For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Photo: laopcion.com.mx)
(Photo: laopcion.com.mx)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 26 August 2016, Havana — It’s been said that radically opposite ends end up looking alike. That truism has become irrefutable for those of us who are dedicated to independent journalism in Cuba, especially those who practice the basic right of free expression through opinion columns and end up subjected to relentless crossfire, both from the dictatorial power with its powerful monopoly of the press, and from the anti-Castro opposition, and even from “colleagues” of the profession, who are supposedly champions of freedom of expression.

Specifically the press, whose Cuban origins date back to 1790 with the emergence of the newspaper Papel Periódico de la Habana, founded by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País*, was one of the most solid pillars of the 1902 Republic, where dozens of newspapers and magazines circulated. In 1922 the first radio station emerged, and by 1930 the number of stations had grown to 61. Television, meanwhile, arrived in Cuba in 1950, and included new informational and news programs.

Somehow, over half a century a twisted and pernicious political system has ended up undermining the social foundations so deeply that perhaps the same amount of time will be needed — if not more — to recover, at least partially, the weak republican civic fabric that was taken from us since the “Revolutionary victory.”

If we add to this the newsreels that existed previously, it can be concluded that Cuba had a strong media tradition that promoted the development of public opinion and political formation of a good part of the population through a range of views of the most diverse trends in different subjects of interest to national life.

With its lights and shadows, journalism during the republic enjoyed a healthy development until Castro I took it over and “nationalized” it to found his private press monopoly and place it at the service of the government’s power, its role today. Nevertheless, its counterpart — independent journalism — emerged in the 90’s, and in recent years, driven by the use of new information technologies and communications, has managed to gain space and even grow under truly precarious and hostile conditions, against repression, harassment, and other adversities.

The history and ups and downs of Cuban independent journalism are too extensive to address in this text, since we would stray from the essential issue, which could be summed up in one cardinal question: are parties and opposition leaders prepared to assimilate the democratic paradigms which the Castro dictatorship is presumably facing? Or, more directly, do they have a clear awareness that freedom of expression is a basic, inescapable element of any society that aspires to be considered as democratic?

Judging from my personal experience and the reactions I’ve received from some leaders and their staunchest followers when I questioned their proposals, attitudes and methods, I fear that not all “democratic fighters” in Cuba and in exile are ready to take on the challenge of a free press. In addition, I would argue that the dangerous virus of “intransigence” has undermined the proto-democratic corpus of Cuba’s independent civil society and — together with the miasma of autocratic government, authoritarianism, and its evil companions — is replicating patterns of the system it iss trying to topple.

For certain “illuminati,” criticism of the opposition it is not only harmful, but practically an act of “treason” – a term very much in vogue in the media — as it “panders to the dictatorship” or “discredits” leaders “who are really doing something.” As the General-President Raul Castro always points out, some opponents consider that there is “a right place and a right time” for criticism. That moment, in his view, has not come, and since they feel personally attacked, they react with insults and reproaches, not with arguments, in an unadulterated Castro style.

A frequent accusation launched against any question or opinion that differs from one of these illustrious champions of democracy is that criticism tends to “divide” the opposition, and unaware individuals might think that it was once united. It is also the position of another obstacle: the opportunists; who, in the absence of their own limelight take the opportunity to pose as practical and as conciliators, paternally scolding the transgressor journalist and brandishing one of the most inaccurate phrases often repeated in the corridors: “at the end of the day, we are all on the same page.”

As if instead of politicians and journalists, positions commonly in tune in fairly healthy Western societies, we were school children who bicker for a treat at summer camp.

However, what is most alarming in this senseless contrapuntal — since a truly democratic leader infused by a truly democratic sense should be more interested in the well-argued criticisms he gets than in the servile adulations always at hand — is that reality is being reflected in the self-censorship on the part of some independent journalists, who often, with greatest dishonesty and hypocrisy, silently approve the criticisms that their boldest colleagues publish, so they utter low and furtive congratulations and keep quiet their own disapproval, for fear of being branded “politically incorrect” or “agents,” this time from the antipodes of the Castro regime.

There is also no shortage of neo-chiefs who get offended when some irreverent journalist, like this writer, refuses to be of service or to become a chronicler of his personal scrapbooks. They can’t imagine how anyone could be so “lacking in solidarity” that she decides to prioritize other topics rather than their heroic campaigns and unparalleled demonstrations of patriotism and bravery.

