A New Beginning for “Letters from Cuba”

Fernando Ravsberg*

For 7 years, “Letters from Cuba” sought to be the voice of the ordinary Cuban.

HAVANA TIMES — Today marks the last post of Cartas desde Cuba (“Letters from Cuba”) you will read in BBC Mundo (in Spanish). From now on, those interested in continuing to debate about the island’s reality will be able to do so through my personal webpage, www.cartasdesdecuba.com, [and here on Havana Times].

On March 13, for the first time in 7 years, the staff of BBC Mundo asked me to change some things in my post La paja en el ojo ajeno (“The Mote in Another’s Eyes”). I didn’t agree with their editorial comments and so my colleagues in London and Miami decided not to publish it.

The following week, I was informed my personal blog would cease to be published and I was invited to take part in a different blog project on Cuba. After analyzing their proposal, I concluded it was neither professional nor interesting for me and I declined the invitation.

My Years with BBC Mundo

It’s been a long, seven-year journey – nearly 400 posts in which I have tried to portray Cuban reality beyond the anecdotic, attempting to bring my readers closer to a context one must know in order to understand a reality as uncommon as this one.

The report on the crime committed at Havana’s Psychiatric Hospital was one of the hardest posts I had to write.

I chose to expose my readers to the opinions, hopes and frustrations of common Cubans, that majority that tends to be silent, because it is seldom or never consulted by the press, even though it is an essential part of every project developed in the country.

We tried to get to the bottom of the crime committed at the psychiatric hospital in Havana, where around thirty patients died of hunger and exposure. We warned readers it was something that could happen again and we were the only journalistic space that published the comments of the victims’ relatives.

In this connection, we also often addressed corruption and, to confront the phenomenon, we even interviewed a corrupt official, sometime before she was imprisoned, in order to give voice to her points of view and justifications.

We didn’t only target the low-ranking corrupt officials, however. We had no qualms about publishing a post to denounce more far-reaching corruption incidents, such as the case involving Cuba’s commercial airline company Cubana de Aviacion, which cost a general his position and landed his wife in prison.

Through the BBC’s “Letters from Cuba”, we revealed serious corruption cases.

The role of the bureaucracy, Cuba’s most tenacious plague, of its inefficiency and the forms of corruption that hide behind it, was a recurrent issue on this blog – not gratuitously, or because of some personal score I wanted to settle, but because I consider it one of the greatest burdens on Cuban society, much heavier than what we find in other countries, no doubt.

Finding a Balance at the BBC

Not all of my posts were critical, however. We also wrote unreservedly of Cuba’s achievements, of its low infant mortality rates, of its free and open educational system and of its Civil Defense mechanisms, likely the most efficient in the world. The post I remember most fondly, however, is the one about Cuban women.

We questioned the legality of the US embargo / blockade, the double standards used to gage human rights and democracy in Cuba and Saudi Arabia, the Guantanamo Naval Base and the financing of Cuban opposition groups with tens of millions of dollars every year.

From both ends of the political spectrum, I was always criticized for throwing “six of one and half a dozen of the other” into the mix. They saw it as a journalistic strategy or a survival mechanism, when, in fact, it was nothing other than a sincere reflection of daily life on the island.

Of the posts published by the BBC, I recall the one about Cuban women most fondly.

On the contrary, this space was never “politically correct.” We never did what was expected of us or what was in our best interests to do. We assessed the weaknesses of dissidents with the same intensity with which we pointed out press censorship and the low incomes of Cuban doctors.

I recall that, when we criticized the opposition, we were showered with harsh accusations and that, later, we found out the US diplomatic chief in Cuba had suggested that the State Department read us in order to understand the real situation in Cuba. He did this in a secret cable revealed by Wikileaks.

Our work did not go unnoticed. Cartas desde Cuba was, until its last post, the blog with the largest number of readers and comments in all of BBC Mundo – which is why I intend to continue writing it, as a personal project on my own page.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original posted  in Spanish by BBC Mundo.

7 thoughts on “A New Beginning for “Letters from Cuba”

  • Even on the Left–though I shouln’t be surprised by this sort of practice, since the predominantly authoritarian behavior of society infects all areas–there is soul-killing censorship! One of my favorite sites, COUNTERPUNCH, attempted to censor one of my favorites on their site, Linh Dinh. Like Fernando Ravsberg, he refused to be censored, and has gone his own way. Fortunately, you can now go directly to his own site, “State of the Nation.”
    Incidentally, I’d like to encourage you to learn Spanish, so you can enjoy all the articles on Fernando’s blog. Even a senior citizen such as myself has made great progress (my breaktrhough came around 2006, when I discovered I could pretty much get along without any English, and travel independently in Cuba, far off the beaten tourist path. During my last trip, for two whole months, in 2012, I didn’t speak a lick of English, able to listen to, and participate in, discussions. Just begin with any good textbook, then supplement the text by listening on-line to any Cuban radio station to your taste. (Since I love classical music, I listen to CMBF, Radio Musical Nacional, but there are many others.) For those who have reached intermediate level, I’d like to recommend the text I’m using now, “The Ultimate Spanish Review and Practice,” Second Editon, by Gordon and Stillman, c. 2011, McGrall Hill).

  • “Thanks to the internet, however, we can now find our favorite writers, unmediated by their corporate masters, free to write whatever truths they find, in a manner unhemmed by euphemism and equivocation.”

    Obviously you don’t read John G’s super-smart posts: there is no such thing as free speech in the capitalist world, therefore Fernando’s new blog doesn’t exist.

  • It is worth mentioning that when you and the BBC Mundo bureaucracy decided to part ways, absent from your remarks are threats of imprisonment or being banned from the profession. While it is unfortunate that your collaboration ended at all, I would call attention to the fact that you are allowed to move on to hopefully greener pastures without threats of retribution. If you had been in the employ of the Castros, would your resignation been as amicable?

  • Fernando,a s a BBC licence fee payer I have made the following complaint to the BBC and have asked for a reply:
    “I am writing regarding Fernando Ravsberg who writes in Spanish ‘Cartas desde Cuba’ or in English Letters from Cuba. I am utterly disappointed that the blog will end on BBC Mundo due to the interference by the BBC in its content. Mr Ravsberg is one of the most respected journalists reporting from Cuba. The BBC has made a big mistake and lost a great asset. The BBC will lose many friends in Latin America as a result.”

  • I have always found your writing to be highly objective and just learned of your blog/site and will follow what I can in the parts that are translated into English.
    It should come as no surprise that anyone writing objectively about Cuba for the corporate/capitalist press will run into a ton of flak since the Western/capitalist/neo-colonialist /corporate media does not want to publish anything positive about Cuba’s ” socialist” society.
    Had you dealt with all the negatives including the great many propaganda points that are massive lies of omission, you’d have remained employed well into the future.
    Your journalistic principles came between you and a good job.
    There’s no place for you in that corrupted media outlet.

  • Fernando,

    Best wishes to you and good luck on your new blog. I look forward to reading your thought provoking essays in the new setting.

  • I look forward to reading your new blog! From what you reveal about BBC Mundo, it has fallen under the leaden thumb of a soul-crushing bureaucracy not unlike those about whom you report in Cuba. Sooner or later, every journalist I respect runs afoul of these petty tyrants. Thanks to the internet, however, we can now find our favorite writers, unmediated by their corporate masters, free to write whatever truths they find, in a manner unhemmed by euphemism and equivocation.

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