Keeping Your Guard Up

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — I have to admit that up until today I wasn’t clear whether keeping Cubans misinformed regarding certain topics was a deliberate act or an organic consequence of how the system is structured.

The treatment that “our” media has given the conflict in Syria has cleared up my doubts.

More than a year ago, a civil war began in which more than 10,000 people have died in this Middle East nation. The rebels combating the government of Bashar Al-Assad are hardly little angels with turbans, but nor are the Syrian army’s regular troops or the militia backing the president.

According to the UN, both sides have committed crimes against humanity (murders, torture, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, indiscriminate attack, plundering and the destruction of the property).

However, from the very first instant, and day after day, the national “information” media here has limited itself to reproducing and accepting as truth the cables coming from SANA, the official Syrian news agency.

SANA presents the conflict as being between the good guys (patriotic, pro-government forces) and the bad guys (“mercenaries and murderers”).

Every day up-to-the-minute news and analysis circulates from around the world concerning this war, coming from the most diverse points of view. Nevertheless the guardians of the sacred grail work fervently here to prevent Cubans from drinking from those other glasses.

Regardless as to whether the news comes from the international corporate media or the blog of some left analyst, if the story doesn’t confirm that the rebels are fighting in the service of foreign nations, such news doesn’t make it through the filter.

A few months ago Noam Chomsky used the word “dictator” to describe Al Assad and considered the insurrection to be legitimate. When Chomsky takes a shot at capitalism, they immediately report his words here, however they apply the law of silence when that very same Chomsky doesn’t agree with the official version.

The advisers and those responsible for the Cuban media are well trained people who know their professions and their responsibilities; they are not farmers who fought in the mountains.

Of course they have access to the different media sources, and therefore they understand that the situation can’t be like SANA is painting it. What’s more, they know that in no circumstance — especially in a war — can one give blind credit to one of the sides involved in a conflict.

Nevertheless, instead of sharing their reflections they take advantage of us being surrounded by water to blatantly and deliberately lie to us.

I no longer have the slightest doubt about this.

We have to ask the why? What’s the reason for this? Why do they want to keep people stupid. Why do they want to control public opinion? Are we too sophisticated? Is it for geopolitical convenience?

It all has something to do with those aims, but I find those insufficient.

Other times they have been more subtle, or they have simply kept silent when their “friends” screwed up. Are they preparing people mentally for a future overseas war?

This is unlikely at the moment, but one shouldn’t lower their guard. Didn’t they base themselves on lies and similar simplifications when they convinced us of the need and justice of participating in the wars in Africa?


1. Amnesty International and Human Right Watch have also accused the Syrian government of crimes against humanity.

2. When I speak about those responsible for the Cuban media, I’m referring to intermediary intellectuals and their superiors.

26 thoughts on “Keeping Your Guard Up

  • Thanks fo the link, Lawrence W. Although a bit more measured than Granma’s typically uncritical support of the Assad regime, why don’t they reprint some more in depth articles (e.g. from Counterpunch, as they’ve done before on other issues)? There is one Counterpuch article entitled “How Syria Works” which appeared a year ago +/- which goes more deeply into the reasons for the majority’s profound alienation from the Assad regime. Granma would have served its readers far better by either reprinting such articles, or having (or more likely allowing) one of its own writers (or bring in a Cuban academic expert) to do a more critical story.

  • Yes, media bias is certainly a pithy subject. I’m not convinced Cuban media needs or should “become more plural in their coverage of Syria.” Why do you think so?

    The game the US plays – the very serious game – is to demonise as an excuse to intervene. The psychology works – “yes we see what the US is doing but it doesn’t matter, he (Saddam, Assad, Gaddafi, etc) is a bad guy and deserves to be destroyed – along with his country’s way of life and millions of deaths and displaced people but that doesn’t matter”.

    Cuban media doesn’t present Assad as an angel. Have a look at the Granma article I quoted from – It concentrates on the dynamics of what’s actually taking place, a very nice piece, unlikely to be matched in capitalist mainstream media.

