“You can’t do good journalism if you’re thinking in terms of Left or Right.”
By Yusimi Rodríguez
HAVANA TIMES — Diario de Cuba (DDC) was born at a Starbucks in Madrid in 2009. Its creators, Pablo Diaz (editor in chief) and a group of Cuban journalists, artists and intellectuals, wanted to develop a forum that would contribute to public and democratic debates among Cubans, beyond the issue of human rights.
Pablo Diaz: There were already a lot of projects dealing with the violation of human rights in Cuba and we wanted to tackle politics, sports, culture and general opinion. Our goal was to create what a democratic society would consider a news media, in order to help reconstruct Cuban society. Those were and continue to be our objectives. We see the variety and scope of information in Cuba as deficient. The Castro regime has controlled and manipulated information vigorously. New technologies are a tool we can use to topple the two pillars that I believe have sustained Castroism: the destruction of civil society and the manipulation of information.
Pablo, 41, was born in Cuba and arrived in the former German Democratic Republic just after the Berlin Wall came down, seeing the fall of socialism there. His father, the Cuban novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker Jesus Diaz, founded the magazine Encuentro con la Cultura Cubana. Pablo founded and managed the news portal Cubaencuentro from 2000 to 2009. Interviewing him has given me the opportunity to learn more about a site that Cuba’s limited Internet access prevents me from accessing regularly (even though the page isn’t blocked by the government), a site that some describe as right-wing.
HT: Some people in Cuba consider DDC a right-wing site. What is your opinion about this?
Pablo Diaz: First, I should clarify that I would see nothing wrong with being right-wing. I believe the world’s Left, in general, and the Cuban Left in particular, has assumed a kind of moral superiority that’s baseless. It would benefit Cuban society to recover a balance between Left and Right in the future, a cultured Right with proposals for the nation as a whole. This should not be demonized. All Cubans with right-wing positions who have suffered repression should be invited to take part in a broad, public debate in Cuba.
Having said that, I believe that the Left-Right debate is quite an archaic topic today. In Cuba, it has greater weight than in the rest of the world because the political panorama there is fairly archaic. Basically, we take a position on specific situations – sometimes, with more progressive stances and sometimes with more conservative ones. Given DDC’s position on gay marriage and the rights of the gay and other communities, its constant concern over racism, social equity and the way in which Cuba is drifting towards State capitalism, one has to have fairly misguided notions about what is left-wing and what is right-wing to classify the site that way. In Castro’s Cuba, people make such classifications on the basis of one’s position vis-à-vis the Castro regime. If that regime is left-wing, then the members of DDC would be proud right-wing activists.
HT: Would DDC concern itself with racism and the rights of the gay community if the Cuban government hadn’t failed at eliminating the former and repressed homosexuals?
Pablo: The issue of racism predates the current Cuban government. It is one of the central issues of the independence struggles, the Cuban republic and revolution. The Castro government has discontinued social debates surrounding the issue, it has manipulated it.
HT: Do you recognize no progress in this issue made by the government in comparison to earlier governments?
Pablo: Must we continue judging the government on the basis of what it did better or worse than previous regimes more than fifty years ago? Isn’t that enough to evaluate a political phenomenon? The question isn’t what the Castro regime did nor did not do in 1959, but what it is doing today to eradicate racism in Cuba. If we don’t approach the matter this way, we run the risk of continuing to talk about what happened or didn’t happen in the past, when the old men who are mismanaging the country today took power.
As for gay rights, this is an issue around the world. The Castro government repressed homosexuals, but, in other countries where no expressly repressive policies were in place, homosexuals were denied many rights for a very long time also. These aren’t exclusively anti-Castro issues. We are concerned about them because they haven’t been solved in our society.
The debate surrounding the Left and Right in Cuba is also determined by one’s position towards the US embargo, towards political alliances in general. Is Fidel Castro, someone who became an ally of Videla’s, the Argentine dictator, so as to secure his support at the UN, left-wing? When you deal with a dictatorship like Cuba’s, which has dismantled civil society and weakened the country, making it dependent on foreign powers, I think that debating about whether his government is left or right wing is entirely puerile.
HT: Another argument against the claim that DDC is a right-wing page would be that it publishes left-wing thinkers like Pedro Campos and Armando Chaguaceda. Do you see a contradiction anywhere? Couldn’t that be a way of giving readers a semblance of plurality, of avoiding the right-wing label?
Pablo Diaz: DDC has published at least fifty articles with perspectives that can be classified as left-wing. We recently published an article by Enrique Herrero, from Cubanow, calling for the lifting of the embargo. It was completely left-wing. What are Cuba’s left-wing publications? Granma? Any official Cuban media you can think of? The editorials in DDC are its voice. Could anyone call them right-wing?
HT: Would you publish articles in favor of the Cuban government?
Pablo Diaz: No. It’s a totalitarian dictatorship that has separated and murdered Cubans. It has denied them the right to express themselves, to organize, to create independent press media. They have all the media and platforms they could want. Why would we give them part of the limited space we have as a publication by Cuban émigrés?
HT: You’ve said that one of the things that places you on the Left or Right in Cuba is the issue of the blockade, which you call “embargo”. Why? What is DDC’s position on this?