If, to be exact, the journalist of yore prefers to avoid in his writings such bombastic phrases as “the hyena of Birán,” “the blood-spattered tyranny” or other similar theater affectation to qualify the autocrats of the Palace of the Revolution, he becomes de facto a suspicious subject.

Is any similarity to the anointed of the olive-green dome pure coincidence?

It feels like something trivial, however, it is really worrisome for the health of journalism that tomorrow’s censorship is taking shape in certain niches of the opposition today. If it continues, the end of the Castro dictatorship would only mean a change in the color of the political power’s muzzle over the free expression of citizens, and the beginning of an authoritarianism with a different emblem, but equally restrictive.

Barring our having chosen the exercise of opinion in the press as a profession, let’s have enough sense of ethics and respect for ourselves and for our readers to continue doing that uncomfortable journalism that keeps politicians today and tomorrow under the rigor of public scrutiny, just as they should be in a democratic society.

Personally, I reject sappy and complacent journalism, journalism’s subordination to any leadership, and, particularly I reject impunity. That may not be what is expected of independent journalism by the very controversial “servants of the people”; but it certainly is what good Cubans expect.

*Translator’s note: Sociedades Económicas were established in the Spanish colonies (Havana’s is the only one that still survives to date, since 1793) whose mission was that of promoting local economic development, Members were generally drawn from the local aristocracy, scholars, professionals and skilled artisans. Some of the groups strayed into activities that bordered on the political, and were punished by having their legal licenses revoked.

Translated by Norma Whiting

First Conference On Internet Freedom In Cuba To Be Held In Miami / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)
A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 August 2016 – This coming 12-13 September, independent Cuban journalists will meet with digital innovators and individuals who are fighting to open the island to the World Wide Web. This first conference on the use of the internet in Cuba is being organized by the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB), which operates Radio and TV Martí. The event will be free and open to the public.

One of the pillars of “The Martís” (as OCB’s media are known on the island), is free access to the internet in countries where the right is censored, as is the case in Cuba,” explained Maria (Malule) Gonzales, OCB’s director. Continue reading “First Conference On Internet Freedom In Cuba To Be Held In Miami / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

The Best Way to “Become a Man”? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana's Revolution Square April 16, 2011.
Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana’s Revolution Square April 16, 2011. Reuters

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 August 2016 — Recently, during my brief stay in Miami to participate in an academic meeting on legal issues, I was surprised to hear from a Cuban emigrant – fairly old in age – about his wish that, in a future democratic Cuba, a law of compulsory military service would be maintained. His proposal was based on the assumption that military life imposes discipline and maturity in young people. Virtues – his opinion – which are practically extinct on the island.

Very frequently and with minimal variations, I’ve heard this phrase in different scenarios for Cubans of the most dissimilar political ideas or with no political ideas at all. The common denominator is the age of those who think this way: usually adults over 55 or 60. Continue reading “The Best Way to “Become a Man”? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

A Deplorable Spectacle / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)
Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)

It is a crime to manipulate a child’s conscience for the adulation of a dictator.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 15 August 2016, Havana – This Saturday, August 13, 2016, was the culmination of true torture after months of putting up with the fanfare in the official media on the occasion of the ninetieth birthday of the Specter-in-Chief.

Against any reasonable forecast, the responsibility for the birthday celebration was delegated to the members of the children’s art troupe “La Colmenita,” (The Little Beehive) and was presented to an audience that was beyond unusual: a theater crowded with adults dressed in military accoutrements or in pressed white guayaberas, Cuban dress shirts.

In the front row, flanked by the president of Venezuela on his left and his brother Raúl Castro on his right, the Orate Magnus in the flesh writhed in his seat and turned to whisper something to the Venezuelan catafalque, without paying much attention to the apotheosis of bad taste that was taking place on stage. Undaunted and haughty, as he has always been, he remained indifferent to the adulation, as if the whole deployment of major sucking-up were not exclusively devoted to him and his irreparable 90 years. Continue reading “A Deplorable Spectacle / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Injustices of a Debate / 14ymedio Miriam Celaya

Note: The video is not subtitled in English

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana 10 August 2016 – The recent broadcast of a television program from Miami with Maria Elvira Salazar as moderator, where there was a heated debate between the well-known Cuban opposition leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, and the also well-known Castro regime panderer, Edmundo Garcia – former presenter from a decadent musical program on Cuban television, before he chose to settle in Miami “for personal reasons” – has sparked an avalanche of wide-ranging comments about the performance of one rival or the other, as well as about the appropriateness or otherwise of the topics introduced by the host on the set.