    I would like to hear your comments.

  • !Erasmo! !?What have you wrought?! You seem to have become a catalyst fro some sort of atomic reaction! I haven’t been so entertained since viewing Gore Vidal vs William Buckley at the Republican National Convention in 1968! But seriously, Granma, Juventud Rebelde, Trabajadores, CubaVision, etc. need to become more plural in their coverage of Syria. There are reasons why the Asad regime had become so unpopular, and they are the same reasons that have prompted the other ongoing revolutions in Tunesia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, etc. Any thorough analysis, however, will take into account the unintended consequences of previos U.S. (and other Western) interventions, for example in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, in Libya more recently (where blacks are now being masacred and forced to flee, as well as those loosing tribes to tied their fates with the ancien regime), in Iran (in 1954, which ultimately, and unintendedly, resulted in the rise of the Ayatolahs and Shia fundamentalism). I have no doubt that, after much bloodshed, Asad will be overthrown. Will this result in a liberal democracy? I’d have to be utterly naive to think so. Instead, it will likely result in a funamentalist Sunni theocracy, with the Shia, Alawi, Christians, and other minorities getting it in the neck. In the end, the readers and viewers of the mass media are not served well, either up here in the States, as in Cuba, by one-sided, one-dimensional coverage.

  • You write, “what is (not) available to Cuban citizens borders on criminal.” Elaborating on the point I’ve made elsewhere, 11 million Cubans have easy access to their government’s one-sided propaganda and, with some effort and expense, can access capitalist propaganda, infinitely more numerous and elaborate, presenting itself as ‘objective’.

    In Canada, 35 million Canadians have overwhelmingly easy access to their government’s and their businesses numerous and elaborate one-sided propaganda that is presented as objective and, with some effort and expense, can access Cuban propaganda that has been characterised as biased. Whilst available, it is for the most part invisible to the general populace who are loathe to search out ‘biased’ sources.

    We also have access to intelligent thinkers and analysts like Noam Chomsky, but they are completely excluded from the public narrative so it is not possible to have a discussion about what he writes in general gatherings with fellow citizens. People have heard of Chomsky but without reading him, the general perception, set by the ruling class, is that he is some kind of radical kook.

    So if I may paraphrase what you wrote, I find that “what is available but not accessed by Canadian citizens borders on criminal.”

  • Ah ‘Griffin’, replying for ‘Susan’ I see. Got it.

  • Dear ‘Griffin’,

    Landis is deeply embedded in the US government narrative and US mainstream media so is obviously acceptable to American elites. The US government, of course is actively supporting armed revolution in Syria. As such, Landis needs to be approached with the same awareness of bias as one uses reading Granma. The difference of course is Landis is presented as an unbiased source whilst Granma is not so it makes Landis far more dangerous to objective understanding.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with government agencies… He is a frequent analyst on TV and radio. Most recently he has appeared on PBS News Hour, Charlie Rose Show, CNN, Fox News, and has been widely quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, LA Times, and comments frequently for NPR and BBC radio.”

    You segue to Iran in “related news”, without giving the relationship, presumably only because you wanted to chortle over Canada’s severing diplomatic ties with the country. To identify YOUR bias, in keeping with the subject at hand, you have previously revealed your Zionist sympathies. I can only agree with Iran’s response – that the “Canadian government is extremist and severely under the influence of the Zionist regime”.

    To provide other perspectives, from 15 August Granma by Enrique Roman:

    “Negotiations with Iran proceed but the threat of war is never far removed. This administration’s fundamental problem in the Middle East, a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem, is mired in a failure to show the initiative or interest of the Bush years. The US has not been able to stop Israel’s continuing, brutal and illegal appropriation of occupied territory.”

