Repeats the misinformation
By Claudia Padron Cueto
HAVANA TIMES – On February 24, media all over the world reported the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory. In Cuba, though, the tone was very different. Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s official organ, featured a front page with the headlines: “Cuba and Russia, two very close peoples that defend peace”. The article didn’t offer a single work about the conflict.
That omission was the harbinger of what was to come in the weeks that followed. The Cuban propaganda machinery began employing widespread misinformation to promote the Russian narrative about the Ukraine war.
Day by day, the island’s official media present the United States as the chief responsible party in the conflict, and Ukraine as a “Nazi” regime, guilty of the death of its citizens. At the same time, they present Moscow as a victim, forced to mount a “special military operation” in order to defend itself.
In the rest of this article, I analyze how two of the principal government media outlets in Cuba – Cubadebate and Granma – routinely misinform citizens about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
From the beginning of the invasion, Cuban propaganda quoted the Kremlin’s declarations verbatim, although in some cases reality was the complete opposite of the Russian claims, while in others it was impossible to corroborate the authenticity of the affirmations.
For example, on March 13, Cubadebate accused Brent Renaud, the US journalist killed in Ukraine, of being a CIA agent. The Cuban article quoted a supposed Iranian media outlet as their source, but never specifically named the media outlet, nor did they post any link to the original source of the declarations quoted.
“According to the Iranian press, the deceased was an official of the Central Intelligence Agency and had previously been seen in Iraq,” Cubadebate wrote.
Renaud had previously collaborated with the New York Times for several years, and was the recipient of a Peabody award, one of the most important prizes for audiovisual information in the United States. His killing sparked headlines all over the world, but none of the articles mentioned this supposed link with the CIA that Cubadebate alleges.
Four days previous to this, there was another case. The city of Mariupol was bombed by Russian forces, despite an agreed-upon cease fire in this and other parts of Ukrainian territory. Following the attack, stark images emerged of a maternity hospital covered in ruins, and a pregnant woman being carried out – who subsequently died, together with her baby.
One day after that bombing, with all the images of the event in the international press, Granma denied that Russia had violated a cease-fire agreement and quoted the head of Russia’s Center for the Promotion of National Defense, who said it was a “vile lie” and a “shameless provocation from Kiev.”
Yet another example came on March 4. That day, part of the nuclear plant at Zaporizhia caught fire as the result of a Russian attack. However, according to Granma, it was the fault of the Ukrainians, who had attacked themselves.
The Cuban propaganda organ printed: “On March 9, Nikolai Pankov, Vice Minister for the Defense of Russia, declared that the Ukrainian nationalists had carried out ‘a very dangerous provocation’, by attacking the substation and the electric lines that feed the Chernobil [nuclear] plant.”
Other war news goes unreported in Cuba
In addition to reporting events out of context, omitting relevant parts of them, and falsifying information, the government propaganda apparatus has also opted to ignore certain events that are considered major news by the majority of the world’s news outlets. For example, the following four events were never reported in the official media.
1- They made no mention that the protests in Russia against the invasion were repressed, and a part of the protesters detained. Nor did they report that the Kremlin expressly prohibited all demonstrations against the war.-
2- The Cuban media has likewise failed to inform that on March 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country would recruit soldiers from the Middle East to fight in Ukraine, an assertion confirmed by Western intelligence reports.
3- Statistics regarding the number of civilians killed in the conflict are also not presented in the official media. In some cases, specific deaths are mentioned, but never the tolls that Ukraine or the UN have announced. On March 22, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that up to that moment the toll of civilians killed in the conflict had reached at least 953.
4- There’s been no mention of the ultimatum that Russia gave the Ukrainian troops to surrender what’s left of the city of Mariupol. That port city has been devastated by the Kremlin’s attacks, but the Cuban media has omitted any mention of the scope of that damage.
Neither war nor invasion, but a “special military operation”
From the beginning of the conflict, the official Cuban media have silently employed carefully doctored language to speak about what is happening. When referring to the Russian incursion, they mainly use the term “special military operation”, or even the “demilitarization of Ukraine”. The word “invasion” isn’t mentioned anywhere.
On March 1, Cubadebate even changed an informational heading they’d posted on their Facebook profile, in which the “invasion of Russia” was mentioned. After it initially appeared, the media outlet quickly removed the phrase from the post.
Initial publication: “Russian and Belorussian tennis players will be able to continue participating in the ATP men’s tournament and the WTA women’s tournament, including the “Grand Slams”, despite the conflict taking place in Ukraine with the Russian invasion.”
Minutes later, the text was edited to eliminate the word invasion: “Russian and Belorussian tennis players will be able to continue participating in the ATP men’s tournament and the WTA women’s tournament, including the “Grand Slams”, despite the conflict taking place in Ukraine.”
Granma is also very cautious about using the term “invasion”. The official newspaper daily publishes a number of short posts about the conflict in its digital version, but the word “invasion” isn’t mentioned. They only use it in quotes, when a third party employs it. In a review of the notes published in that media outlet about the war between March 7 and 13, the word “invasion” was only found seven times, all of them in quotes.
Claudia Padron is a Cuban journalist who graduated from Havana University in 2015 and is currently studying for a Master’s in Communication at Mexico’s “Iberoamericana University”.