Watching Egypt and Libya from Cuba

Graham Sowa

Old cars used as collective taxis in Havana.

One of the biggest struggles I’ve had to deal with in my day to day life living in Cuba is the absolute dearth of dynamic commentary on our contemporary world.

Perhaps this sounds odd because I am a citizen of the United States living in Cuba. I should be at no loss for opportunities to discuss my experiences with people who have lived much different lives than me, right? To an extent this is true. But the persistent banter about different ideologies gets boring. So I want to turn to what I know best: talking about our quickly changing world. And here arises the problem.

The newspapers are delivered a few times a week to our building in the school. We get the Cuban standard bearer, “Granma”, as well as “Juventud Rebelde” pretty regularly. Sometimes we also get “Trabajadores” and “Orbe” as well. Granma and Juventud Rebelde are almost the same in terms of content. The latter will have more news about upcoming events in Cuba and maybe about science and technology as well.

Trabajadores is the newspaper of numbers. It is full of data about various projects in Cuba and the workers that do them. Orbe is the only newspaper I know of here that focuses on international news.

The newspapers are free, but I’m paying about 1 USD an hour for internet through an account with the now wholly state owned communications company ETECSA. My connection is about 10-40 kb/s and worth every penny considering the alternative.

The whole thing has really changed my perspective on “free press”. I realized that “free press” costs a lot of money. The internet in Cuba, for example, or The New York Times Sunday paper in the United States (which ran 5.00 USD last time I checked). Versus state run media in Cuba, which is free (the cost I mean).

Havana Building

So this is the situation in which I was living when the protests in Egypt started. On one hand I had the “free press” and on the other hand I had free press (the latter the one not costing money). So Egypt happened and Mubarak stepped down. There was praise of the change in the Cuban newspapers and agreement in most of what I read online.

Egypt came as a surprise. Even after it started I didn’t think the protesting youth would inspire a change in leadership. But then the surprise didn’t stop. Bahrain, Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya picked up the baton.

But after Egypt I didn’t read about any of these popular protests in the Cuban newspapers. Egypt was done and that was that. The whole thing reminds me of Officer Barbrady in the South Park cartoon. “Move along people, nothing to see here”, while he stood in front of some obviously attention worthy event.

So here I am, this surprised American in Cuba and my surprise quickly turns to horror and then outrage and then blind rage as I read on the Internet about what is happening in Libya: the reported use of Libyan military aircraft and foreign mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, hired by the Libyan government, to kill citizens of a Revolutionary government.

Hundreds of dead citizens gunned down in the same streets they used for decades to walk to school, to drive to work, to cross to go to the neighbor’s house.

When I read these accounts I thought for sure that if the Cuban press can take a stand on Egypt, they must speak about Libya as well. After all, Cuba has experienced the horrors of the domestic military ordered to kill citizens when Batista bombed Santa Clara during the Revolution and then when mercenaries were paid by the United States government to invade Play Giron (aka: Bay of Pigs). For this I thought that Cuba would quickly denounce the murder of civilians by their own military forces.

Instead, I looked on the front page of the Cuban press early this week to see a single article about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its plan to occupy Libya. And here lays the problem: that is all anyone and everyone in Cuba saw as well. There has not enough coverage or information to even begin to address the complexity of these events and the numberless perspectives interpreting them.

Graham

Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

9 thoughts on “Watching Egypt and Libya from Cuba

  • February 27, 2011 at 5:10 am
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    What is being perceived outside Cuba is that the Cuban government is supporting the Gaddafi regime. I really hope this is not the case. Please update us on any Cuban press coverage. I am a supporter of Cuba and it’s socialism – though would like to see a move towards more democracy – so any support of Gaddafi would be very disappointing.

    Reply
  • February 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm
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    What’s the purpose of having a comments section on this website, if you delete EVERY anti-castro comment? Just get rid of it and stop wasting people’s time that write anything contrary to the govt line!
    I guess the truth hurts sometimes, heh?

    Reply
    • February 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm
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      Danny, if you could keep out the personal insults and also wild unfounded accusations your commentaries would get posted.

      Reply
  • February 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm
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    I have read nothing in Cuban press that gives explicit support for Gaddafi. Instead they are just presenting very little info on the situation. When they do address the issue (2 associated articles in today’s paper) they mention protests in support of Gaddafi and DO NOT mention any of the attrocities. However, today they did quote Clinton talking about some atrocities, but quoted her in the context of U.S. imperialism rhetoric ect. Oman and Algeria made Cuban news today…we’ll see. The most interesting article was about the guy who infiltrated the US Interest Section and dissident groups here. LOL, that was great. His interview was a lot of fun to read, I can’t believe he fooled so many people with so many different stories. I’d love to have a beer with him.

    Reply
  • March 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm
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    I agree- having stayed for several month at a time in Cuba on five separate occasions, I would say the single most frustrating experience is the lack of access to real global journalism. It is one of a handful of countries where one can’t even buy the new york times at an overpriced hotel lobby shop in the capital city. I absolutely love the people, the culture, the whole experience- but sitting through the local coverage of the US primaries during Obama’s candidacy or even Fidel’s resignation was not good. I found myself going to fancy hotels, ordering a drink, and watching CNN en espanol. I will admit, though, cuban coverage of the spitzer affair was pretty fun.

    Reply
  • March 3, 2011 at 2:36 am
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    Cuba’s press only publishes what is convenient to the countries ruling elite it would not be convenient for Cubans to find out that one of Cuba’s closest allies is massacring its own population it is like here in the United States just look at the CIA agent arrested in Pakistan for killing two Pakistanis and the silence the American Media had for two weeks at the behest of the Obama administration while the rest of the world already knew about it Glenn Greenwald wrote a great article about it at http://www.Salon.com but yes you get my point

    Reply

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