HAVANA TIMES — Despite the many signals prior to the “crisis” of Cuban migrants in Costa Rica, the situation seems to have taken those who control Cuba’s press entirely by surprise. This would help explain why they took more than a week to react to developments.
You can’t really blame them, seeing how much they have on their plate to begin with. Perhaps they were busy censoring the sitcom Vivir del cuento (“Living by One’s Wits”), looking for hidden messages in a play or preparing an offensive against the “fiercest enemy,” alternative media.
Silence has never been an efficacious answer for the press. It’s actually a fairly dumb response, considering that, these days, Cuban citizens have access to satellite antennae, the so-called “weekly package” and the Internet – and that they keep in touch with their relatives abroad via cell phones.
This censorship apparatus spawned Cuba’s “grapevine” news system and, during this “crisis,” it was again put into operation, with the informational distortions typical of these oral forms of transmission, where everyone adds a “homegrown” ingredient to what they hear.
One could speculate our colleagues in the official press are incapable people, but then we see an analysis of the “crisis” in the personal blog of Granma’s international information editor Sergio Alejandro Gomez, and it is clear Cuba has good journalists and bad press.
A week later, Cuba announces that a media campaign against Cuba is underway. If that’s truly the case, why didn’t they send any journalists to Costa Rica to get their own version of the facts? Why did they leave the battlefield to the “enemy” for so long?
When the Cuban press finally reacted, it was already too late. The entire world had already assumed a position about the situation. The long response time was a disaster even for the political interests of the Cuban government, which was portrayed as the chief culprit behind the migratory crisis.
In the media, silences of this nature are paid with credibility. How are citizens expected to believe what they’re told if the nation’s press “hides the ball” every time the game gets tough?
This way, the Cuban government and Communist Party have been left with media that can only shoot blanks. These may still make some noise and blow smoke, but the lack the projectiles needed to penetrate the minds of readers.
High government officials say time and time again that Cuba needs media that will address the informational needs of the population, but, when times of “crisis” like these come along, they allow censors to gag journalists.
Granma journalists themselves write the information about the crisis that the newspaper did not publish regarding the “crisis” in Costa Rica. Good journalists, bad press. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz.
Cuban journalists cannot publish any articles without the authorization of the editor in chief, whose position depends on approval by the Ideology Department of the Communist Party. The most they can do is what Sergio did: to publish them in their blog and reveal the stupidity of censorship.
We republished two of his articles in Cartas desde Cuba, not because we agreed with them 100 %, but because we acknowledged they offered a serious analysis from the perspective of a Cuban communist. Not more, not less, than what one should expect to read in Cuba’s official newspaper.
It’s been more than demonstrated that things aren’t going to improve in the press through public statements or resolutions passed at congresses. No substantial changes will come about as long as the Communist Party maintains the kind of inefficient and paralyzing control over the media it does today.
The problem is in the system. It is to be found in the relationship that exists between the media and power structures. Therefore, the solution demands political will, audacity and trust in people’s ability to process the information they receive in an intelligent manner.
What happened during the first week of this migratory “crisis” isn’t new, it’s happened hundreds of times before in Cuba. Some cases were absolutely ridiculous, such as the silence of the press in connection with the power cut that left half of the island in darkness.
The difference is that, today, Cubans have access to “alternative” sources of information. To think that a crisis like the one we’re seeing can be kept from most Cubans is as stupid as trying to bury one’s head in the sand.