The Parallel Universes of the Cuban Press

Fernando Ravsberg*

New technologies will offer Cubans access to all of the world’s press. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz

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.

Latin American experts believe the Internet is the only place where the owners of the press in the continent can be combatted. Photo: Raquel Pérez Diaz

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.”

The “package” is public enemy number 1 for those who control the press 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.

(*) Visit Fernando Ravsberg’s website.

16 thoughts on “The Parallel Universes of the Cuban Press

  • Cubans, for the most part, don’t have access to the internet. The few Cubans who can aford it can avail themselves of “navigation halls”, where for the price of what a government worker earns in one month they can access the internet for 4 hours ($5 / hr) and they must sign a release and provide an ID. So lack of access = censorship in this instance.

    Also, I’m not worried that the NSA is collecting information about my online activities because they are not going to show up at my door. Cubans however have a munch more distinct concern.

  • John, Chomsky is one of my favorite writers and hope someday to meet him personally. I mentored kids for a while and one of them is in the forefront of your
    cause. I consider myself an independent thinker but run a business and like Whole Foods, my fellow workers aren’t employee’s but partners who share in all the after tax and expense profits. Not exactly Whole Foods but similar as in we don’t have jobs, we have a passion to make life better with service and class. What does this have to do with the above headline? I think there’s a mirror…

  • Dani, it might not be blocked but very few people have access to getting on-line to view these links. That’s the cruz of the problem and I’ve been screaming for years to
    stop the insanity and let every citizen in the US freely travel, and not with the BS
    I see where the cost is so ridiculous and we can’t use credit cards etc. In short end the embargo and inundate Cuba with the means to access news and social media sites.
    I have no doubt there will still be a high number who will support the present group running Cuba but my guess is many more will want to morph into a different paradigm and system. My emphasis is maintain independence and grow.

  • It is very easy to make allegations regarding motivation but very difficult to prove either way. Are there examples of people been arrested or punished for viewing Havana Times. I haven’t heard of any. Are there good grounds for people to be fearful of viewing an unblocked website. If the authorities were worried so much about people viewing the site then they would block it surely.

    The fact that the internet companies in Cuba are publicly owned is irrelevant. As we all know the NSA collects information from private internet companies in the same way. The company I work for also blocks many sites and monitors internet traffic.

  • John, I think we’re both not trying to make friends here but Cuba does have a special place in my heart with family related and people I did business with, shipping, years ago. They were Expatriates and not rabid or insane but logical and understanding as to what happened in 1959. I also lived in Hawaii for ten years, caucasian who developed and survived melanoma, and absolutely love the tropics. Oh, I left there after realizing that there was a direct correlation with what happened to the locals and why I was sometimes confronted as an invader. Finally, an Irish Citizen whose
    Grandmother was directly connected to the 1840’s famine that made us enemies of Great Britain and was told we would never solve the North/South Ireland problem. Well, we did and Cuba will solve the reconciliation with many on the US mainland and become a solid, independent country. One final thought, as a radical in the sixties one thing that I finally realized that to make changes we need to be open to discussion with those who are our direct opposites. Difficult but it sometimes works. Best- Mack ps- long and written after a glass of Spanish wine.

  • BJ.
    Anyone who both reads and suggests reading blahblablublog is not interested in democracy in Cuba but rather a return to what was.
    I doubt someone like Daley looks at anything on the other side of Cuban issues .
    Just as Fox News viewers (also far to the right) by close to 100% refuse to look at any other source for their information.

  • Good post.
    no, not just good but … an excellent post.
    I apologize for having misjudged you earlier and being unpleasant .
    (Now I have to go get those damned kids off my lawn. )

