Cuba’s Dying Press and What’s Next

By Frank Simon  (photos: Elio Delgado Valdes)

0025HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban press is getting old, it’s mummified and wrapped up in the same old issues, the same faces, colors and designs. People pretend like they’re reading, or they read between the lines what they would like to read. Journalists continue to write and they hope that somebody is still reading. Nothing changes.

If Kafka had woken up as a journalist in Cuba, I’m sure he wouldn’t have noticed any differences. Nothing. Not even in the long joints or the insect wings that he describes in Metamorphosis. Even the most terrible, negative or fly-grazing changes are unworthy of the times our press is living.

Narration, description, personalities have all disappeared. They have morphed into a time where you can only spell out, where time and space form the same immanent chronotope, where neither in media res or the element of surprise has existed for quite some time now, where expectations remain in the air and become well-known.

Cuban journalism is quite simply a utopia or rather, to be more precise, a dystopia; it’s not even about those newspapers where those in power used to edit the past and erase names and facts that weren’t convenient for a constantly self-contradicting system. Nope, nothing is edited, nothing is morphed, and everything is single-stringed.

According to music theory and phonetics, any note can become inaudible when played alone. Variation is the change that’s needed in order for us to notice and appreciate that music is actually playing or that there is noise. The Cuban press is hardly noticed, it hardly exists. Perhaps it’s the presence of other forms of press that manages to shine a little light upon its libel, upon its official grey pages.

News writers are like small versions of Bach in front of a piano, who play the same melody over and over again in front of a church full of emptiness, where sound doesn’t travel given the fact that sound waves need air particles to disseminate. Without air, this dwarf-like press suffocates, without personality, stuttering, typical verbal vomit worthy of any slapstick scene or from an Alfred Harry play, where characters would demonstrate the nonsense lack of coordination and hilarity of life.

The only thing we have left is the reflector of our alternative press, which isn’t really that alternative, but rather another way of writing, another channel, another pitch which still lacks the legitimacy of permanent readership and the necessary gravity to deal with the long-forgotten subject that is Cuba. Sometimes, these magazines become places where you can write passively, so as not to go looking for problems, to make money and to live.

IMG_2475One of these spots which is featured on the inclusion plan, el Toque (The Touch), claims to tell every kind of story, but a lot of the time, they just cover tiny events which are worthy of after dinner chatter. They’re just tiny snippets that say nothing about the important, necessary truths we need to talk about today.

Another media outlet, Oncuba, has swayed between a complacent take on things, nihilism, appalling hypercritism and half-told stories; between temporizing with and then opposing with empty words, perhaps trying to form alliances, wanting to fill a space that others have also wanted but weren’t successful.

Then you have reporters from foreign media, whose balancing skills mimic that of a circus performer, because balancing for them is establishing the fair measure between what they get paid to do and what others allow. In this to-and-fro game, the media’s agenda barely pays attention to common interests, to the Cuban, this subject who lives a reality which they make a killing off of, from using so much ink and megabytes.

At the end of the day, nobody talks about the reader. The reader is just a superpassive being, who at the rate it’s going, will never be able to understand great works of literature. He’ll get tied up in Rayuela, he won’t understand the Cuban masterpiece Paradiso, he’ll avoid any poetry that’s barroque or even elementary. Syntaxis becomes predictable, reality too. Journalists don’t even have to predict anymore.

Now, we have blogs, narrative journalism, allegories and protests which speak from intellectualization. However, you get the impression that they’re not so interested in the common reader, the subject which creates and lives the reality that so many take advantage of.

Those who blurt out this journalism, while others cover each other’s noses and read it between themselves with the hope to praise or hate one another. There are too many qualifications and disqualifications that rain down from the amount of ink sweated in the name of personalities who fill their bellies, travel and make a career for themselves.

Cuba’s media reality is so inclined towards this kind of oportunism that you could even forgive a journalist typing on the State keyboard. You feel somewhat sorry for him/her because they lack the ambition to reach the highest “alternative” profiles where they’ll never participate in the congresses that are so intellectualized and propose thousands of academic rewards on the other side of the sea.

IMG_2514Cuba doesn’t expect anything from this Academy, but this Academy expects everything from Cuba. We’ll never have a better reality or media on the island, but we will have better perks for those who know how to milk the gold mine that leaves our press ringing uniformly. This Academy seems like it wants to do everything, but it doesn’t really want to do anything.

Those who really understand and feel, still have to struggle their way through a sea of oportunism that’s masked as truth, in the sands of oblivion, in the eternal ungratefulness of so many beneficiaries. Our press has died out and so has everything else that resembles it. Many people come forward and grab hold of words, sometimes clumsily and without formal education, they tell us what they say, what they think, what they feel. This is the reader, the outcast, this is what the people’s cry really is.  Without right-wing, left-wing and centre round about sentiments, these people only want to speak clearly, without prejudice and they want to be heard. There’s a cathedral of thoughts lying beneath the rubble that is the State’s press.

