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.
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.
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.
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.
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.