The First Act of Censorship in Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg

HAVANA TIMES — On June 12, 1494, Admiral Cristobal Colon ended his trip along the Cuban coastline. When he’d confirmed the fact that it was indeed an island, he forced all of his men to sign a certificate where they claimed that Cuba was in fact a continent, “mainland, the beginning of the Indias.”

As there is always a disobedient person in a group who is a fan of the truth, he established a 10,000 Maravedi fine for every time somebody said that it was an island. To whomever insists on saying that Cuba is an island “they will be given 100 whip lashes and will have their tongues cut off.”

In the end, this measure was useless, even Castilla got ear of the truth, which served to weaken the Admiral’s credibility in the eyes of the Catholic Kings. As was to be expected, his enemies used these “tweaks” to reality in order to defame and marginalize Don Cristobal.

Some 522 years after that first great act of censorship, we must admit that things in Cuba have changed quite substantially, we no longer pay fines, and nobody loses their tongue or receives whip lashes, although people are still fired from their jobs for telling the truth.

Popular wisdom that says that it’s faster to catch a liar than a lame person has existed for centuries. If, traveling in caravels, the truth only took a few months to reach the Spanish Court, now in the era of web surfing, that time has been cut significantly.

However, the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC) believes that it can hide their discussions away from the public so that they aren’t “twisted by false bits of gossip on social media and on the Internet’s stormy waters, by means of ideological amputation and opportunistic surgical bias.”

Over 500 years later, whip lashes and cut tongues are no longer literal.
Over 500 years later, whip lashes and cut tongues are no longer literal.

If UPEC manages for the issues they discuss at their meetings of thousands of journalists remain secret to the public, they could sell the formula to Washington, which is suffering a hemorrhaging of Pentagon and State Department secret information being leaked.

The surprising Journalists Association editorial ended up committing a full-blown hara-kiri. They say that the Cuban media should be respected “even though they don’t always tell us everything, keep silent what is urgently needs to be said or doesn’t express it witfully or eloquently.”

Our Cuban colleagues deserve respect; a lot of them are very capable professionals who have spent all of their lives trying to change things, in spite of Colon’s disciples. Their tongues are cut so that they only communicate half-truths to the population or remain silent, if it isn’t convenient to mention either half of the truth.

However, it would be too condescending to demand respect for a media that has spent decades only reporting politically correct news to the Cuban people, silencing dozens of other issues and haven’t even been able to make this propaganda “witfully or eloquently.”

Nothing changes in spite of the fact that UPEC congresses repeatedly discuss the same issues from the time decades ago when Julio Garcia Luis led this association. And nothing will change while the current relationship between media, party and State exists.

Many politicians in the world would love to have a media that doesn’t investigate, that doesn’t ask difficult questions, that only goes when they are summoned and that repeats everything that they are told without assessing the relevance of what is being said or proving its truthfulness.

3.When you lose credibility, information is transformed into a loaded gun with blank bullets. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz
When you lose credibility, information is transformed into a loaded gun with blank bullets. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

And since always, there will be the disobedient people who love truth, the censors have a punishment apparatus which can call for “100 whip lashes” against any journalist. Just like what seems to have happened recently with Jose Ramirez Pantoja or with the report on Coppelia by Juventud Rebelde.

It would be very difficult to undo the relationship that has been forged between the media-party-State because it is very convenient for the politicians who would need to approve any change. For now though, they are trying to create a new journalism within the old framework, which implies expecting a different result from doing the same thing.

When credibility is lost, information is transformed into a weapon loaded with blank bullets. Reality won’t change because it does in the news reports and Cuba will continue to be an island no matter what the first great censor and his most excellent disciples say.

One thought on “The First Act of Censorship in Cuba

  • Do not quite know where to start? Censorship?

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