    And closer to home, for me at least, there was a response to Canada’s action that appeared in the Toronto Star yesterday, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper. It was ‘balanced’ with other comments, of course, as anything negative about Israel always is here – in deference to Canada’s Israel Lobby, at least as powerful, some feel more, than the one in the US that was responsible for the disgusting ramming through of the resolution supporting the Israeli government’s declaring Jerusalem as its capital

    The Star piece, titled, “What has prompted Canada’s move against Iran?”, was written by Canadian Tony Burman, the former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News. Burman’s essay begins with:

    “Although his swearing-in at Rideau Hall must have happened in the dead of night, Canada appears to have a new foreign minister. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu. His day job may be prime minister of Israel, but Canada’s abrupt actions against Iran seem to confirm that the Harper government’s outsourcing of Canada’s Middle East policy to Jerusalem is now complete.”

    Burman goes on to explain why Canada did it – helping the Americans – presumably making Hilary Clinton our Minister of Defence to continue with Berman’s tongue-in-cheek supposition. Netanyahu, meeting privately with the U.S. ambassador to Israel, “’lost his temper,’ according to U.S. officials, and was described as nervous, agitated and frustrated at American reluctance to move on Iran. Several days later, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, further upset him by warning that an Israeli strike, with all its risks, would only “delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program. Now, enter the Canadian government…”

    I think we have well-illustrated the bias and propaganda in media, the theme of the essay under discussion. The challenge is to comprehend your own bias when seeking understanding about what is taking place in the world. Havana Times writers, in the main, are doing a good job. Erasmo has slipped a bit but hopefully the critical comments have helped him with understanding. Others, like ‘Griffin’, try to remove objective understanding. Propagandists always do.

  • You are a follower of quantum mechanics?

    Honestly, that is the stupidest thing you’ve written in weeks. Do you follow quantum mechanics like one follows baseball or hockey? Or perhaps you mean you follow quantum mechanics home from the quantum garage and then?

    You offer to meet somebody in a parellel universe. We are all still waiting to meet you in this real universe, the one where the physical laws of cause and effect hold sway.

  • Lawrence, why don’t you just forget your obsession with Moses and argue your points consisely without personal attacks. Keep giving us gems of your own like “Being able to read Cuban media is like a breathe of fresh air – it’s actually available to be read by 11 million people!”, so Cubans and non-Cubans can better understand Cuba.

  • Shit, am I forever doomed to explain to ‘Moses’ what he is challenged to understand? ‘Armand’ makes some extremely valid points to what Erasmo wrote that seems to have flown over the head of HT”s resident US agent provocateur. To wit,’Armand’ writes:

    “You are misinforming people. Where is the rebellion in Syria? It was the stable secular country in the region for decades. The majority of People of Syria are behind their legal elected government. The US-Israeli Empire had a plan to destabilize the region

    ‘Armand’ also writes, “US-Israel has a plan to destroy Iran.” It seems obvious. Intelligent and informed people are warning about the possibility and the incredible dangers.

    ‘Armand’ also posts a link to a Hilary Clinton Youtube video, from a younger, saner period –

  • ‘Susan’, you are going to have to elaborate on your comment for understanding. We may exist on different planets as far as our perspectives go – not Mars vs Venus, more real vs alternate reality.

    I’m a follower of quantum mechanics so there is always the possibility we can get together in alternate universes. You do follow science don’t you? Somehow I doubt it.

    Why is it female names are used for names when posting comments like this? ‘Moses’, is that you? Is it possible he’s a cross-dresser????

  • I just posted a comment to Erasmo and now have to gear down to baby talk writing to an American who has an agenda to demonize Cuba. I so much enjoy writing to Cubans more, even when I don’t agree with them.

    The first baby talk is responding to ‘Moses’, claiming he prefers CNN and Reuters to Cuban media even when they ‘present a clear bias’ as “they at least pretend to not take sides” Baby talk follows: Huh?

    Next: “Granma does not pretend to present a balanced report only the “truth” as they see fit exists for the Cuban people.” Baby talk reply: Duh, isn’t that what CNN and Reuters are doing, at least when they are not pretending to not take sides?