Today’s priority now is to make this cathedral stand once again, without architects coming from all over the place, stealing pieces of stained glass windows and painting them in other colors, taking us back to the times of monotony, silence, conflict, to the Cuba in which many don’t fit, to the island absent in  the media.

When the time comes to write the truth and not to ask which side is best for climbing up the ladder the fastest, this underground, rebellious and non-conformist journalism will exist. It doesn’t ask for permission, it doesn’t enter alliances, it’s only agenda is the reader. Yes, because being alternative isn’t only about putting yourself on the other side, but to be on the right side, alongside the ethics that are painful.

15 thoughts on “Cuba’s Dying Press and What’s Next

  • Cuba’s Dying Press and What’s Next / easily changed to U.S.A Dying Press and What’s Next

    The Big Event succeed in alphabetizing the masses just in time for masses to stop reading books, magazines and newspapers. The reason is societal not political.

    TLTR (too long to read) is the dreaded dictum that challenges the people or the governments to communicate their message or opinions in 140 character or less.

    Print and cell phones compete asymmetrically. Print is obsolete before is published. Cell phones place in our hands, accessible at any time, the entire cannon of the western world and the news of the minute. RIP

  • Thank you very much.

  • There is NO “variety of sources” in Cuba. There is only the government-controlled media and nothing else.

  • Moses:
    I have truly enjoyed your contributions on many subjects. You have earned my respect, again … big time! Jim

  • The extreme Gerard was Lord Beaverbrook – as the name implies a Canadian who became a member of the Cabinet. Lord Black (our jailbird friend Conrad) was certainly an influence upon the Conservative Party, being introduced into the House of Lords by Margaret Thatcher and Peter Lord Carrington as a reward. It was incidentally American Secretary of State General Alexander Haig, who said of Carrington when British Foreign Secretary that he was: “A duplicitous bastard.” – I can’t argue!
    However if my memory serves me correctly, the Government of the time did waken up to the other Rupert when his desire to further extend his TV controls became evident and following The News of the World scandal. I also recall when as kids we bought two pennyworth of chips and fourpennyworth of fish, that they would be wrapped in The News of the World providing us with some sexual titillation.
    Cubans would not receive a similar thrill by reading Granma – even if there were the luxury of fish and chip shops. Most of the time it isn’t possible to buy potatoes in Cuba although they are a native species of South America. Rice most of which is low grade purchased from Vietnam is the rations staple along with black beans to make congri.

  • Hello Carlyle.
    I do hope that you have and are still enjoying your weekend?
    I truly admire the spirit of the Cuban people, having never lived under such a repressive and corrupt system I cannot really appreciate what life must be truly like, however I have been lucky to visit Cuba several times as a tourist and I managed to travel outside the tourist areas so I have a little understanding regarding life in Cuba, and certain travel restrictions imposed on the people by such a corrupt system. We certainly do have more freedom of speech here in the UK, however I still stand by my original assertion that quite a few media moguls do heavily influence our government in their decisions.

  • My experience of the British press is that one knows the political leanings of each newspaper and can read them with that in mind for example the Guardian is left wing, just as The Telegraph is right wing.
    In Cuba the media is totally controlled by the Castro regime and the Communist Party of Cuba – indeed Granma is the official organ of the PCC.
    In consequence the only information published is that which the PCC wishes to be published and much of the information about the free world is ignored. In short, information is censored, just as only books acceptable to the regime are available to Cubans.
    The sole restriction placed by UK governments (Scotland Gerard has not yet separated) upon the UK media is the issuance of a ‘D’ notice which is rarely used but is in effect a form of censorship when the government – which can be of right wing or left wing persuasion thinks that publication is against the public interest. For example the names or identification of members of MI6.
    The British newspapers and later to perhaps a lesser extent TV, have a peculiar history of foreign press barons. Lords Beaverbrook and Black (he who served time in the US) being examples and the other Rupert (Murdoch), not the wonderful childhood favorite Bear, a TV Monarch.
    But there is no viable comparison with Cuba.

