Cuba: Moves to censor journalists sparks controversy

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August 5, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — In recent months an important debate has opened up over the role and character of the press in socialist Cuba. As part of making this debate available to an English speaking audience, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal is publishing two translated pieces by Fernando Ravsberg and Esteban Morales. We hope to continue to run more articles covering different aspects of what is a critical discussion for the future of Cuba’s socialist revolution.

New limitations placed on Cuban journalists

By Fernando Ravsberg July 7, 2016 — Cartas Desde Cuba — Cuban journalists have received an order prohibiting them from working on the side in non-government media but the “resolution” was only communicated verbally. They say it is an initiative of the management of each press outlet, however, it is occurring in unison across the country. No written document exists nor has any political institution taken responsibility for the prohibition, and journalists consulted do not even know what will happen to those who fail to comply. My grandfather used to say that if you sow fear, you harvest obedience. Advocates of the prohibition told us that “this rule also applies at the BBC, CNN and El País”. The funny thing is that they copy the prohibitions but not the wages received by those international media journalists. When a reporter gets paid US$20 a month and is banned from performing other better paid journalistic collaborations on the side, they are being pushed to crime, professional corruption, to change jobs or leave the country. That is what the young colleagues from Santa Clara explained to the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC) in an impeccably argued letter, from a professional and a political point of view, because they are both journalists and members of the Communist Youth League. But it was a futile effort because, as recognized by the assistant director of Granma, Karina Marron, UPEC has no decision-making power, has no force and has been worn down discussing the same problems at meeting after meeting. In that same intervention, Karina recalled that those who decided “to study journalism did not choose so to work in political propaganda or advertising nor did they choose to remain silent on the sidelines, because otherwise they would have chosen another profession”. The reality is that the model of the Cuban media is taking in water on all four sides and the problems go beyond ethical or ideological issues. The national press is so inefficient it no longer even serves to promote government policy objectives. Some good examples is the silence when a transsexual is elected as a delegate to the People’s Power Assembly; when thousands of Cubans end up stranded in Costa Rica; when a blackout affects half the island; or when they fail to question Obama at a press conference. But these mediocre decisions are not made by journalists, as shown in the satirical short film “Brainstorm” by Eduardo del Llano. The scissors that censor all media in Cuba are in the hands of a very small group of officials. They maintain tight control over the national press but had lost some of the fear they exerted on journalists. The opening of informative cyberspace ended the monopoly because anyone could publish what was vetoed in the official press. The colleagues in Santa Clara make it clear in the first sentence of their letter: “As journalists we chose the right to publish in digital or print media outlets that do not represent offenses to the full dignity of men and women, nor pose a threat to the sovereignty of our country.” What journalist anywhere in the world would not subscribe to that idea? But here (in Cuba) they are “accused” of writing for other media for money, as if receiving a minimally decent pay for our work was a sin that makes us mercenaries. The problem goes beyond money, as Sergio Alejandro, director of the international pages of Granma, has shown. He did not receive any pay from private media outlet when he published on his blog his text on Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica, while his newspaper remained mute. The greatest charm of unofficial media is that “no one alters our texts nor do we negotiate our revolutionary positions. Now more than ever we are and we must be fully responsible for our opinion,” explained the journalists from Vanguardia in Santa Clara. Meanwhile, in the national media they are tied hand and foot because “censorship exists and binds the exercise of revolutionary journalism. As a hydra with a thousand heads, censorship affects especially the words, ideas and nuances of the texts.” And now the censors want to ban journalists from collaborating with any unofficial media. That is how they seek to extend censorship to cyberspace, a vain attempt to inaugurate the era of pseudonyms and simulation. If the government and journalists allow these “verbal rules” to take hold or worse, if they are included in the press law currently being drafted, it will mean a huge setback for journalism, extending the double standard and disarming the nation against the big foreign media. The Cuban population does not believe in the official press, journalists reject stupid censorship and the government demands efficiency. You cannot leave the creation of a new information policy in the hands of those who led the media thus far and sank it into the worst of crisis. All conditions are present to break the shackles of the past, creating public media under the authority of journalist collectives with legal mechanisms for citizen oversight. Such would be a press in which people create and where young people want to work. Everything is at stake in today’s Cuba, the model of society that it is giving birth to needs a media that informs, that defends the interests of the nation, that protects the most vulnerable, that investigates problems thoroughly, that points to the inept and denounces the corrupt.

