Cuba’s Press: Heroic Guerrilla or Inept Army?

Fernando Ravsberg

Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, May 26 – I read the interview by my colleague Guillermo Nova of the Cuban blogger and journalist Enrique Ubieta, in which the latter compares the national press to a guerrilla army facing the powerful information transnationals.

I reviewed writings by Che Guevara and other experts on the subject, and I was left with the impression that the Cuban media seems very little like a guerrilla army.  In fact, they more closely resemble a regular military force – centralized and directed with terrible strategies.

A guerrilla movement is conscious, from the very beginning of their struggle, that the correlation of forces does not favor them, but they see daily combat as a means of growing and becoming an army capable of reaching victory.

On the contrary, those who direct the official press in Cuba spend their lives complaining that their enemy is too powerful and concede in advance that the war is lost.  “We’ll do what we can do, but they’ll continue attacking us,” they’ve told me with resignation.

If Fidel Castro had been guided by similar concepts, he would have never attacked the Moncada Barracks or went up into the Sierra Maestra Mountains.  Today he would surely be retired on the family farm in Biran, Holguin, complaining about the might of Batista’s army.

Decades on the Defensive

Another characteristic of a guerrilla is their offensive mentality.  Their success lies in constant attack.  Contrastingly, the Cuban press has spent decades on the defensive, limiting itself to responding to attacks while never leaving its trenches.

And they haven’t the most minimal guerrilla agility.  When the courts in the US acquitted Luis Posada Carriles, it took them several days to present that fact to the relatives of the victims of his attacks, thereby achieving inconsequential international repercussion.

The guerrilla constantly looks for their enemy’s weak sides, to hit and run.   They move in small autonomous groups and are able to operate without contact with the central command.  The offensive of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos [in the war against Batista] is a good example.

Contrastingly, the press here operates with suffocating centralization, consulting on each word that’s written by functionaries who barely know the issues, are distant from reality, behind the times and lacking in information.

Some Cuban intellectuals are asking for the press to continue being guided by the Communist Party instead of by the government.  The fact is that it won’t make any difference if there aren’t changes in people’s mentalities, concepts and strategies.

Several of my colleagues who were recently invited to a meeting with Cuban authorities were surprised by the lack of knowledge they have regarding the operation of the foreign media.

Clinging to old models

The country changes quickly but the press continues to cling to old models that have only resulted in its loss of credibility in the eyes of the Cuban people while their enemies continue attacking them with complete success.

One Cuban communist intellectual wrote that the press is still far from reflecting the true country (3).  Moreover, things are going to worsen if they’re not able to meet the standards of a time when new technologies and social networks demand agility, autonomy and creativity.

Because of the Internet and parabolic antennas, the Cuban government’s informational monopoly is increasingly being eroded.  Every day, growing number of citizens obtain access to other sources where they can search for the information that the national press denies them.

In Cuba there exists a group of journalists who are well prepared and anxious to climb into the ring, but some believe that they are blocked by powerful internal forces that shun transparency to protect their own spurious and opportunistic interests.

Others warn with a Chinese analysis of the USSR when they affirm that one of the causes for the collapse was that the Soviet party lost control over the intellectuals, academic circles and the press.

The analysis should be a little deeper because more basic things have already failed when the party in power needs to have control over the press, intellectuality and academics to prevent the system from collapsing.

In turn, singer/songwriter Silvio Rodriguez jumped into the controversy saying that the vision of Cuban journalism should be to follow that of Raul’s, as he called on my colleagues from the island to combat the bureaucracy.  To follow that vision necessarily implies a head-on collision with their bosses.

The apparent contradiction is that they are asking journalists to join in the battle for change but under the control of the same people who have led them into defeat and whose greatest concern seems to be punishing those who are “undisciplined.”

Raul Castro’s speeches and Alfredo Guevara’s conferences are incitements to rebellion by journalists.  Are they proposing that opportunities be won at the cost of running risks and making sacrifices, like in the old guerilla school of war?

It seems they are hoping for my colleagues to unleash their own internal battle and from that will emerge suitable heads, ones capable of standing up even to their own editors, those who will write without consulting others up above but will assume the consequences with no regrets.


An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.



4 thoughts on “Cuba’s Press: Heroic Guerrilla or Inept Army?

  • A great mataphor, Fernando! Which reminds me, if GRANMA [the boat] had been like GRANMA [the newspaper], it would have caused its occupants to fall into a deep and profound slumber, and they would have foundered on a reef, or crashed against some rocks (as it was, GRANMA got stuck on some tidal mudl flats, and the rebels had to wade through a maze of mangroves, not to mention that Batistas army, having been forewarned, was already looking for them; hence a seemingly impossible situation–yet the Revolution triumphed!). In the past 45 years, GRANMA has been more like some sort of government gazette, like our own CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, rather than like a real newspaper. GRANMA’s usual headline is about the President of Burkina Faso, or a delegation from some equally as obscure place, visiting with Raul (or, before him, Fidel). You don’t need journalists to write such articles–only a “fill-in-the-blank” template!

  • John,

    “Several times I have pointed to the website to show that things are changing in Cuba”
    please, do not forget, at least one contributor to has lost his job for what he has expressed on these pages.

  • I don’t think the Cuban government or the PCC should hire people who are critical of the revolution in ways that would bring conflict to those government controlled organizations.

    I believe that the PCC and the government should have Granma and the few other publications to express the positions of the government and the party and their conception of the revolution as it is and as it should be.
    This especially so unless and until the U.S ends its war on Cuba’s version of socialism which is corrupted by rule from the top to the point where people like Noam Chomsky have said that it cannot be called socialism without effective WORKER control.

    Then Cuba needs an independent press along the lines of wherein CUBANS can voice their criticisms and we in the outside world can get an honest look that neither the very pro-system Granma nor the crazy Miami Herald provide the reader in the U.S.

    The government does not gain by suppressing an open media in these times. The internet gets through and Cubans, not allowed to read much criticisms of their own systems then get the lies, exaggerations, propaganda that all that comes out of the government parroting U.S media.

    Honesty is the best policy.

    Let it all out but DO jail anyone critical of the revolution found to be in the pay of the United States.

    One last thing. I frequently debate with people about things Cuban. I have found an enormous aid in responding to people who make the (until now) valid commentary about lack of freedom of the press in Cuba which goes a long way to make Cuba out to be totalitarian or Stalinist.

    Several times I have pointed to the website to show that things are changing in Cuba and that the havanatimes is written by Cubans and not censored by the government and those critics are just stopped in their tracks at that point.

    Cuba needs more of this to get the CUBAN side of things out there.

    The PCC and the government…

  • All well said, Fernando. But why won’t you ever speak to the effect the dysfunctional PCC model of socialism has on the world socialist movement?

    Whether you or the PCC knows it, there is a world socialist movement. Whatever Cuba or any other socialist country does either retards or advances it. But the Cubans and all those who write about what’s happening in Cuba never say one word about the implications Cuban policies have on us poor transformationaries struggling for and hoping for a socialist world.

    I have great admiration for you and your articles, but please enlarge the discussion a bit and think about the international struggle.

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