While the confrontation between an opposition leader living on the island, and a regime defender – but not a “representative” – of the Cuban dictatorship was original, the truth is there are antecedents where supporters and opponents of the Castro regime have faced off before the cameras. Continue reading “Injustices of a Debate / 14ymedio Miriam Celaya”

Neither “Humble” Nor “Young” Nor “Majorities”: Simply “Citizens” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: diarioexpresso.com.ve
Source: diarioelexpresso.com.ve

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 August 2016 – We are nearing 60 years since that ominous January 1959, and after decades of ideological fraud and demagogic discourse, we might expect that at least the political pillars on which the current aspirations of Cuban society rest would have radically changed. However, this is not the case. Some populist myths have become so deeply rooted in the social imagination that they have become commonplace and even been assumed to be incontrovertible truths.

Some of these principles useful for political messianism, especially in Latin America and Cuba, have been the perceptions of “the humble,” “the youth,” and “the majority.” These, not to mention other subdivisions that also carry political weight – such as those wielded by racial claims (for non-whites or whites), gender (women only), or sexual preference (for LGBT) – in a county where absolutely all of us have been dispossessed, far beyond our individual categorizations. Continue reading “Neither “Humble” Nor “Young” Nor “Majorities”: Simply “Citizens” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Cuba in Crisis: the Pressure is Building / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro
Raul Castro

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 July 2016 — Some claim that “nothing ever happens in Cuba.” However, the signals we have been receiving of late indicate otherwise.

The price increases at the produce markets since the last quarter of 2015, accompanied by periodic (and frequent) cycles of shortages of food and other basic items in the TRDs,* accompanied by fierce raids against the self-employed – and particularly against the well-known pushcart vendors – the closing down of the only wholesale produce market in Havana, and the accumulation of problems without solutions, have been increasing the pressure inside Cuba. The most expeditious solution has been the exodus stampede, which has already turned created a crisis in some areas of South and Central America. Continue reading “Cuba in Crisis: the Pressure is Building / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The Blackboard Mafia / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

High School Students in Havana (14ymedio)
High School Students in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 5 July 2015 — “Everyone knows which teachers accept money,” a group of young people tells me. In fact, some not only accept, but clearly require it from students who know they would not be able to pass the exam on their own.

The final days of the 2015-2016 school year are here, and once again the recurring theme of fraud by students and teachers surfaces, poor preparation of students, low quality of education and the shocking loss of values among not a few education professionals.

A group of five 10th and 11th graders of the pre-university Gerardo Abreu Fontán, of Centro Habana, agreed to offer their testimony on the subject under conditions of anonymity, in an interview that lasted more than two hours and uncovered before me a broad and deep network of corruption. Continue reading “The Blackboard Mafia / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Cuban Migration Crisis: Neither Economic nor Humanitarian / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Cubans demonstrating in Ecuador (14ymedio)
Cubans demonstrating in Ecuador (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2016 — About 400 Cubans who remained ensconced in front of the embassy of Mexico, in the city of Quito, Ecuador, demanding an airlift to allow them entry to the United States, were violently evicted from the place by police in the early hours of Sunday, 26th June. It was the culmination of a protest that began on Saturday 18th

Days earlier, the Mexican authorities had informed the thousands of Cubans in Ecuador that there is no possibility for its government to establish a new airlift, which leaves unresolved this chapter of the immigration crisis for the Cubans fleeing the questionable benefits of Raul Castro’s socialist model. Continue reading “Cuban Migration Crisis: Neither Economic nor Humanitarian / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

About False Taínos and Alleged “New Trends” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

In the "Taíno" village “Guamá” blowing into a conch shell (photo Martí News)
In the “Taíno” village “Guamá” blowing into a conch shell (photo Martí News)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 June 2016 — I recently read an internet article published by Martí News (Bogus Taíno1 Dance in Cuba Shocks an Intellectual Canadian Native), which — as the title indicates — is about a Canadian tourist’s experience during his stay in Cuba. He witnessed an imaginary Taíno show, choreographed in the Matanzas province by a group of dancers “with bare-breasted women, painted skin and wearing wigs,” who “talked about a dubious native Cuban rite on the force of a river.”

