Sputnik Magazine and Cuba’s Tropical Glasnost (Part II)

Daisy Valera

HAVANA TIMES — It’s been roughly two months since the last congress held by the Cuban Journalists’ Association (UPEC), where our Vice-President, Miguel Diaz-Canel, promised to organize meetings with authorities to encourage them to talk with the press. He also announced a raise in salary for journalists, as a way of acknowledging the work and significance of the media.

At the close of his address, Diaz-Canel commented that the press must find its own identity and personality (which, incredibly, it’s been unable to do in more than 50 years).

The liberalization of Cuba’s press is said to be underway.

Unfortunately, this process continues to represent a threat to some, who look to the alleged consequences of the policy of transparency adopted by the Soviet press, a policy that is accused of having delegitimized the communist leadership and dismantled the ideological framework of that society.

Our somewhat timid glasnost is not, to be sure, the result of this most recent congress of Cuban journalists, though the latter may have given it a bit more impetus.

We could say the process began back in 2007, when, out of the blue, Cuba’s major official newspaper (Granma) began to publish letters to the editor one day a week.

During 2009, Cuban newspapers reported on an extensive debate process, carried out at the neighborhood level, which supposedly served as the basis for the Cuban Communist Party’s economic reform “Guidelines” (presented to the public during the sixth Party congress).

In recent years, we’ve also been seeing more and more television programs (such as “Circle of Trust”, El triangulo de la confianza) which criticize and discuss proposals related to specific social problems. These programs are aired, for the most part, by Canal Habana, a TV channel not yet enjoyed by the entire country.

The broadcasting of uncensored programs aired by the station Telesur – programs which weren’t shown before, even though Cuba is one of the station’s chief shareholders – is one of the latest changes we’ve seen on the island’s television.

Now, Cuban journalists are waiting for the government’s new information policy, which has been in the works since April.

The ridiculous formulas of this press (Cuba’s achievements versus international catastrophes, Cuba’s fulfillment of potato production aims versus wars in the rest of the world, etc.) have prompted the creation of hundreds upon hundreds of blogs and web-sites about Cuban reality, something we could well consider the equivalent of the sasmizdat (homemade, clandestine publications) of the former Soviet Union.

In the issue of Sputnik published in March of 1989 (the magazine that inspired the first part of this post), we find an article dealing with Boris Pasternak and his expulsion from the Soviet Writers’ Association, the opinions about perestroika voiced by a physicist who was never a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and a number of stories from Varlam Sahlamov’s “Tales of Kolima”, which gathers anecdotes about the author’s experiences in a forced-labor camp.

Today, our media invite us to drink Cuba’s Ciego Montero soft drinks but say nothing of the work of Heberto Padilla (a Cuban poet who faced persecution for his writings in the 1960s) or about the Military Units for Production Support (UMAP), forced-labor camps to which homosexuals, the religious, dissidents and others were sent to in the early days of the revolution.

With or without a new Press Law, Cuba must urgently do away with all forms of journalism that are explicitly propagandist in nature. The spaces occupied by censorship and self-censorship today must begin to be occupied by criticism and incisive questioning. Cuba needs a press that is not bound by the rules of the Party-State.