  • From this article, you’d think GRANMA, JUVENTUD REBELDE, TRABAJADORES, etc. are only filled with dreary government pronunciamentos, propaganda and lies. While, to a certain extent, as with the major newspapers, broadcast media and major media sites on the internet up here, this is largely true; nevertheless, if one reads with discrimination one can find much of merit and enlightenment. This is especially true of the features, cultural news, interviews, etc. In the past (1980’s), for example, even such gods as Leonardo Padura regularly wrote for JUVENTUD REBELDE, and to this day there are very talented folks writing for the daily press in Cuba. Even in features which describe the heroic battle for socialist production, for example, there are stories of humble folks whose lives are seldom described up here. In GRANMA, and JUVENTUD REBELDE, including recent issues, I have read insightful interviews of and articles about writers, artists and muscians,
    In short, here in the States, as well as in Cuba–and in reality everywhere–you have to read and absorb much from a variety of sources before arriving at a more subtle, shrewd and sophisticated conception of the truth (or many truths). To write off the popular press in Cuba reflects a gross oversimplification characteristic of a mind who thinks in black-and-whites, but not the many the shades and hews which lie in between. It all depends on whose writing and what they’re writing about.

  • Gracias!

  • Please note the contribution below of Mr. John Goodrich. His is the usual rant denying that the morass of socialism in practice is in any way related to his theory. As usual he extols the supposed talents of Noel Chomsky a well known proponent of socialism but to his credit – and almost uniquely in his contributions to Havana Times, omits saying that what the so-called communist/socialist regimes practice is “state capitalism”. For Mr. Goodrich that is a major change, but do note that to avoid being told that his contribution has nothing to do with Cuba, he has inserted it into his rant by
    offering odds against people knowing what socialism actually is.
    Mr. Goodrich is yet again displaying a conceit that he alone has such knowledge. Including the “government-run Cuban press” he is wandering off into what for him is unknown territory as he has never been to Cuba and has never had a copy of ‘Granma’ in his hands.

  • I dearly love the concept of a “free press” and I would dearly love it to be so, however even in so called democratic England the press is heavily controlled by the very powerful and ever so rich power crazed magnates, who incidentally control what we read every single day, so People of Cuba I can sympathise and understand your frustration. We have dozens of daily newspapers printed every day of the week, who do not print lies , they are just a little bit biased in their printed opinions? We the general public are being fed slightly distorted facts, it all depends which newspaper you read and what happens to be of most importance to the newspaper owners at the time. We in England certainly do not have a totally free press, however it is not as corrupt and politically controlled as the Cuban press appears to be. In Cuba it appears that the politicians control the press, whilst here in England I feel that the press barons control too many politicians? I could be wrong in my view?

  • Yes, and worse. No such poll, if it were anti-socialist or anti-CASTRO would ever be conducted let alone published in Cuba. The one-sided claptrap that is allowed to be published in Cuba not only fails to fully inform the public but seeks to misinform.

  • The National Review in an article about the Bernie Sanders youth cited an ABC/New York Times poll that said that while 75% of the U.S. public ages 29 and up polled expressed a “visceral ” dislike for socialism, 67% could not give a coherent explanation of what socialism is.
    Among those ages 18-29 only 16% could give a coherent explanation of socialism.
    My point here is that under freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the United States the people of the United States have been brainwashed into believing socialism is what exists in Cuba or what existed in the Soviet Union, China , DRPK or ANYWHERE in the world at anytime.
    when in fact, there has never been a socialist economy or a socialist society.
    If you would like to know why I suggest you go to You Tube and request “Chomsky on socialism” and listen to what one of the world’s leading intellectuals and leftists has to say about that.
    If you’re a citizen of the U.S., the chances that you know what socialism is run 2-1 against you.
    Is the government-run Cuban press as bad as that ?


  • Cuban media have but one message which is that all should comply with the dictate of the Castro family regime and the Communist Party of Cuba. The journalists who provide what little information is disseminated are all employed by the State – there is but one master.
    If one seeks on the web copy of Granma in English, the most recent copy is dated December 2014. That is of little importance however as in pursuit of the belief that “No news is good news” Granma refrains from providing any.
    Expecting “ethics” from a communist press is a contradiction, like the use by communists of the word ‘democracry’, it is meaningless. Misinformation is an art practiced and perfected by the KGB who instructed MININT including General Alejandro Castro Espin head of Cuba’s security services.
    In seeking what he describes as “the necessary truths”, Frank Simon is faced with a Cuban dilemma. unless he can access the full internet. Back in 1968 when the uprising against communism in Czechoslovakia under the leadership of Alexander Dubcek took place, Fidel Castro said in supporting the use of tanks by the USSR and criticizing the Czech people seeking freedom:

    “certain measures were taken such as the establishment of a bourgeois form of freedom of the press. This means the counterrevolution and the exploiters, the very enemies of socialism, were granted the right to speak and write freely against socialism.”

    ‘Che’ Guevara said:

    “We must do away with all newspapers. A revolution cannot be accomplished with freedom of the press.”

    ‘Che’ Guevara also siad:

    “Youth should learn to think and act as a mass. It is criminal to think as an individual.”

    Clearly, Frank Simon is thinking as an individual in seeking information and that runs counter to the ideology of the Castro regime and to those who write in these pages supporting it!

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