HAVANA TIMES — Reading La esquina de Lilith (“Lilith’s Corner”), a blog by fellow journalist Lilibeth Alfonso, I found out that authorities in Cuba’s province of Guantanamo had decided to prohibit the “package,” that compendium of films, TV series, reality shows and soap operas distributed across the country every week.
Parallel to this, Abel Prieto, the president’s cultural advisor, declared that “we’re not going to prohibit things. Prohibition makes the forbidden fruit, the obscure object of desire, attractive. We’re fighting the wave of banalization and frivolity, and not in order to prohibit anything, but to help people make discerning decisions.”
This measure in Guantanamo is also being taken the same week in which the government’s plan to offer Cubans broad access to the Internet within a 5-year period has been announced. Thus, barring the package seems as stupid as murdering a patient in terminal condition.
Whenever I travel and I want to see a TV series or movie, I simply connect to the Internet, where one can find a lot of free content, and other materials for which one pays a small monthly fee, such as those in Netflix – the same Company that has just extended its services to Cuba.
In a few years, Cubans will not need the package to watch TV shows and new releases. This may be why Prieto insists that “it’s puerile to think we can control the cultural content of what young people watch.”
The Media Battle in Latin America
It would seem Prieto’s suggestions aren’t reaching Guantanamo and that the opinions of world experts that met in Havana for the conference on the new scenarios of political communication in the digital age are falling on deaf ears.
I availed myself of that opportunity to meet with experts from different Latin American countries and hear of their experiences. Countries that are involved in a kind of media duel that is very similar to the one Cuba might confront as its new relations with the US develop proved particularly interesting.
In several countries in the region, there are groups that control most of the local press and attack governments when these undertake social programs. There, digital media and networks have become the only hope of countering the propaganda of the Right.
Good examples of this was the involvement of the media in the coup against Chavez in 2002, the protests staged against Cristina Kirchner over the redistribution of grain export surpluses and the very recent attacks on Rafael Correa for raising taxes applied on multi-million-dollar inheritances in Ecuador.
To counter this, governments have had to implement changes, because the slow mechanisms of State bureaucracy proved inefficient. “We have a mere 3 hours to respond from the first indications that one of these propaganda campaigns has been launched.”
“There is no time to consult with other government bodies, we have autonomy to respond,” one of the experts says, adding that they work “24 hours, every day of the week, because a campaign could start at 1:00 in the morning.”
On the Offensive
“Our aim is not to defend ourselves but to show the people what the government is doing to improve their lives. Today, governing well is not enough, one has to be able to show this to people,” another expert explains.
They explain the fact that “the press on our continent is monopolized by families and economic interest groups that try to discredit any measure taken to favor the poorest and, on occasion, they are capable of turning those sectors against us.”
“But there’s more of us and we have an even fight in cyberspace and social networks,” they say, making it clear that it’s impossible to be efficacious and control everything. “One has to trust one’s partners, because autonomy is the only thing that gives us the needed speed and response times.”
I can’t help but think about the bureaucratized press system in Cuba, where the media operate in such a centralized fashion that they need to secure permission for something as simple as reporting on an earthquake in Santiago de Cuba or a power-cut that affects half the country.
Google Offers Free, Cuba-Wide Wi-Fi
Diplomatic sources have informed Cartas desde Cuba, my blog, that during their last visit to the island, Google executives offered the government to freely install Wi-Fi antennas throughout the country, so as to make Internet services available to 70 % of the population within 3 years.
This may be the reason why Cuban Vice-President Miguel Diaz Canel warns that “the change in tactics but not of objectives in US government policy towards Cuba drives home the need to make make further progress in the development of digital technologies in Cuba.”
For decades, the United States tried to create hunger and despair on the island to bring about the overthrow of the government. The “change in tactics” appears to be the preamble to a political, cyberspace war to conquer the hearts and minds of Cubans.
While all of this takes place in the real world, the “defenders of the faith” continue to inhabit a tiny, parallel reality, occupied by their pyrrhic war against the package and monitoring everything Cuban journalists write on the web.
They’ve already destroyed the credibility of the local press. Now, they dream with spreading out into cyberspace, building an even larger and improved censorship apparatus. They are unable to understand that, were they to achieve this, they would thereby create the world’s most inefficient political communication tool.