  • “Knowledge is power and totalitarian systems don’t want their subject society’s exposed to information that is not filtered, parceled and controlled to deliver a message the government wants seen”
    This also applies with no change of wording to the corporate U.S. media .
    You can read “Manufacturing Consent” by Chomsky and Herman for a complete understanding of why this is so .
    There is no person in the upper echelons of the corporate media who has not been long trained as to what he/she can say and not say .
    Rebels and those who do not toe the line never get to the top, never work at any of corporate media outlets in any decision-making position.
    For a good and quick idea of what is involved , you can go to ZNet and read any of the articles there that are about a subject you know something about and which are written and reprinted by writers who overwhelmingly are not part of the corporate media.
    Compare the content in these articles at Faux News and all the other corporate media outlets whence you normally get your information and see the big difference .
    In short, once the elite of any society take control of the government and media , the minds of those being ruled are under their control.
    Cuba, still being assailed by the U.S. for over 54 years has the economic cost of the ongoing embargo on which to place the blame .
    Were Cuba’s autochthonous economic structure not the threat to be a success that it certainly could be absent the embargo, the GOUSA would long ago have dropped that Cold War policy .
    As an anarchist I have deep doubts about the evolution of democratic practices being developed in a post-embargo Cuba since 55 years is plenty of time for the entrenched government and PCC to install control structures as any government under attack will do and then have these measures turned to stone.
    That said, hope remains for a democratic Cuba.
    All that needs be done is for the U.S. to drop its hostilities.
    And they won’t do it.
    It doesn’t make sense unless you understand that democratic socialism beginning and spreading in the world is the biggest danger to the wealthy who determine U.S. foreign policy
    The policy began with the joint U.S./European invasion of the nascent Soviet Union in 1918 and continues today.
    That policy won’t stop until capitalism is dead.

  • Fear and lack of access accomplish the same thing. The government has a tight control on the country’s telecommunications. There are only two Internet Service Providers; both are state-owned. Cubacel, a subsidiary of Cuba’s telecom authority ETECSA, is the only cellular carrier.

    With such control, Cuba doesn’t need cutting-edge Internet surveillance tools, but it does have software like Avila Link, which collects private information from public computers and monitors Internet activity.

    With real-world surveillance so widespread, Cubans “are paranoid that someone may be watching,” says Romero.

    At Internet cafes, Cubans have to provide an ID to use a computer, making anonymous use of the Internet nearly impossible. With all that comes self-censorship — and a sense of resignation.

  • Havana Times isn’t blocked in Cuba. Neither is the New York Times nor the Miami Herald.

  • I agree totally. I’m all for internet access across the board and let people make up their own minds. That’s different from insisting that Cuba be handed over to the Rupert Murdoch empire.

  • Was never a big fan of Castro, even in 1959 when some of my ex pat friends told me their parents supported him. I didn’t live in Cuba but my guess is that Batista was the bad guy and most would have tolerated satan just to get rid of him. In any case we both know that there are plenty of people in Cuba and around the world who like Castro so if you’re going to change what’s going on and not want to start a new revolution come up with a solution. My suggestion is open access to the internet. Simply, quick and will allow Cuban’s to make their own changes.

  • The best way for change will be access for the majority in Cuba to the internet. Forget about the nonsense that the US has been doing for decades, trying to reform Cuba, it’s insulting and counter productive. The people in Cuba, when they get the know how and capability to access on line will
    make the necessary changes for progressing into the 21st. century. Hopefully they will maintain their independence as well. The classic example on how a onetime backward country, Ireland, has leapt into the forefront of modern thinking was the social media’s revolution on that country being the first to legalize gay marriage. you can be for or against but that’s democracy at it’s best and Cuba isn’t far from that leap forward.

  • Why does the price of freedom with these socialist always seems to be to give them total control over your life so they can Ok what we can do ? In America media corporations have became the slaves of the people as they compete for ever less attention from the public for their products. For those that complain about Fox news the choice is to watch one of a 1,000 other channels. Nothing creates resentment more than restrictions on personal freedoms, what a mistake they are making on taking away the package.

    As to Cuba’s lingering concerns on change of tactics, don’t worry. The last thing the American public wants is to pick up Cuba’s bills. As Putin is finding out invading other countries is more expensive in the age of welfare and state pensions. The Crimea is costing Russia a fortune. Soon he will need to pick up the pensions cut off by kieve in Eastern Ukraine.

    Oh and American corporations don’t need cheap Cuban labor, plenty of that in the China these days. They signed up first.

  • I like the picture above of a computer terminal screen showing the words “Internet Access”. The key word is “Access”, a very dangerous thing for those in power. Knowledge is power and totalitarian systems don’t want their subject society’s exposed to information that is not filtered, parceled and controlled to deliver a message the government wants seen.

    This very site for example. Why is it that is difficult or impossible to access in Cuba? Obviously this must be a very dangerous website!

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