Cuban Television in Times of Reform

Daisy Valera

Foolish Heart.

HAVANA TIMES — The Cubavision Television network will soon begin broadcasting a new Brazilian telenovela: “Insensato Corazon” (Foolish Heart).

Watching it, my grandmother will feel bad about the misfortunes of the protagonist and curse of those ne’er-do-wells who always make life impossible.

My neighbors won’t understand why the domestically produced hair dye “Natural” won’t leave their hair the same color as that of the young women in the stories.

In the lower-income neighborhoods of Cerro, Guanabacoa and Alamar, new mothers will start giving newborns names like Luciana and Pedro (those of the main characters) to their children.

Young people in the more upscale neighborhoods of Vedado and Miramar will start imitating — willingly and with greater ease — the style of dress of those actresses and actors from that soap opera.

The fact is that baseball is no longer the national pastime since — with each having up to 140 episodes and counting — the evening soap operas are.

Thousands upon thousands of Cuban men and women glue themselves to the screen nightly, where they can find contentment for 45 minutes, or maybe a little more. The telenovela is both an analgesic and a muscle relaxer.

With an aging population, a shortage of buses and too many hard-currency CUCs required to go out on the town at night, television remains as the main recreational alternative.

With Cuban TV about to celebrate its 62nd anniversary next month, the Seventh National Television Festival is being planned, which they claim will be the largest up to now and will have exhibits of multiple public television systems and programming from over 20 countries.

Promises have been kicked around in the press about the coming of digital television to the island and the setting up of a HD studio here.

But what is Cuban television today?

Except for the broadcasting of documentaries, programs on health and medicine or an odd musical or comedy of acceptable quality, the island’s television programming is an indigestible salad: square table debates, dis-informing news programs, more than five other-world telenovelas (in Cuban soaps, everyone is happy and lives in comfortable homes – all of which tries one’s patience [1]).

The comedy programs feature the same tired jokes, tinged with sexist or racist humor [2], and in the dance shows we see vulgarity competing with the absurd.

To all of this is added prohibitive scheduling, requiring workers to wait almost until the middle of the night to watch a movie.

Then there are the provincial differences. There’s no comparison between the Canal Havana Network and the Centrovision Yayabo Channel in my province of Sancti Spiritus, where it’s impossible to get current information or see the best techniques in video production.

Fortunately, so far we haven’t been bombarded with commercial products like Ciego Montero, Nestlé or Red Bull.

Can we expect much from the well-promoted International Expo Television Fair? Who knows?

As an unpleasant precedent, we have the Telesur experiment, where the Cuban government participated in the financing but the people of the island ended up watching only a lean selection of its broadcasts, despite Venezuela’s involvement in the matter.

Hopefully there will be more benefits than those obtained from those amazing programs about Chinese cuisine, plagued with unattainable shrimp, octopus and beef; or Mexican television that invites you to create crafts with materials you can’t even find on Obispo Street.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed; we want foreign television jobs for Cuban media workers who are “available” (unemployed).

Let’s hope for a breath of modernity in techniques and technology, the emergence of independently produced programs (there’s no shortage of professionals and there are plenty of supervisors at ICRT), and vital information becoming available through newly born programs in neighborhoods or among collectives of workers.

In short, Cuban television should remain public, but above all inclusive.

[1] An example of this type of Cuban telenovela is Con palabras propias.
[2] Within this style of humor is the program A otro con ese cuento.

3 thoughts on “Cuban Television in Times of Reform

  • When have the Cuban people been a priority for its obsolete,
    intolerant and selfish government? Cuba is stopped in the past, 54 years
    behind in every aspect while the world has evolve. When Cubans come out of the
    cocoon of misinformation by the gov. they would be able to see that the grass
    is indeed greener outside of the prison island.

  • lets do a birthday party in varadero nov 19. you are both invited. thanks

  • The real problem with Cuban television comes from a lack of courage. The bureaucrats who run ICRT live in daily fear of their octengenarian leadership. I have many Cuban friends who work in Cuban television and all of them would like to do the same interesting things that are being done in television all over the world for the sake of entertainment as well as information/education. However, their bosses constantly reject new ideas for fear of being politically incorrect. While capitalism has indeed spawned some of most banal and irresponsible programming through shock TV, reality TV and infocomercialism, it still manages to generate some absolutely incredible documentaries, and first-rate films for which society as a whole has benefitted. Trepidation in Cuban programming has unfortunately left Cuban viewers wanting. This void is often filled, thanks to DVD technology, by pirated black market serials, news and sports programs and movies. In the end, it is not the US blockade, or the lack of production resources but the lack of political resolve by the leadership to maximize the benefits available through Cuban television.

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