Some Challenges Facing Cuba’s Press

Esteban Morales*

Entrance to Havana Bay. photo:Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Everything seems to indicate that there are now two presses in Cuba. There’s one that some want all of us to read, and another one that reaches only 10 percent of the population (though summaries of it are broadcast over “Radio Bemba” [“Radio Lips,” or the grapevine], which Raul Castro himself once said transmits better than the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television).

Since the time that President Raul Castro made that statement, however, there have now come into existence email and internet, which are highly efficient means for circulating information that our press still doesn’t dare to even think about printing.1

The written press, which has two main national newspapers, often duplicates the news, making it possible to find the same things in both papers.2

These are newspapers that people purchase every day with the hope of seeing major events and especially their concerns reflected in an open, fresh and frank way – which is to say, what everyone is talking about and asking on the street.

People ask: What’s happening with all this corruption? Whatever became of the underwater cable that was assured would connect us to Venezuela and the world? When will the output of the Cuban agriculture system start reflecting more produce at lower prices? When will we see the changes in immigration regulations, something that was energetically promised? When will we actually be able to read the text of the new tax law? What will happen with the accumulation of negative opinions concerning the latest customs regulations? And so on…

This written press seems like something that’s not really Cuban. It’s too over-simplified, too secretive, too bland. It has almost nothing to do with the unique character and nature of Cubans, who laugh even their own misfortunes.

It’s a press that’s able to ferret out all the negatives concerning the United States, sometimes putting news about that country on the front page when that same information doesn’t even take up a tenth of a page in USA Today, the most popular newspaper in the United States.

There’s no doubt that lately we’ve begun to note that our press is making an effort, but it’s still far from meeting the expectations of the average citizen. To some extent, this can be seen in the Friday section of the official Granma newspaper and in a few sporadically published articles.

The Havana Bay tunnel. photo: Caridad

Next year’s announced congress of the Cuban Journalist’s Association (UPEC) will inevitably have to “grab the bull by the horns” if we really want to have a press in line with our times.

This would be a press that serves as an effective instrument for criticism, for improving the economic model and changing people’s collective mentality, which has been requested by the top leadership of the country.

Nonetheless, despite these modest gains, it’s sad to see that our national newspapers are losing readers. Those who buy them do so almost by inertia (or because there aren’t any alternatives) hoping to someday find in these dailies what concerns them or what they want to know about and learn.

Unquestionably, with a press like this, the battles to be waged have been lost in advance. The reasons for this include the following:

• The public has gotten tired of reading newspapers that don’t reflect our real life situation or what’s happening overall.

• The gap between what the media reflects and reality has introduced skepticism and suspicion.

• People have begun looking around for better alternatives – which is very dangerous.

• Average citizens are turning to the national radio, which is always spontaneous, and from there they are accessing foreign broadcasts, some of which even broadcast in Spanish, with many directed specifically at Cuba (the worst of which is so-called “Radio Marti”).3

• A mindset is being created whereby people seek information on events in Cuba from sources abroad — news that should be available here — handing the breaking news and information from the island on a silver platter to the foreign media.4

• Citizens have become more perceptive of trumped-up stories and the distortion of information.

• There is a lack of more realistic, democratic, open news coverage that permanently eliminates secrecy, censorship and old, dogmatic and apologetic approaches.

• We are missing out on the inclusion of revolutionary Cuban intellectuals who can reflect more realistic ideas, in addition to open and intelligent criticism. People are distanced from those who can confront counterrevolutionary criticism from positions that recognize our shortcomings, before the enemy throws them in our face and turns those arguments into arms for conducting subversive diplomacy, something which is promoted by the policy of “regime change” advocated by the current US administration.

• We haven’t grasped the fact that the enemy’s technological superiority doesn’t have to be a disadvantage for us if we wisely use the weapons of truth, consistency, systematic criticism and the valuable revolutionary scientific and intellectual potential that’s available.

A society that in the middle of an information revolution tries to control the ears and eyes of its citizens will not survive. Recovering people’s confidence is becoming exceedingly difficult because they are now reacting to the absence and the poor quality of information. It’s like something that belonging to them or owed to them is being stolen from them or that power is being used to deny them what’s theirs.

This is a feeling that is now dangerously gaining ground among us. What’s more, it’s quite legitimate, as even the top leadership of the country has criticized the press, speaking about its numerous shortcomings – among them secrecy.