Esteban Morales on press censorship

Introductory note and translation by Marce Cameron August 4, 2016 — Cuba’s Socialist Renewal — Ever the canary in the coalmine, outspoken Cuban intellectual Esteban Morales alerts readers of his personal blog to a recent flashpoint in the largely subterranean struggle over the role and character of the press in Cuba.  Incandescent with indignation, Morales declares his solidarity here with young Cuban journalists, members of Cuba's Union of Communist Youth, who are in revolt against the strictures imposed on journalists by the Cuban Communist Party's Ideological Department, which oversees — i.e. censors and micromanages — the Cuban press, radio and TV. That oversight role, and how it is exercised by Department chief Colonel Rolando Alfonso Borges, is the biggest obstacle to the urgent and long overdue revitalisation of Cuba's pro-Revolution press. One flashpoint in the struggle against Cuba's Stalinesque media overlords, and for a radical overhaul of the conception and practice of journalism and the media in socialist-oriented Cuba, was the 6th Plenum of the Cuban Journalists Union on June 28, which Morales refers to below. According to an unauthorised recording and transcript of her intervention — presumably genuine rather than concocted, since she has not challenged the attribution nor repudiated her alleged remarks — Karina Marron, the 37 year old deputy editor of Granma, told truth to power.  In an ironic twist, the Cuban media that answers to Alfonso Borges airbrushed her comments out of their coverage of the event, while the interventions of numerous other speakers were cited. Only the UPEC website's summary of the event includes a paragraph on Marron's comments, which lends legitimacy to the authenticity of the transcript. Initially published on a Cuban journalist's personal blog, the transcript was taken down hours later. But by then the genie was out of the bottle, and it is now widely available online.         
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The present debate By Esteban Morales July 24, 2016 — Translated from Esteban Morales’ blog — Something must be said about the present debate which has flared up, which I think is a good thing. At last, what so many have tried to do during these years is starting to bear fruit, and rather high up too. Finally, it seems the critique of our 'bad press' is getting through. From a Cuba in which critical or conflicting voices are barely heard, we've now entered another, which tells us that nearly everything is being subjected to criticism. Only it seems the ideological apparatus of the Cuban Communist Party [PCC] is nowhere to be seen. As has been said before, where is the Party's ideological apparatus when things happen such as that which just occurred at the recent plenum of the Cuban Journalists Union [UPEC]? Have they been there, and did they listen to the torrent of truths that were told? I think they must have been, but they haven't done anything yet. Will they do something now? Undoubtedly, one of the consequences of the 7th Party Congress has been the subtle dismantling of the Party's ideological apparatus. We don't see the kind of ideological work that is needed given the situation facing the country. Fortunately, the comrade First Secretary [of the PCC, Raul Castro] made a timely rectification at the 7th Congress itself, which [had he not done so it] would have been the biggest mistake that could have been made, when the Congress documents were put to the Congress for debate and approval without the party membership as a whole knowing what was in them, nor participating in the discussion of them. Such was the criticism received in this regard that the First Secretary announced a different approach in his speech. Now the Congress documents are even being debated by those outside the Party's ranks. That's encouraging, in that wasn't a 'bottled' Congress or one solely for Party functionaries. Because I still think a mistake such as the one which was about to be made would have destroyed our Party's democracy. What just took place in the recent UPEC plenum with the Communist Youth (UJC) members of the Granma newspaper staff, is symptomatic of the fact that the people are tired of censorship and no longer accept it, wherever it may come from and whatever the consequences of putting an end to this state of affairs. This is called revolutionary courage. There's no other word for it. Anyone might think that Granma has been the cathedral. It was, but no doubt it's becoming less of one. Its youngest staff members, through their UJC base committee, have rebelled. The communist youth took the initiative, and when this happens the future is guaranteed. In other times we've lived through, what the Granma deputy editor [Karina Marron], a member of the UJC base committee, has done would have left the newspaper without communist cadres. Those of the UJC because they 'opened fire', and the Party members for merely having heard the broadside even though they didn't express support for it. Which would have meant the newspaper being left without Party members too, because nobody with a sense of honour would have accepted such cowardice. Warm congratulations to the UJC members at Granma, especially the deputy editor. Now we really can be confident that it's not only the numerous criticisms of our press, those of [Raul] Garces [1] in the UPEC Congresses and those of others, who have been saying for all these years that the press we have is a toothless tiger. It's that now the monster isn't confronting us, but inside our 'stomachs', and we must digest it. As part of a cultural war that has already begun, and which threatens to take us back to the era of the Joint Resolution and the Platt Amendment.