Por Alejandro Langape

Photo by Bill Klipp

HAVANA TIMES – Cubans are discussing heated issues today that were never discussed before, that’s a fact. There are interesting debates and well-founded opinions, that’s also true, yet…

The most famous quote John Paul II left on his historic visit to the island was: “May Cuba (…) open itself up to the world, and may the world open itself up to Cuba.” Cuba unavoidably had to open up (drip by drip and amidst barriers and fear) to the reality of an ever-more connected world, where social media reigns with its great power to mobilize the masses, which is key in sociopolitical events such as the Arab Spring.

However, in spite of giving into the inevitable, Cuba and its authorities are keeping things under wraps and do something from time to time that they criticize other societies for: censorship, an efficient way to place restrictions on information when this access becomes overwhelming.

While there is talk about same-sex marriage possibly becoming legal after future amendments to the Family Code, on the other hand, a gay kiss is censored out of US youth series “Friends & Lovers”, as well as explicit scenes of homosexual sex in national TV’s broadcast of the Chilean movie “Jesus”.

The government proudly publishes data about the number of Cubans who have Internet access, yet it blocks Cuban residents’ access to many alternative websites, whose profiles aren’t in line with official discourse.

They talk about the existence of all kinds of organizations that represent Cuban civil society anywhere in the world (meaning the Federation of Cuban Women or Federation of University Students, for example), but they deny the existence of any organization or institution they frown upon.

This is what happened to Magin and its projects in favor of increasing awareness about women’s rights and what is happening today with regulados (people who have been banned from leaving the country), artists, activists and intellectuals who they stop from leaving the country to attend courses and events, using any excuse they can find.

However, the most palpable signs of just how precarious Cubans’ freedom of speech really is and the survival of red-hot censors in true Papito Serguera-style, or any other ill-fated figure from the Five Gray Years, have been seen on Cuban TV and on two of its hit shows: comedy show Vivir del Cuento and sports show Bola viva.

First, there was the diatribe from an unknown contributor on the last page of the official newspaper Granma, which attacked the characters on the comedy show, who poke fun at the behavior and conduct of public officials, a clear reference to the character Facundo Correcto played by Andy Vazquez.

It was the first reprimand, a kind of warning that didn’t deliver the desired effect because most readers rejected that article and renowned comedians took a stand to defend the exercise of criticism using satire and parody.

Censors’ second and final attack took the form of a video which the actor uploaded and shared on his social media, in which he criticized what had happened during the reopening of the Mercado de Cuatro Caminos. Using this as an excuse, Cuban TV board members decided to cut Andy from the following series of six Vivir del Cuento episodes, thereby disappearing him from TV screens for good and delivering a tough blow to a show which is immensely popular because it is a reflection of Cubans’ complex social reality.

At about the same time as this was happening with Andy Vazquez, journalist Yasel Porto expressed that he was in favor of the dismissal of the Cuban Baseball Federation’s President, Mr. Higinio Velez, during a heated debate on the sports program Bola viva. Porto disappeared from episodes of the show after expressing this opinion and, according to his Facebook account, his contract for the show was terminated.

Before this, another journalist, Anibal Oliva, had been removed from Cuban TV airwaves because he spoke up in favor of Cuban soccer athletes playing in foreign leagues to come back and play for the national team, like happens in other countries. Both in Anibal and Porto’s cases, their opinions reflected the opinions of many Cubans and were not degrading or insulting to anyone.

So, why were such drastic measures taken? Why weren’t their different opinions accepted? Why weren’t they allowed to question certain facts?

It isn’t strange to find the names of young journalists on independent media platforms, who leave their roles in official media in search of greater freedom to speak their minds. It is also important that artists and intellectuals voice their opinions on these platforms, whether that is via writing their own articles or giving interviews. This is one of the other reasons that explains why Cubans have been banned from reading this press, there’s no doubt about it.

A plural, diverse Cuba, a dissenting Cuba that questions the status quo is scary and, without more subtle ways to deal with this, the government chooses censorship, in order to hold onto this image of monolithic unity, always brandishing the theory of being under siege and there being no space for any trace of dissent or questioning of the government.

Is there censorship in Cuba?  Is it worth denying the obvious? It seems the government believes it is, clinging to the stupid idea that you can still sweep garbage under the carpet in today’s world.

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