Age" wins out over one spent in a dilapidated government cinema showing the 2010 French Holocaust drama "Sarah's Key."

Not long before the Granma notice, however, Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas suggested that there might be a different reason for the government's disapproval of the "video salons." He wrote in the Communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde that they promoted "frivolity, mediocrity, pseudo culture and banality." And everyone knows that when American pseudo culture is in 3D, its frivolity increases at least threefold.

The ban found many Cubans disappointed with the regime. Entrepreneurs would lose thousands of dollars they had invested in setting up the viewing rooms (including importing the technology) and the population would have to give up one of its only sources of entertainment. Parents worried that, with no movies and video games, their children would take to the streets.

Lionny Gonzales, a 15 year-old high school student told the Associated Press that the ban was "a lack of respect," and asked: "What are we going to do now?" He added that the only thing left to do was going to a disco. "There's nothing else."  

3D films arrived in Cuba recently, according to the independent website Havana Times. A blogger with a pseudonym "Warhol P" wrote, in all caps, that the Cubans, "the wretched of the earth," were "BEHIND IN EVERYTHING." (The technology has been around in the United States since the 1950s, though it became widespread in the 2000s, after the success of James Cameron's 2009 film "Avatar.") Now that "Warhol P" finally had the chance to go get dizzy watching objects flying straight at him through tinted glasses, "the Comandante's arrived and put an end to the party."

But alas, there is some hope for "Warhol P." On Nov. 11, Granma acknowledged the backlash against the ban, after conducting a survey of social media and -- wait for it -- a public survey of a staggering sample of a 150 Cubans. Concluding that the ban was unpopular, the article suggested the authorities might be re-thinking their decision.

"It's extraordinary because the government made a very clear decision, and now it seems it's being walked back," said Cuba analyst Philip Peters.  

Maybe Cuba's economic outlook will fare better in 3D glasses.



Meet the Newest Anti-Fracking Activist: Pope Francis

Pope Francis has already become a favorite of progressives with his fairly open-minded statements on homosexuality and birth control. But that adoration may go into overdrive, now that the Pope has adopted a new role as an environmental crusader, too. On Monday, the Pope was photographed with environmental activists holding T-shirts with anti-fracking slogans.

The photographs were taken after a meeting in the Vatican on Monday in which the Pope spoke with a group of Argentine environmental activists to discuss fracking and water contamination. He reportedly told the group he is preparing an encyclical -- a letter addressing a part of Catholic doctrine -- about nature, humans, and environmental pollution.

In the pictures, one of the men standing with the Pope is movie director and Argentine politician Fernando 'Pino' Solanas, known for his activism against "environmental crimes" and his film "Dirty Gold" about mega-mining. In particular, Solanas is a vocal opponent of an August agreement between the Argentine government and Chevron to develop shale oil and gas, which he calls "the largest environmental disaster in the Amazon." Drilling for these resources often requires hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," which is criticized by opponents for relying on toxic fluid and posing water contamination risks.

The Chevron deal is just one instance of American oil companies looking further and further afield to develop shale oil and gas as vast foreign reserves promise imitations of the United States' own shale oil revolution. Particularly in lower-income countries like Argentina, the promise of such a revolution is too lucrative to resist -- especially with so many betting on its potential. The United States Energy Information Administration has ranked Argentina fourth behind Russia, the United States, and China in terms of shale oil reserves. In terms of shale gas reserves, Argentina is ranked second only after China. But the government's embrace of Chevron has been met with fierce protests, some of which have prompted a brutal crackdown from police with tear gas and rubber bullets. Argentina's indigenous Mapuche Indian community has been a firebrand group behind the protests, claiming they weren't consulted on the deal as required by international treaties covering indigenous peoples.

According to one report of the meeting, His Holiness's concern was "clear" when hearing about the Chevron deal in Argentina and other environmental disputes in the region. On Tuesday, Sarah Palin said she was shocked by the pontiff's "liberal" statements. Wait 'til she hears about his new role as the face of Argentina's environmentalist movement.