What Never Happened

Fernando Ravsberg

Photo by Caridad.
Photo by Caridad.

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 5 — I was in a recent debate organized by the magazine Temas, this time on how the image of Cuba is projected in the foreign press.  It was interesting but — as everyone now knows — the director of the forum told us that it was strictly forbidden to talk about anything that took place.

It’s a shame that it will be necessary to wait until they transcribe the proceedings, edit them, distribute them to the members of a review panel and finally publish them.   As such, a good bit of time will go by before an official version of the debate is released.

I will keep my word and not discuss what happened (otherwise they won’t let me in on future debates).  But I can talk about what didn’t happen, because Temas never prohibited me from disclosing things that didn’t occur.

For example, at no time did the three panelists from the national press speak about peace or understanding. The following day a young Cuban colleague synthesized the debate in Facebook saying that it was a “journey to the Moscow of Stalin.”

But the majority of the Cuban journalists in the audience didn’t pounce on us to rip out our jugulars.  Quite to the contrary, in their comments they rejected sterile criticism and argued more for improvements in self-criticism.

Nor was there participation by the foreign press.  None of us foreign journalists who were there spoke, despite insistent invitations by the Temas director.  The sole exception was one journalist who was invited to participate on the panel.

At the end, we journalists from Cuba, Miami and elsewhere abroad found ourselves outside the premises conversing in a relaxed atmosphere. There we agree about almost everything, and no one repeated that old line that we’re in opposed and irreconcilable ideological trenches.

Although it was not the “appropriate channel,” it was in the street when we all gave our opinions. And it didn’t matter a great deal if we acted that way out of irreverence or wariness, because both are important qualities among journalists.

There, in that street discussion, a colleague who lives in Miami showed us an article in which the editor of the most important newspaper in that city openly back-peddled under pressure from a group of anti-Castro demonstrators.

This had to do with a billboard demanding the freedom of five Cuban agents imprisoned in the US.  Though the sign was paid for by Cuban residents in Miami, in his mea culpa the editor described the act as “provocative and insulting to this community.”

The problem is that this newspaper slinks around like a shell-shocked mutt.  A few years ago they sought to do more objective coverage of Cuba but were hit with a campaign of boycotts and sabotage, which quickly returned them to the “politically correct” line.

In 2010, a colleague who worked for that same paper wrote in his blog, “In Miami, the job of informing the public is limited to an exercise that is compassionate in appearance: one only says what is wanted to be heard, seen or read.  But such a role is characteristic of ass-kissers, not of journalists.”

Certainly, on both shores of the Florida Strait, forms of ass-kissing journalism have been developed that — while pleasing to some politicians — contribute little to nations that desperately need to look at themselves in mirrors that reflects things how they are.
There’s no lack of journalists capable of such an enterprise. The sound self-criticisms of my Cuban colleagues who participated from the audience in the “debates” demonstrated to us that they have more than enough professional capacities and analytical abilities to embark upon a different path.

That journalism is latent, but its glimmer is barely perceived through Cubans who are able to escape the influence of their editors and directors (either because they work in mediums distant from political confrontation or because they create their own spaces on the Internet).

For decades the nation has received pamphlets alerting of empires on the edge of the abyss and the final hour of the Revolution.  Those messages now have such little credibility that the shots they fire are like salvos producing only a little noise and smoke.

Cubans know the press that they have, and I believe they also imagine the one they would have if the other extreme controlled the media.  They should choose between building something different or resigning themselves to living among secret debates, half-truths and patent lies.

An authorized Havana Times translation of the original post published by BBC Mundo.

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