    Next: ”When the Cuban media can not portray good vs. evil as they have been told to do, they simply ignore the event as a news item.” Capitalist media uses a ‘villain-victim’ news model and creates one if it doesn’t exist (oops, the baby just grew up).

    Next: “A recent massacre in Aleppo, Syria perpetrated by Syria government helicopters was not reported at all in Cuba. Why? Because there was no way to deny it was an act by the Syrian government as the rebels don’t have helicopters.”

    From United Press International, Australia, August 13, 2012: Syrian opposition officials claim the CIA is controlling weapons flow to Syrian insurgents. “Not one bullet enters Syria without U.S. approval,” a Syrian opposition, speaking in Istanbul, told The Australian newspaper… U.S. intelligence services, which are, Syrian opposition forces say, attempting to monitor and manage the tempo of the Syrian insurgency’s armed efforts against the regime…

    “The Syrian civil war, the murkiest and most violent result of the “Arab Spring” uprisings which began last year, is being assisted by covert agents not only from the United States but Britain, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran as Syria devolves into a regional struggle for power in Damascus.”

    I don’t recall this being reported in the US press, does anyone else? And I should point out The Australian newspaper in Aussie-land is a Rupert Murdoch paper!

    Sorry, seems the baby has matured somewhat.

  • Lawrence, As you suggested I rarely read your comments, known for finger-pointing tirades against other people who comment on the site and don’t share your views. However I did read this comment of yours and one sentence sums it all up: “Being able to read Cuban media is like a breathe of fresh air – it’s actually available to be read by 11 million people!” Need I say more?

  • Dear Erasmo,

    It is difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps the best place is to second what ‘Dawn’ wrote, ” Not sure why you think the “Cuban Media” is any different than the global corporate media.” I take this to mean that both are propagandizing – telling only part of the story – but different parts.

    She also referred to you feeling that Cuban reporters must know better than what they are reporting.” You wrote, “those responsible for the Cuban media are well trained people who know their professions and their responsibilities.”

    Do you know how incredibly reminiscent this is of the WMD fiasco and the capitalist media total failure to report what was actually taking place? The refrain we hear over and over from our media is “we just didn’t know. How could we?” But the hundreds of millions of people out on the street on the eve of the US attack, of which I was a part, attempting to stop it KNEW. The lesson is what ‘Dawn’ notes: you can’t take media at its word anywhere!

    As for one-sided propaganda, you mention Noam Chomsky. Chomsky’s hero is Bertrand Russell. In 1930, Russell wrote a book titled, “Power”. As far as I know, it has been continuously in print since. Written when newspapers were the chief news media and there was a wide choice available, in numbers and political outlook, Russell said it was necessary to read widely to get an accurate picture of what was really taking place.

    He hoped that some day it would be possible to have one newspaper that encompassed the entire spectrum, but that has never happened and probably won’t ever happen. There are reasons why, psychological and pragmatic, that are too lengthy to go into.

    In modern times, in the capitalist world, the newspaper spectrum of political opinion has collapsed into one that services one class – the elites – again due to reasons too lengthy to write about here. In addition, the proliferation of broadcast news made TV editorial content hugely dependent on large amounts of money – provided by elites.

    Yes, using the internet and alternate media I can widen the spectrum of opinion I can access, but not the cohort of people who read what I do. We are essentially ghettoized and atomized with little hope of connecting to a wider audience. That is the preserve of the elites. And of course they love this situation.

    Being able to read Cuban media is like a breathe of fresh air – it’s actually available to be read by 11 million people! I cannot say that here about what Chomsky writes, for instance. In Cuba, only some of his output may be printed but here, NONE appears in the mainstream media along with other people HT readers will be familiar with, like Amy Goodman. I can find them on the web but I can only discuss them with a handful of people!

    Capitalist media is careful to give the aura that it offers a variety of opinions – enabling it to appear ‘objective’ and to sell to a wider audience – but it isn’t. It carries an occasional dissenting piece, even by Chomsky, rarely, but overwhelmingly it is from points of view the elites will be happy with. And we haven’t even discussed what advertising represents that Cubans don’t have to deal with.