It was the president himself who opened the channels of criticism and has pushed for the press to follow his call. But there has been no change as a result, while people continue to wait with increasing impatience for what still hasn’t occurred.

Esteban Morales. photo: Patricia Grogg/IPS

Nonetheless, a significant share of the revolutionary intelligentsia is finding space on the national intranet and the internet. Though only a limited number of people have access to this medium, articles and comments by our intellectuals are being spread across the country through email, reaching a number of people that’s greater than what might be assumed.

But unfortunately, the internet benefits from that, relaying information and commentary to Cuba that the country itself should provide [in it media].

That is the damage we’re doing with this “overzealous” approach to the internet, which is more harmful than what the internet itself could do to us. In order to survive in this world in which we live, it’s demanded that we confront the risks of being in it.

How can we reverse that equation in which our national media are also beginning to lose face internationally?

The shortcomings and inadequacies of the Cuban press and media also have negative repercussions abroad, where there’s great interest in the events and the situation in Cuba due to the very concerns raised by criticisms of the situation on the island and because criticism is now recognized in official discourse.

Even many foreign friends of Cuba are concerned about what’s happening on the island, but they feel that they don’t receive sufficient reliable information about our circumstances. They realize that the Cuban press doesn’t provide this information and that it is more realistic to learn about Cuba via the internet, intranet and other alternative media sources.

Various revolutionary and non-revolutionary blogs, as well as online magazines — such as Espacio Laical, La Ceiba, Observatorio Critico, Moncada, SPD (Socialismo Participativo y Democratico), Café Fuerte, Havana Times, La Joven Cuba and others — are moving forward. They are capturing the attention of readers outside Cuba who are looking for more objective, daring, critical news, as well as information that is generally more consistent with the challenges everyone knows the country is facing.

This information simply isn’t provided in the national press, which usually presents an almost idyllic image of the country, lacking sufficient critiques, masking difficulties and disagreements, hardly reflecting our reality and only doing so in a timid, secretive and restricted fashion.

In this way they prevent our potential friends outside of Cuba from knowing enough, not only about what our problems are but also the arguments needed to support us.

This involves a phenomenon that I don’t think the national media clearly perceives, because often those foreign friends suffer from the same problems we do in Cuba: they defend inflexibility, self-censorship, give insufficient recognition to what’s negative here, serve as apologists and build solidarity blindly. These are vices that we ourselves, Cuban revolutionaries, have transmitted from here in Cuba on more than a few occasions.

In front of the Havana Capitolio Building. photo: Caridad

How do we get out of this disinformation quagmire so that defending the Cuban revolution today is more realistic, more conscious, more in line with the challenges now facing the country? How do we do this so that our people can gain trust our press and so that our friends abroad can be of greater help in confronting the avalanche of counterrevolutionary criticism?

These days, counterrevolutionary criticism is undoubtedly more intelligent and more scientific, since it often relies not on simple lies, the gross distortion of events or the exaggeration of our problems; instead, it takes advantage of our real problems. They present them in a more sophisticated and more finely manipulated manner, while searching for discouragement, confusion and apprehension in our solutions.

I think there is only one path for our press to follow to overcome these situations. As long as our media fails to achieve this alliance, everyone will is on their, each with their arms (some quite rusty), and we’ll be no more than a horde that is divided by mistrust, dogmatism, rationalization.

Moreover, we will suffer from the elitism of some who — from their positions of power —  adopt the attitude of “pure” defenders while they label others to be no more than liberals who want to hand over the job of defending the revolution to its enemies.


Notes:

1 There are excellent journalists (like Jorge Gomez Barata, Felix Sautie, Fernando Ravsberg) whose articles would contribute substantially to our press; however none of them are welcome there. On more than a few occasions, when in-depth writings are published here that deal with the problems of today’s world, these are merely “refried” articles originating from foreign authors, though Cuba has plenty of people capable of writing about these issues. We are observing a true divorce between the so-called official press and the nation’s intelligentsia.

2 No doubt there’s a personality problem between the two newspapers, which basically affects the youth newspaper (Juventud Rebelde), which inevitably devotes a great deal of space to repeating news that isn’t relevant to its young readers. They will run what appears in Granma, the official newspaper of the Party, but very little about the problems of youth.

3 No mention is made here about the phenomenon of the proliferation of CDs with all types of programs that circulate throughout the domestic network. This relates to a problem that is similar to that of the written press but which relates to our TV programming; it is harshly criticized not because of its lack of resources, but because its lack of creativity.

