14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 December 2017 — While the accusations grow against Russia for using social networks to manipulate the Catalan crisis, the American elections and Britain’s Brexit, the Kremlin-financed press gains space in Cuba. The references to Sputnik and Russia Today, which is now called RT, are increasingly frequent in the official media, which presents them among its main sources.
The Russian state news agency Sputnik and its international television channel RT are mentioned every day in newspapers, and TV news and radio programs on the island. The content taken from both media ranges from scientific announcements, to information about Russia to international issues.
Without substantiating the veracity of the information provided, the analysts of the official press assume the points of view, the opinions and the assertions of those media, with the same complicity with which they once promoted information from the Soviet newspaper Pravda and the official new agency TASS.
Questioning the legitimacy of the West, promoting skepticism of democracy, doubting the future of the European Union, disseminating conspiracy theories about the powers that move the world, and denying the decision-making capacity of citizens in liberal systems are some of the ideas most repeated in those state media.
In support of this scaffolding are added “testimonies” and opinions to reinforce the idea of the superiority of authoritarian regimes in comparison with the chaos that seizes parliamentary debates when approving new security measures or passing laws, in societies governed by the separation of powers.
The current closeness with Russian media contrasts with the attitude of the Cuban government towards Novedades de Moscú (a weekly newspaper published in Spanish) and Sputnik magazine in the years of Perestroika and Glasnsot in the Soviet Union, when the circulation of those publications was censored in Cuba.
The cult of personality around Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro is also part of the recipe of this propaganda press, with more intentions to indoctrinate than to inform. Analysts warn that the average person does not know if what they see is propaganda or information, one of the keys to the success of these media, especially on social networks. In addition, RT and Sputnik also display a rampant absence of criticism towards any regime allied with the Kremlin or any enemy of the United States.
According to them, the launching of the missiles by the Kim Jong-un regime is the correct North Korean response to “the joint naval maneuvers of the United States, Japan and South Korea,” while the most recent Venezuelan elections represent the “greatest victory’ of Chavism and the “final defeat” of the opposition.
The information published by the official Cuban media on the Catalan crisis was mainly based on RT’s reporting. The support for the separatists reached its climax the days before the illegal referendum, which was presented as a democratic consultation in opposition to the position of the Spanish Government, which defended the constitutional legality but which was branded by the Russian media as “fascist” and an inheritor from the dictator Francisco Franco.
These official bodies of the Kremlin also have a political agenda when narrating the Cuban reality. Positive verbs such as “grow” and “develop” or nouns of a humanistic nature in the style of “solidarity,” “justice” and “collaboration” dot the information about Cuba, in which the supposed achievements of the Cuban health system, its sporting feats and official events are highlighted, while productive inefficiency, police repression or migratory exodus are silenced.
Both media fail to mention the political opposition within the country and, when they do, they repeat terms such as “internal enemies,” “counterrevolutionary” or “financed by the United States,” while presenting Raúl Castro’s government as having broad popular support and a proven diplomatic ascendancy in Latin America.
The worn-out formula of the small “revolutionary” David against the great “imperialist” Goliath fits within all of their content about the relations between Washington and Havana and the diplomatic thaw promoted by Barack Obama. Clearly, according to them, the economic problems faced by the island’s resident every day are the absolute fault of “the blockade.”
On 25 November, RT broadcast a program with the lead “One year after the death of Fidel Castro Cubans remain faithful to his legacy,” in which it delved into topics about the genius and charisma of the former president, in addition to interviews only with his eternally grateful supporters.
Last May, a few days after Donald Trump announced in a speech in Miami the change of course in the relationship between Washington and Havana, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez offered an interview to the Russian network, one of the only two media that commented on the subject. The other was the Chavista channel from Venezuela, TeleSUR.
Several ideas were emphasized in the material presented: the US president develops a policy “typical of the Cold War”; the White House mutilates “the civil rights” of its own people; and any criticism launched by the occupant of the White House towards the Plaza of the Revolution represents the sin of “a double standard.” Three points from the Kremlin’s information booklet on Cuba.
These biased positions have been widely disseminated on social networks thanks to the island’s cyber soldiers who militantly share the content of RT and Sputnik. Both media also work to indoctrinate the Cuban audience through the Cuban press, thus Moscow influences the way in which the reality of the outside world is perceived by Cubans.
Unlike many European countries where alarms have been sounded over the new media war that is being deployed by the ex-official of the KGB who is now president of Russia, Havana willingly lends itself to all the manipulations of Putin and offers him, in addition, a captive audience of 11 million Cubans.
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