Pablo: The word “blockade” is one the many examples of semantic manipulation perpetrated by the Castro government. A blockade on an island is physical, an embargo is something else. Cuba can trade with any country in the world, even with the United States today. DDC’s position is that the ones most interested in discussing the embargo are those in the Cuban government, for it is a means of avoiding any discussion about the essence of the Castro regime. Cuba’s problem is, first of all, a problem among Cubans. Castroism has done a good job of selling people the idea that the main problem is between Cuba and the United States.
I consider the Cuban government co-responsible for the embargo. It has had fifty years to get it removed. When it seized US interests without compensating US citizens, as international law requires, it opted for confrontation. Have we forgotten the arrogance of our political leaders about the embargo, when the communist bloc still existed? The Cuban government has been unable to reach an agreement with all US administrations that could have negotiated. It has manipulated political situations in order to maintain the embargo. This was evident with the Carter administration, the Peruvian Embassy crisis, and during the Clinton administration. We saw it again with the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes. We’re seeing it now with Alan Gross. It’s a political game designed by the leadership to keep Cuban society from demanding that it assume a quota of responsibility for this disaster.
HT: You saw the fall of East Germany. To what extent do you think we are from seeing democratic change in Cuba?
Pablo: Quite far. It will require more than getting rid of the Castro regime, it will take several generations. It requires a cultural, educational and mental change, learning to respect contradictory opinions and to debate in a civilized manner. After fifty years of totalitarianism, Cuban society is ill. Arriving at a democracy worthy of that name will be very difficult. Every day the Castros remain in power makes the process more difficult and slower.
HT: Raul Castro promised to step down in 2018 and not to run for president again.
Pablo: When the time comes, he could say something else. In a totalitarian regime, where the entire press is under government control and civil society is repressed, I don’t have any reason to believe in this sudden democratic gesture. He could step down and place one of his straw-men in office and retain power this way. A change in president does not mean democracy. Democracy also requires freedom of expression, of association, of the press, it means that politicians must serve the people.
HT: In a more democratic context, what would DDC’s aims be?
Pablo Diaz: To contribute to consolidating democracy, governability and social reconstruction. One of the tasks of the press is to promote civic debate.
HT: In that context, would DDC hire journalists that have worked in official Cuban newspapers?
Pablo Diaz: What’s important is the quality of the journalistic work. Journalists who’ve worked in official Cuban media have already contributed to DDC. I would not feel comfortable with journalists who have been political spokespeople in totalitarian media, but, as for professionals who have believed in their work without intentionally contributing to repression, why not? The other important thing is for their journalistic instincts to be intact. In northern Africa, you see official journalists unable to do any other kind of journalism, after years of being gagged back home.
HT: Cuba’s official media often question the financing of alternative projects. Where does DDC get its funding?
Pablo Diaz: They should be ashamed to raise such questions, given the fact that their economic management has been pathetic as a whole. The notion that money is evil, promoted by Castroism, must be eliminated in Cuba. DDC secures more and more money through publicity and uses it to cover its investments on a monthly basis. We also receive funding from private entrepreneurs, Cuban and not, and public funds from the United States and Spain.
HT: You admit you receive funding from the United States?
Pablo Diaz: They’re public funds made available through competitions whose results are published on the web. There’s nothing secret about it.
HT: ¿Those who finance DDC don’t decide the publication’s interests or what people write?
Pablo Diaz: I’ve noticed what little people in Cuba, and you, know about what financial support for a publication means, and what its editorial staff does, but that’s to be expected after fifty years of totalitarianism. For those who offer a publication public or private funds to have an influence on its content, according to the Cuban government, all of those people and organizations would need to have the same interests. It would be unheard-of. The day one of the many and different sources of funding tries to impose conditions on us, we would no longer accept their support. That is how things work in the democratic world. The Cuban government receives support from Spanish, US and other foundations, but it continues to instill its population with totally aberrant notions.
The issue of interests within the media should also be tackled without prejudices. We do have an interest. Our agenda consists in going at the jugular of the Castro regime.
HT: Doesn’t that get in the way of rigorous journalism?
Pablo Diaz: Castroism means the absence of democracy, of freedom of the press, association and expression. Castroism is an obscenity.
HT: How do you explain the fact that the DDC website isn’t blocked in Cuba, while Cubaencuentro and Cubanet are?
Pablo Diaz: DDC was created after those two, one of which I founded and edited. It was created at a time in which the ideological battle being waged by the Castro government has eased up considerably. You mentioned this morning that they have admitted Cuba’s future will not be one of equity. Another reason could be that the points of view expressed by DDC on a daily basis are far more complex than those offered in other media. They address the opposition, but they also address the different currents within the Cuban leadership. At any rate, we would have to ask the censors that question. It makes less sense to censor a webpage today, because we have social networks.
HT: Diario de Cuba is the most widely-read site about Cuba today. Currently, it also operates a radio station, DDC-Radio, which airs a weekly program called Cubakustica FM. What do you attribute its success to?
Pablo Diaz: To the tireless efforts the staff and contributors have been making for five years, and to our editorial policy.
HT: Would you like to add anything?
Pablo Diaz: I would clarify other things if this was a different kind of project, but a press publication speaks for itself. I invite people to read it and to think about labels. You can’t do good journalism if you’re thinking in terms of Left or Right.