    You wrote about Syria but seem to have forgotten a few things. If you are accessing capitalist media it’s not surprising. You are encouraged to forget. The 12 August issue of Granma carried an article about Syria. It contained:

    “Initially peaceful demonstrations for internal reform…were immediately utilized by the Western powers to destabilize the country by fueling a civil war, with the intention of imposing a government more compliant to their designs.”

    Our media has disappeared the fact that dissident Syrians only wanted peaceful demonstrations and did not want foreign interference. It took a number of Syrian government acts of violence and a very eager American Empire willing to put weapons in their hands to change things. But you won’t read that in our media.

    There was an article in the NY Times written by Eric Schmit, the Times Pentagon correspondent, which effectively means he prints Pentagon new releases under his byline. It appeared to be an exposé – the US was supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels by way of Saudi Arabia but was written as if it was necessary in order to support the type of rebels the US wanted. Even when our media tells the truth, it spins it to make it palatable to the elites.

    In light of this information, the whole picture obviously changes – no longer are they Syrian rebels but an extended arm of the US empire. Who knows what normal Syrians really want?

    This is only a primer for what is taking place. I feel you need to be as skeptical of what you hear in the capitalist media as what you hear in Cuban media. And you must know it is very much more skilful at covering up what it is doing. It caused you to see the one-sided Cuban propaganda but not the one-sided propaganda it hawks, didn’t it?

  • I’m trying very hard to understand your point. So Cubans shouldn’t be too concerned about access to the full range of news and opinion on the internet because – if they get it – they will waste their time on sites that amuse and titilate? Tell me how this doesn’t smack of the paternalism that is all too common of self-styled lefty progressives?

  • dawn, it’s disappointing that you use the same tactics as Cuban state media does to demonize and denigrate those with different opinions. “Provincial”, “naive”, “insulting”, and “petty swipes” are all words you use to attack Erasmo’s character rather than to respond substantively to the opinions he expresses about bias in Cuban state media.

  • Read the comment #6. made by “Armand Temouille”. Now do you understand why the US must maintain a strong and vigilant armed forces? There are lots of people in the world who think like this guy. Wow!

  • From France.
    This website looks like hundred other copies of destabilising websites created by the new world oder. Usually they talk about freedom and democraty, using rights of gay, lesbian, free sex and artists degenerated views to present wrongly the position of a country in the name of others.
    You are misinforming people. Where is the rebellion in syria? It was the more stable secular country in the region for decades. TheMajority of People of Syria are behind their legal elected government. Now the USraelian empire had a plan to destabilize the region and later attack russia. They introduced their al quaeda mercenaries with the help of Quatar money and bases in Turkey. Many of the so called rebels confessed and explained the plans. They are takfiris mercenaries from libya, pakistan, somalia etc not Syrians.
    USrael has the plan to destroy iran and later algeria. You’ll see. Disinformation is very active and you are doing a dirty job. Jews, usa and you, will have to pay, you know that.
    hilary clinton (jew) about al quaeda:

  • Arguing bias in reporting in difficult, at best, to do in the abstract. One must present a particular news item for evaluation as to which reports shows more bias. I will instead argue against the Cuban media in this regard: Granma fails to report what should be reported and is reported as news anywhere else on the planet. Very little local crime reporting is presented in Granma, yet they will amply report on shootings which take place in the US. Secondly, Granma fails to criticize the highest levels of government. Has there EVER been a single article critical of Fidel Castro in Granma? Conversely, even the most left-wing newspapers will criticize Barack Obama. Granma shows unparalleled bias in what they choose to report if not in how they report it.

  • Thank you Erasmo, for voicing your concerns. Whilst it may be true that very few major media outlets provide unbiased reporting, what is (not) available to Cuban citizens borders on criminal.

