Cuban Journalists Say No to Change

Like baseball players, Cuban journalists continue to wait for a sign from the bench.

Vicente Morin Aguado

The Cuban continues to be stuck in time. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — The Ninth Congress of the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC) has ended. Judging from the information published by the official media, under the direct control of the Cuban Communist Party, we can expect very few changes in the country’s official journalistic environment.

Unless some agreeably surprising change occurs over the next few days, we can rather expect journalists to continue to work under the direction of the “coaches”, the Party’s Ideology Department, that is, which will continue to give out instructions in signs from the dugout, as any good team manager is expected to do. This is the way things have been until now, and by the looks of it, the way things will continue to be.

I want to refer my readers to the exhaustive analysis of Cuba’s press which appears in the last issue of the Cuban, Catholic periodical Espacio Laical (“Secular Space”). Titled “Proposals for Re-thinking the Foundations of the Cuban Press” (“Propuestas para una refundacion de la prensa cubana”), the article, published in the journal’s regular Dossier column, gathers comments from important personalities working or somehow involved in journalism on the island. Below are some extremely eloquent comments which aim to diagnose some of the problems in the sector, including the name of the personality:

“Regrettably, our press continues to be sustained by an information monopoly and the impunity that this situation grants its authors.”  (Esteban Morales)

“(…) the perception that the Soviet press, freed from State control, contributed to the collapse of that socialist system which, despite some positive achievements, had, as we know, very little to do with the thought of Marx and Lenin, is a threat that hangs over the censors’ heads,” and, in connection with State bureaucracy and its fears: “the fear that the press inspires in State structures is a pragmatic concern: the press uncovers things, the press publicly condemns errors and errata.” (Luis Sexto)

“The Cuban press got stuck in time. In political terms, it is as though, in its eyes, nothing has transpired over the last twenty years.” (Jorge Gomez Barata)

“The Cuban press does not believe that there can be more than one point of view about something, it believes there is only one, correct point of view (…) The realm and audience of Cuban journalism is old age…its way of addressing the public, the news it finds interesting and its use of language is not in step with our times, with the lives of people today.” (Justo Planas)

“We need a press that prevents disagreeable surprises that overwhelm us (something along the lines of falling flat on one’s face, when were are unexpectedly surprised by something we ought to have known) and the confusion when faced with false values.”  “A new press ought to break all ties that have it administrated exclusively by the Ideology Department of Cuba’s Communist Party.” (Aurelio Alonso)

I’ll put an end to what could well become a very long list of quotations, and ask: did the gathering organized by UPEC raise any hopes regarding changes that could address the problems mentioned above? The answer is no.

It is said President Raul Castro’s remarks sent to the congress met with much approval. It would certainly not be the first time the president makes his critical and very realistic assessments known to the public. Unfortunately, many of these criticisms remain merely that.

We know enough about Molto, Arleen and Aixia – to mention three of the better known figures who have become the new leaders of this journalist’s organization – to be able to predict that nothing will change in the postures that they have maintained to date.

Journalist Oscar Sanchez Sierra’s remarks – rather vague, to be sure – are the only comments one can salvage from the reports on the congress’ closing session published in Granma a collection of paragraphs devoid of any concrete observation: “We need to create our own journalistic agenda. We can’t continue to wait for this agenda to be handed down from the top or be decided externally. We must stop being mere executors of instructions and start acting like thinking beings.”

A highly professional journalist who has lived in Cuba for many years, Fernando Ravsberg, also contributed ideas to the debate surrounding the Cuban press, from the privileged position of someone who follows the baseball match from the stands.

In his article “Cuba: The Press within the Press” (“Cuba: la prensa en la prensa”), published by Espacio Laical, he writes: “Except in emergency situations, the Cuban press plays, not an informational, but rather a propagandistic role. Nothing has benefited the press of the Cuban émigré community than the straightjacket that prevents Cuban journalists [on the island] from reporting on politically thorny issues in a timely fashion. Newspaper editors wait from a sign from above every time a delicate issue comes up.”

Unless the many problems addressed above, problems that are well known by most and talked about in parks and at home by most Cubans, begin to be tackled head-on, no change of any real significance should be expected now, after UPEC’s Ninth Congress has come to an end.

Big Brother is still watching us, omnipresent and omnipotent. Cuban journalists will, it seems, continue to look towards their team bench, waiting, as baseball players do, for the last sign from the coach before trying to hit the ball at the decisive moments of the game.

Vicente Morín Aguado    [email protected]

3 thoughts on “Cuban Journalists Say No to Change

  • The Cuban Communist Party dictates what their pet journalists will or will not do.
    The Party says no change for their journalists. This is the true face of Raul’s “reforms”.

  • Cuba remains Stalinist.

    It needs control over the media as much as it can. It has already lost some control and fears losing more. Diaz-Canal can say all he wants: freedom of speech is what the regime dreads most.

    “The Cuban government is based on lies and cheap propaganda. That is why it is afraid of words and the truth.”
    Raul Rivero, April 2006, University of Sevilla, Spain.

  • The only real change to be expected from the state-controlled media is an increase in the criticism of free and independent press that exists within Cuba. As pressure to do more increases, expect Granma, Mesa Redonda et. al. to step up their attacks on Yoani Sanchez and the Ladies in White and other dissident groups.

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