Cuba’s Press: Dodging the Big Issues

Fernando Ravsberg*

Granma newspaper constantly blames the people for the country's problems. Photo: Raquel Pérez

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 16 — Would you trust a doctor who diagnosed you with a serious case of cancer and then, immediately afterwards, told you that you also had acne, and urgently prescribed only face cream to eliminate those nasty little pimples on your face?

That’s the feeling I got from a recent article in the Granma newspaper concerning the crisis in public transportation here. Only once did it mention the lack of spare parts, devoting the rest of the report to the lack of bus cleanliness, graffiti on the walls and the volume of the music.

As always, the criticisms were directed at ordinary people, those who work for the bus company and the passengers.

Not a single direct reference was made to the managers and administrators who fail to guarantee the supply of parts on time and thus cause the artificial shortage of vital transportation services.

No one would ever question the ban on smoking in buses, but that’s not the main problem. When one reads Granma (the “official organ” of the Central Committee of Communist Party of Cuba, PCC), they would hope to find the nation’s problems treated in greater depth.

It’s true that transportation officials refuse to grant interviews. I spent months trying to talk to them and I saw for myself what lengths they would go to in avoiding meetings where they figured they would have to respond to difficult questions.

But such refusals don’t warrant journalists dedicating themselves to delivering tirades against “acne.” That’s precisely what those who try to chase away the press want; they hope to avoid public scrutiny of their mismanagement and errors.

Granma doesn't explain why there is a shortage of buses. Photo: Raquel Pérez

As journalists, it’s our responsibility to pursue investigations in a parallel manner, furthering a diagnosis that will enable the country to discover the type of cancer it has, what caused it and the steps necessary for finding an effective treatment.

Instead, Granma prefers to use the average Cuban as the scapegoat, which seems an inconsistency for a newspaper whose spokesmen proclaim a “revolution of the downtrodden, for the downtrodden and by the downtrodden.”

They write about how people — like wide-mouth nestlings — expect the government to feed them, but they don’t explain that the Cuban model of socialism hasn’t allowed everyday people to fly. They blast individuals for cutting down trees, while remaining silent about there being no where to buy a miserable board.

The country expects full information about corruption in the area of telecommunications — where million-dollar scams have occurred with phone cards and the new underwater telephone cable — yet the official journalists prioritize the story about some guys stealing a couple of cellphones.

They blame wagon drivers for shortages but don’t dare to mention the gross inefficiencies of the Ministry of Agriculture. Now we have an entire article devoted to transportation problems without them having the guts to investigate why hundreds of brand new buses are sitting around idle.

They have the confidence that people won’t be able to respond, they even silence outraged revolutionaries. Journalist and university professor Elaine Diaz shows in her blog that the censorship of letters from readers is what works best at that newspaper.

Hundreds of new buses are inoperative without Granma daring to explain why. Photo: Raquel Pérez

Nobody in Cuba is so naive as to ask for ideological impartiality or political neutrality from a newspaper which defines itself as the “official organ” of the ruling party, but that doesn’t exempt it from complying with professional and ethical standards.

One would expect to find serious and deep reports in its pages, ones that were analytical and provided a multifaceted treatment of the issues – addressing these with honesty and courage so as to at least confront those who sabotage the policies of the PCC.

One would hope they would follow the directives of their own organization’s top leaders, who have already explained that the journalism they do doesn’t work and have urged them to fight against the cloak of silence that protects corruption.

However, it’s unlikely that progress will be made by begging Raul Castro to force officials to provide information or using the PCC National Conference as a Wailing Wall. As Jose Marti once said, “The great rights are not acquired through tears.”

Instead of continuing to wait for the good will of officials to supply the needed information, journalists could turn to average citizens, workers and even conscious leaders who are willing to speak off the record.

This year’s class of journalism students will soon be climbing Mount Turquino (the highest peak in the Sierra Maestra mountain range and a symbol of Fidel Castro’s guerrilla army). It might be pleasurable to dramatize the feats of former guerrillas, but if the new generation wants to play a leading role it must be able to fight its own battles.

For such an adventure, it’s not necessary to risk one’s life – like some of our colleagues are doing elsewhere. One does, however, have to be willing to lose their official job and work in the attempt to do professional, honorable, ethical and courageous journalism.


*An authorized Havana Times translation of the original published by BBC Mundo.

4 thoughts on “Cuba’s Press: Dodging the Big Issues

  • I suspect the real problem with the transportation system lies more with Cuba’s inability to pay its creditors; as a consequence, the Chinese aren’t selling them needed spare parts for the Yutong flexi-buses, or only on a cash basis. Of course GRANMA won’t go to the root of the story, but instead blames the passengers, the bus drivers, the mechanics, and the low-level transportation bureaucrats. It will be interesting to see how this problem plays out in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy as the economic situation worsens. Perhaps an alternative is to come up with home-grown solutions to the problems with the transportation system, such as trying to manufacture such spare parts in garage workshops, as have saved the 1950’s cars for more than a half-century, or buying such “after-market” spare parts on the international black market, or encouraging more colectivos, camiones, horse-drawn jitneys, motos and electric scooters, etc.

  • This employee of the viciously and relentlessly anti-Cuban mouthpiece of the UK regime has a real nerve puffing himself up as the judge of Cuban journalistic standards.

    He wouldn’t know “professional, ethical and courageous journalism” if it ran him over in the street. Just take a look at his unprofessional, unethical and cowardly complicity in the shameful Villar case of media propaganda fakery, here:

  • in many English Speaking Caribbean Islands, elderly used to tell their children a story, in order to explain their stern discipline, as they prepared their offspring for life. It went like this.

    A mother loved her only so much, that no complaint from his teacher, neighbors and friends, were ever heeded. She assumed her son could do nothing wrong.

    Her condoning attitude led her son to make bigger mistakes, greater mischief and a more dangerous behavior.

    One day, he held up a store and killed the shopkeeper, for which he was found guilty and sentenced to the gallows.

    After being sentenced to death, the judge asked if he had a last wish, to which he responded positively.

    The Judge then asked, what was his desire, to which he responded, that he be allowed to give his mother a last kiss.

    His wish was granted and as he hugged his mother tightly, she screamed loudly, as he bit off her ear……for failing to listen, which could have saved him from his death.

  • Mr. Ravsberg naïvete would be so touching, except for the fact this gentlement knows very well Cuban journalist don’t do journalism. They are just little rusty gears spinning “news” out of the party propaganda mills; mere mouthpieces of this very bureaucracy wich keeps buses and glasses of milk away from the people.

    Besides what Raul says it’s very different from what he does; will be foolish take that chance.

    I guess the greenhorns know better: after climbing down the Turquino they will follow tradition, and Granma/JR for years to come will keep their vital roll as the national toilet papers.

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