  • I’ll ask my friends in Syria to reply directly about the coverage of what is going on in Syria. But as far as the media part goes…. no objective and honest human can say that the corporate media is any more truthful or any less bias than Granma. In fact, in my opinion, Granma is usually much closer to the truth because it typically takes a more historical perspective. Whereas the corporate media can’t remember what happened last week. Anyone who claims that the corporate media is free and balanced and truly informative is either gullible or thinks their audience is.

  • “Even when CNN or Rueters presents a clear bias, they at least pretend to not take sides by naming and corroborating sources.”

    I don’t see this as a good thing, to pretend to be ‘impartial’ when you do have an agenda – it fools people more easily.

  • Dawn, you make very hard accusations and insults to my commentary.
    I hope now you will say what the skewed information is that I have written.
    It is very easy to offend eh. I’ll be waiting for your reply.

  • Josh Landis maintains the most thorough reporting on Syria through his blog, Syria Comment.

    The reason the Cuban media does not report on what is really happening in Syria is because the Cuban government does not want the Cuban people to know that the Syrian people are rising up against the dictatorship. Internationally, the Syrian regime is supported by a short list of countries including Russia, Belarus, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea and Cuba.

    In related news:

    “Canada cuts ties with Iran, closes embassy, orders Iranian diplomats home”
    Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has severed Canadian ties with Iran over its sponsorship of terrorism and amid fears about the safety of diplomats in the country.

    Baird says the Canadian embassy in Tehran will close immediately and Iranian diplomats in Canada have been given five days to leave.

    The skeleton staff that was operating Canada’s Tehran mission has already fled the country.

    Baird says he’s worried about the safety of diplomats in Tehran following recent attacks on the British embassy there.

    “The Iranian regime has shown blatant disregard for the Vienna Convention and its guarantee of protection for diplomatic personnel,” he said.

    Read more:

  • Finding the truth always requires an active search. Neither in Cuba, nor in the States, is it found by those who are content with relying on the major media outlets, be they Granma or the New York Times, Cubavision or CNN, (or even NPR and PBS, for that matter). Fortunately, with the internet, alternatives are becoming more readily available. Even if the Cuban government seems to be frustrating the connection to the net by most of its citizens, neverthelessm, through flash drives, black-market hook-ups and work-place access to the net, government’s policy is daily being circumvented, and will be increasingly ineffectual. In the end, barriers will come down. Alas! When they do, instead of telenovelas, most folks will waste their time on sites devoted to amusement and titilation (as they now watch “Sabado Gigante” and “Caso Cerrado” on their flash drives). Eventually, however, most folk will find these distractions unsatisfying; intuitively, they will feel something is amiss. No longer be satisfied by the insubstantial shaddows flickering on the cave’s walls, they will seek the purer light beyond the cave’s confines. Viola! The Revolution! (It will be a bit different, however, than the one which began 26/7/1953!)

  • The Cuban media sucks and you know it! Take any single international event. Compare the reporting you see from Reuters or CNN to Granma. Even when CNN or Rueters presents a clear bias, they at least pretend to not take sides by naming and corroborating sources. Granma does not pretend to present a balanced report only the “truth” as they see fit exists for the Cuban people. When the Cuban media can not portray good vs. evil as they have been told to do, they simply ignore the event as a news item. A recent massacre in Aleppo, Syria perpetrated by Syria government helicopters was not reported at all in Cuba. Why? Because there was no way to deny it was an act by the Syrian government as the rebels don’t have helicopters. This is an honest and well-written post.

  • Not sure why you think the “Cuban Media” is any different than the global corporate media. As you say of Cuban reporters…they must know better than what they are reporting…. then I have to say the same to you Erasmo. Surely you are not as provincial and naive as you pretend to be in this article. Therefore, one has to wonder what the purpose of your article is. It certainly has nothing to do with Syria, but rather with cynically presenting skewed information in order to demonize your chosen target… just like the Cuban media you profess to be insulted by. I have dear friends in Syria, both strong supporters of the government and others against it. I personally am insulted by your use of their suffering to take petty swipes at professional Cuban reporters who I am quite certain have more information and a clearer view of what is going on in Syria than you do.

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