[2] They got tired of suffering from what has been almost a sickness of our press. An epidemic which has been talked about several times, because it afflicts all of the provinces. It's that we adopted a 'Stalinist' press model, coming from the USSR in particular; I say this because I lived there, and more than 40 years later, we keep this up. How long are we going to wage war on the truth and transparency in our press? How long are we going to restrain the revolutionary initiatives of our journalists which would allow them to feel truly responsible and committed to what they do? It's very good that the explosion didn't come from outside, the 'puncture' came from within; I think our press has 'imploded'. I am in solidarity with everyone who has defended those ideas which I just read. And if the inept functionaries were to respond in an aggressive manner, they'd simply confirm Fidel's words at Havana University, in 2005, when our Maximum Leader said: “We ourselves could destroy the Revolution”. I think that in all honesty, what has happened to our press to date is not the fault of the journalists, nor even the newspapers, but of the superstructural apparatus that runs them and which has to be just 'smashed to smithereens'. Because we can't just keep doing the same thing for more than forty years, with the same people, and imagine that the problems are going to fix themselves. The distortions in our press can only be rectified by removing those who distorted it. The evident incapacity to run our press is proven beyond doubt. The top Party leadership just needs to restructure this apparatus and appoint new people, trained, capable, who should be journalists themselves—of which there are many—who want to work and feel free to defend the country. Because it wouldn't occur to anyone that an engineer could perform a kidney transplant, or that anyone who has never been a journalist, nor written an article for almost their entire life, could run the press, in some cases at the highest level. For years, all they've been seen to do is reprimand, censor, approve or disapprove, criticise, even have people expelled from the Party, for an article or a presentation they didn't like, but never to actually run a newspaper. Several journalists congresses have been held, dozens of meetings, but no such invigorating phenomenon as that which took place recently in that last UPEC plenum has ever happened. I'd say it hasn't only been a journalist's plenum, but an example, a methodological guide to how one must act in order to sweep away everything that threatens the survival of the Cuban Revolution. Nevertheless, it must be said that while this debate has barely begun at the level of profundity it has now reached, there are others which already do so continuously, systematically, [and have done so] for a long time, such as those of the journal Temas[3], Espacio Laical[4], Dialogar-Dialogar[5], and others, which have referred to the problem of the press, without the latter having taken its cue, which places it at an evident disadvantage. Our press cannot be aloof from what is being debated — especially when the press itself is the subject of debate — in other spaces. The press has to debate, respond to the criticisms, confront, etc. That is, be part of a debate which, in taking place within Cuban civil society, affects the content and context of its informational and cultural work. The press cannot inform with objectivity, and to a high standard, unless it keeps abreast of the above debate, takes part in it and reflects it in its day-to-day work. Otherwise, a part of society, which is not involved in those debates, no longer informs itself about things that, in the end, do interest and affect it. In order to do its job, the press needs to have allies. It can get them from that same contact with the centres of debate, the academic and cultural sphere in general. This allows it to improve the quality of its informational work, taking advantage of the existing potentialities within the intelligentsia, academia, science and culture. The revolutionary intelligentsia and the press should forge a strategic alliance capable of providing an intelligent, informed and specialised response, including to issues that concern political-ideological work. A press that does not interact with the intelligentsia, while being intellectual work itself; that does not participate in its activities and does not interact continually with the intelligentsia, is unable to hold up a mirror to the nation. Nor can it get feedback and nourishment from what transpires. Intellectuals themselves must have more column inches in the press, providing content that allows it to better reflect the life of a country that is ever more cultivated, qualified and demanding. In this respect, the press must never lag behind. The press has to be the centrifuge, always switched on, in which all of the national and international events are loaded, aimed and launched. Nobody is more compelled to be a good researcher than she who wishes to be a better journalist. Translator's notes [1] Raul Garces is a member of the UPEC executive and dean of Havana University's journalism faculty.  [2] The US government's 1901 Platt Amendment and associated Joint Resolution formalised Cuba's status as a US neocolony.   [3] Temas is a prestigious Cuban journal, published under the auspices of Cuba's culture ministry, that hosts lively monthly debates on varied topics.  [4] Espacio Laical is a Cuban journal published by the Cuban Catholic Church's Felix Varela Centre in Havana. [5] Dialogar-Dialogar is a Cuban website dedicated to furthering the political activism of the late Alfredo Guevara, a towering figure in Cuba's post-revolutionary cultural field and an outspoken intellectual of libertarian Marxist leanings. He was a member of the PCC and had the ear of Fidel Castro.