Daniel Palacios (Cafe Fuerte)
HAVANA TIMES — When the newspaper industry was still flourishing and about twenty different papers with large readerships were being published in Havana, a local periodical printed in the neighborhood of Los Pinos (named “Proyector”) was also in its heyday.
More than five decades have gone by since the Cuban press ceased acting as a social microscope and became an instrument of propaganda and political indoctrination, and it is worthwhile to look back and acknowledge the vitality of the information system and the proliferation of newspapers in Cuba before Fidel Castro came to power.
The first issue of Proyector, published on December 15, 1940, went unnoticed by the majority of the inhabitants of today’s municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, known at the time as “Havana’s Chicago” because of its traditional buildings, flourishing market and the fact that its streets were controlled by the occasional mobster from the USA.
An Ambitious Journalist
William Pupo Sagoyner, a young journalist of Catalonian origin who had been fired from Havana’s conservative Diario de la Marina newspaper, took on the challenge of editing his own newspaper. With the aid of his brother Wilder and his wife America, he made his sense of belonging to the neighborhood his main shield and destined his savings to securing the materials he needed for the undertaking.
“I was born surrounded by heaps of paper and by the profound admiration the entire neighborhood had towards my grandfather. Even decades after the newspaper was forced to shut down, people would come by the house to tell him their problems in the hopes he would intervene on their behalf before the authorities,” Deborah Pupo Sanchez, granddaughter of the founder of Proyector, commented.
Pupo Sanchez is one of the most zealous guardians of her family’s historical legacy and still lives at 10415 Bella St., the same address that saw the newspaper’s birth.
In 1943, Proyector’s local popularity reached truly impressive levels and developed solid sections dealing with social, sporting, cultural and political issues. The latter engaged in several debates on matters being addressed by Cuba’s Congress from which the neighborhood profited. By that year, the newspaper had a print run of two thousand.
Everyone Wanted a Voice
“Everyone wanted to have a voice and tell of their problems in the newspaper, because they saw that it was a way of solving these. The Asociacion de Propietarios y Vecinos (“Association of Property Owners and Residents”) always knuckled down to work when the paper published strong criticisms. There was even a quarrel between the editors and Congress over the funds destined to building a road connecting Los Pinos and Poey which ended with the expansion of Perla St. in 1944,” recalled Herminia Solaya, a woman in her eighties who, in her teenage years, wrote articles dealing with student issues and interviews with high-class ladies.
Nearly all of the regular readers of Proyector have passed away, but some issues of the periodical, bathed in the yellowish tone that time gives things, can still be found today. As many other journalistic undertakings, the periodical was silenced in the early days of the revolution, after the government ordered its closure through the Press Law of 1961, which made all unofficial publications illegal.
“My grandfather always regretted the way in which his newspaper was destroyed and Los Pinos is one of Havana’s most run-down suburbs. It has no one to look after it, so we all lost,” Deborah Pupo Sanchez remarked.
Information and Editorial Monopoly
The Cuban government maintains a monopoly over the means of communication and, as such, its editorial policies. Three national newspapers (Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores) are distributed in the capital, in addition to the weekly provincial publication Tribuna de la Habana and a dozen or so magazines, like the hundred-year-old and now rather dispirited Bohemia.
There are five national radio broadcasters – Radio Rebelde, Progreso, Taino, Reloj and Enciclopedia – and local frequencies are taken up by Radio COCO, Metropolitana, Ciudad and Cadena Habana. Cuban television has a mere five channels: Cuba Vision, Tele Rebelde, Multi Vision, Educativo 1 and 2 and Canal Habana (available in the capital).
No Cuban media operates with private capital or has independent editorial aims (prohibited by the current laws). Cuba’s socialist constitution, approved in 1976 and ratified in 1992, specifies that “the press, radio, television, cinema and other mass media are State or social property and cannot, under any circumstance, be privately owned.”
The freedom that made it possible for Proyector to have an impact on its community continues to haunt Cuba’s streets and printing houses, which still harbor the hope of regaining their voice one day.