4 On the night of this past September 9, a significant portion of the country suffered a black out and the national broadcast of Radio Reloj was unable to inform people what was happening – something that wouldn’t have happened a few years ago.

(*) An authorized Havana Time translation of the original published by Esteban Morales on his blog.


9 thoughts on “Some Challenges Facing Cuba’s Press

  • September 26, 2012 at 9:48 am
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    ‘Griffin’, this is OLD NEWS. Besides, you posted a comment to it already – it WAS you wasn’t it? lol.

    Hmmmm…. it seems even not so top propagandists screw up – bad memory or a ‘rostering’ problem?

    Here’s the link to refresh your memory – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=78944&cpage=1

  • September 26, 2012 at 9:39 am
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    You don’t seem to appreciate the “variety of viewpoints” being expressed on the HT website. Maybe its because it’s not the variety you like.

    You are quite mistaken, the “Lawrences of the world” do “appreciate & embrace a variety of view points” – and reply to them honestly and without an agenda of supporting any government, unlike ‘Griffin’ of course.
    So you don’t think there

  • September 26, 2012 at 9:29 am
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    Of course the links have a point of view. The current capitalist media model that offers multiple points of view, but is overwhelming lopsided in amount of content supporting the corporate elite view – and that’s not counting the ad content – is designed to make it look like the reporting is objective and open. It’s not. In other words, it’s disguised propaganda, what ‘Moses’ likes.

    What makes the sources in the links “hardly independent”? Independent of what? A point of view, it seems.

    There’s a current attempt in the capitalist world to present consistent points of view as something undesirable and inconsistent points of view as something that has value. Obama flip-flopping on lifting the blockade, for example shows ‘flexibility’, not someone you can’t trust to keep a campaign promise.

    I ran into one of Toronto’s city councillors recently. He’s known for his inconsistent voting, sometimes supporting Toronto’s homophobic, car-loving, anti-public library, city regulation-breaking mayor, and at other times voting with the liberal wing of the council.

    I asked him about it and he said he didn’t want to tie into the “left-right divide”. This is code for wanting to be free to assemble wedges of voters at will, a hallmark of the Rovian wedge model of politics I’ve written about elsewhere.

    In short, ‘Moses’ represents an element that wants to eliminate ethics and ideals and replace them with Machiavellianism and ‘Vicar of Bray’ behaviour (from an English folksong – “And this is law that I’ll maintain, Until my dying day, Sir, That whatsoever king may reign, Still I’ll be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!”).

    Of course he does – he’s a capitalist – ethics and ideals except for servicing bottom lines play no part in his system.

    ‘Moses’ claims I fail to acknowledge there is “a variety of opinions and points of view”. But look at what he is doing – more than simply expressing opinions and points of view. Every day ”Moses’ posts dozens of ‘comments’ that are clearly designed not for dialogue, but to sell US policies – using out and out techniques of propaganda.

    The effort he spends goes beyond obsessive behaviour and falls into the role of a dedicated propagandist – propaganda designed to foment dissent, deflect the role the US is playing in being responsible for Cuban’s economic problems, promoting insurrection and selling an economic system the rest of the world is finally beginning to understand has serious and fatal flaws.

    ‘Moses’ hopes I will come to “appreciate” and “embrace” this “as healthy and useful”. I’m sure he does.

    “Cuba and Lawrence”, ‘Moses’ writes, “view criticism as a threat to sovereignty instead of a means to assess progress”. You might wonder where that came from – certainly nothing you will have read on HT. In fact, HT is predicated on being able to offer criticism of the Cuban government

    Criticism is not a threat, but propagandists disguised as critics need to be dealt with.

  • September 21, 2012 at 12:39 pm
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    Speaking of “challenges facing Cuba’s press”, this is interesting news:

    Mairelys Cuevas Gomez, the managing editor of Castro’s official newspaper Granma, has defected to the U.S.

    According to Cafe Fuerte, Cuevas Gomez fled during a recent trip to Mexico, where she made her way to the U.S. border and asked for the refugee protections granted to Cuban nationals under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

    She is now residing in Miami.

    Hmmmm…. it seems even the top propagandists don’t believe the propaganda anymore.

  • September 21, 2012 at 11:19 am
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    I do expect Cuba to grow to appreciate & embrace a variety of view points. There are too many Cuban voices working toward reform and democracy to be ignored. The repression cannot last forever.