The scene that the tourist describes was a mixture of contemporary dance movements and alleged ritual representations, performed by… artists(??) supposedly dressed in Taíno costumes, including white bullseye circles painted on the women’s bare breasts. Continue reading “About False Taínos and Alleged “New Trends” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Legal Framework for the Enemy / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: eltiempo.com
Source: eltiempo.com

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 June 2016 — The phrase uttered by Castro I a few years ago, when he confessed that no one knew how to build socialism, remains in the minds of many Cubans. Most of us, stunned and unbelieving, wondered back then what they had been doing for all previous decades, when the official discourse specifically maintained that we were immersed in the construction of this idyllic “society, qualitatively superior to capitalism”.

However, the successor to the throne, Castro II, apparently does believe to know how socialism is built, not socialism as the soviet manuals indicated, but something similar to it: a gestational namesake that, in reality, would only be the consumption of the State capitalist monopoly, the absolute eldest son of the Galician-Birán caste, his close followers and their offspring. Continue reading “Legal Framework for the Enemy / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The New Gospel, According to the General / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro has slipped the designs of the PCC into a tabloid with documents analyzed and approved during the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party
Raúl Castro has slipped the designs of the PCC into a tabloid with documents analyzed and approved during the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 May 2016 — The Cuban Party-State-Government has just published a tabloid containing two of the root documents analyzed and approved during the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) last April, 2016. These are the Project for the Conceptualization for the Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development Project and for the National Project Plan for Economic and Social Development Until 2030: Proposal Of Country’s Vision, Core And Strategic Sectors.

No doubt this is a case of “partial declassification”, considering that the four documents adopted in April’s occult ritual were of a strictly secret character. The discussion and approval, produced in covert conditions, involved about a thousand of the anointed (so-called “delegates”) and, according to official figures 3,500 “guests.” Continue reading “The New Gospel, According to the General / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The Step-Motherland’s Droit de Seigneur / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and Minister of Development, Ana Pastor, greeting Raúl Castro. (EFE / Estudios Revolución)
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and Minister of Development, Ana Pastor, greeting Raúl Castro. (EFE / Estudios Revolución)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 May 2016 — Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, recently made his second visit to Cuba. Unlike his first, in November 2014–when the general-president did not deign to meet with him—this time his “highest excellency” Spanish Foreign Minister was emphatically welcomed by the upper echelons of power.

This new attitude between both sides is not so strange, since García-Margallo was in a “democratic” mode in 2014, triggering the olive-green gerontocracy’s suspicion and displeasure. Now, the Chancellor has come solely in a business mode, with the mission to strengthen and expand as much as possible Spain’s investments in Cuba before the resources of the powerful northern neighbor intrude (for a second time) in the territory of the former Spanish colony, once again depriving Spain of its devalued Crown jewel. Continue reading “The Step-Motherland’s Droit de Seigneur / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Rules to Prevent Debate / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Merchants at El Trigal protested closing of the market. (14ymedio)
Merchants at El Trigal protested closing of the market. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 May 2016 — A small protest convoy and a demand by a group of bicycle taxi (pedicab) operators at the Plaza of the Revolution; indignation and astonishment among producers and traders about the arbitrary and unannounced closing of the wholesale market for agricultural products in the capital; irritation of several citizens who verbally attacked the policemen who were trying to maltreat a blind and helpless beggar, who was at the Carlos III marketplace; a sit down strike led by workers at a cigar factory in the city of Holguín over wages… These are some of the events that demonstrate both the state of dissatisfaction and frustration that are taking shape in Cuba’s population, the emergence of a sense of questioning the system and the incipient rebellion against the power and the authorities that represent it.

It is without a doubt, good news. The bad news is that social balance becomes dangerously fragile in a society where rights and prosperity have been banned, where institutions respond fully to the interests of the parasite power, where any opposition to the government is illegal and where public debate and dialogue between the power and “governed” are non-existent. Continue reading “Rules to Prevent Debate / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 7.56.35 AM
cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, Florida, 13 April 2016 — The video has gone viral in the internet in just over 24 hours — between Monday afternoon, April 11th 2016, and the early hours of Tuesday night — it had been shared 42,000 times, it had been viewed almost 4 million times, and the count continued to rise exponentially. The images speak louder than words: children as young as 7 or 8 years old, in school uniform, contort in the frenzy of a lewd dance in what is obviously a Cuban elementary school. Around them, voices can be heard (their teachers or some other adult in charge of their care and their education?) encouraging them cheerfully, obviously enjoying the spectacle.

The kindest adjectives that could describe those responsible for this act are aberration, atrocity, perversity and depravity. Continue reading “Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”