    Alas, I do not expect the Lawrences of the world ever will.

  • September 19, 2012 at 7:01 pm
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    The links submitted by ¨Lawrence W¨ consistently present a point of view counter to the point of view of the corporate elite. But make no mistake, they are hardly independent. They too have an agenda. What Lawrence apparently fails to acknowledge is that the world is big enough for a variety of opinions and points of view. The hope is that Cuba and Lawrence will grow to appreciate this and embrace disagreement as healthy and useful for growth. Cuba and Lawrence, it seems, view criticism as a threat to soveriegnty instead of a means to assess progress. Still there is hope for both of them.

  • September 18, 2012 at 11:27 am
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    Esteban,

    You write about “the damage we’re doing with this ‘overzealous’ approach to the internet, which is more harmful than what the internet itself could do to us.” I have written about my feeling that the Cuban government is extremely shortsighted in not opening up the internet to all Cubans but I’m not as convinced as you that the price to pay will not be greater than not having it.

    Still, the risk must be taken, I feel. Cubans can mitigate that risk the same way that we do in Canada and the US – too few, unfortunately. I wrote I had higher hopes that Cubans, better educated as a whole, will be able to avoid the pitfalls – chiefly, getting mesmerized by the sensationalism that is difficult to resist and exposing yourself to propagandists that makes what ‘Moses’ writes look like .baby talk.

    I do worry, however, when you write that Cuba puts US news “on the front page when that same information doesn’t even take up a tenth of a page in USA Today, the most popular newspaper in the United States.” Of course. It’s why American papers can claim they are ‘unbiased’ – they publish trivialities about subjects damaging to the power structure.

    It’s a propaganda technique that has succeeded in convincing its citizenry for the most part they have ‘balanced news’ – the notorious catch phrase Fox News, the most unbalanced media of all, uses. I wondered before whether Cuba should use the same methods to make it appear to its citizens that Cuba has unfettered news reporting. It obviously works.

    The reality is, both of our official media – state in your case, corporate here – present unrealistic pictures of our respective countries, “lacking sufficient critiques, masking difficulties and disagreements, hardly reflecting our reality and only doing so in a timid, secretive and restricted fashion.” Ours has just learned how to disguise what they are doing more.

    Counterrevolutionary propaganda is indeed ‘branching out’ attempting to take advantage of Cuba’s real problems, presenting them “in a more sophisticated and more finely manipulated manner, while searching for discouragement, confusion and apprehension in our solutions” as you wrote.

    As an example, notice how ‘Moses’ distorts your comments about “foreign friends” that offers valid and constructive criticism of what some do. He writes that your “comments regarding foreigners who support the regime was spot on”, adding his criticism, hoping we will take it for yours: “Foreigners, some who frequently comment here on Havana Times, get so caught up in discussing what is ALSO wrong in the US or Canada…”

    This is a continuous refrain from ‘Moses’. Offering a perspective to propaganda is like holding up a crucifix to Dracula.

    I would like to offer some news links I find to be useful to help prepare for when internet access can be used in Cuba as a regular news source, to help steer around corporate media like USA Today. There are others in Spanish as well that you can quickly find but this will give some idea of what independent news looks like in English.

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/
    http://www.counterpunch.org/
    http://www.aljazeera.com/
    http://rabble.ca/
    http://therealnews.com
    http://www.democracynow.org/
    http://www.motherjones.com/

  • September 18, 2012 at 9:55 am
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    From ‘Moses’, “This post however was perfect”? Time to start worrying Esteban. Bet he choked on what you wrote about Radio Marti though, so like what ‘Moses’ writes you would think he works for them.

  • September 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm
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    I am genuinely impressed with this post. Sr. Morales was able to do what is seldom done by Castro supporters. He has written a self’-critical essay without the need to bash the US. I don´t usually agree with him but I support his thoughtful approach. This post however was perfect. HIs comments regarding foreigners who support the regime was spot on. Foreigners, some who frequently comment here on Havana Times, get so caught up in discussing what is ALSO wrong in the US or Canada, that they fail to contribute to helping Cuba get it right. My wife is an exnewscaster in Cuba. In fact, she was a national newscaster on TV every morning six days a week. I know who writes the news and what news they choose to tell. Cuban news seldoms reports news that is untrue. It is what they fail to report that is the crux of problem. Good essay.

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