Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 March 2016 – The New York Times (NYT) has just dedicated a new editorial to Cuba. Or, to be more accurate, the article, signed by Colombian Ernesto Londoño, makes a whole accolade about what he — and perhaps the executives of that influential newspaper — depict as the beginning of a process of freedom of expression on the island.
And the unusual miracle of opening up which was announced triumphantly has been taking place just “since the United States began to normalize relations with Havana in late 2014.” So, magically, by the grace of Barack Obama’s new policy, “Cubans have begun to debate subjects that were once taboo, and to criticize their government more boldly.” (Oh, thank you, Barack. Cubans, always so incompetent, will be forever grateful to you!).
Unfortunately, such sublime journalistic purpose is truncated because of the obtuse ignorance editorialists and publishers have about Cuban history and reality. In fact, from his first paragraph, Londoño’s forced rhyme to “illustrate” Cuban advances in matters of freedom of expression could not have been any more unfortunate: “In the past, when a Cuban athlete disappeared during a sporting event abroad, there was no official acknowledgement or any mention of it in the State media.”
Then he refers to the recent extent of athletes defecting, starring with brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel — two young baseball stars who escaped the Cuban delegation during its stay in the Dominican Republic — as “an episode that illustrates how citizens in the most repressive country in the hemisphere are increasingly pushing the limits of freedom of expression”.
This New York Times apprentice is either misinformed or totally clueless, because all Cubans on the island, especially those of us born soon after that sadly memorable 1st of January 1959, are aware of the numerous official statements of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER), a repudiation of what the Cuban government qualifies as defection of athletes who sell themselves to the powers of capital. Who in Cuba does not remember the deep voice and the indignation of the newspaper commentator and sports broadcaster, Héctor Rodríguez, now dead, reading passionately those intense pamphlets against the traitors?
Such official statements have certainly not been released each time a desertion has occurred, but definitely every time they have turned out to be extremely outrageous and blatant, as with the recent case of the Gourriel brothers.
Another noteworthy aspect is the NYT’s overvaluing of the role of the U.S. government “to reduce the culture of fear and the obedience that the State has long-used to control its citizens,” which has resulted in, “Today, a wider section of Cuban society is speaking with less fear.” It would seem that the efforts of opponents, dissidents, independent journalists and other civil society organizations, as well as the natural wear and tear of a whole society subjected to decades of deprivation and deceit by a ruling elite, has achieved absolutely nothing.
Of course, nobody with a modicum of common sense would deny the influence any political change of a U.S. administration has on Cuba, especially when all of the Cuban dictatorship’s foreign (and domestic) policies have based their central axis on its dispute with the U.S. Personally, I am among those opponents who support a policy of dialogue and reconciliation, since the conflict of over half a century did not produce any results, and it is still too early for the Obama policy towards Cuba to be classified as a “failure.” In political matters, every process needs a time period to reach fruition, and we should not expect major changes in just 14 months of dialogue between parties to a half a century of conflict.
However, to grant the new position of the White House the ability to open democratic spaces of expression within Cuba in that short period of time is wrong, irrational, and even disrespectful. Not only because it distorts reality and deceives the American public, but because it deliberately fails to acknowledge the work of many independent journalists who have pushed the wall of silence that has surrounded the island for decades, reporting on the Cuban reality, and who have suffered persecution, imprisonment and constant harassment for their actions, by the repressive forces of the regime.
Nevertheless, the real latent danger in the biased NYT editorial is its presenting as champions of freedom of expression those who are useful tools of the regime in its present unequivocal process of mimicry: the pro-government bloggers, a group that emerged in the shadow of official policy as a government strategy to counter the virulent explosion of independent bloggers that began in 2007 and that two years later had grouped in the Voces Cubanas blogger platform, the access to which from Cuba was immediately blocked by the government.
Blogger Harold Cárdenas, who is Mr. Londoño’s chosen example of a critic of the Castro autocracy, is actually what could be defined as a “Taliban-light,” equivalent to a believer convinced of the superiority of the Cuban system, disguised as a critic. If the Castro dictatorship has any talent, it is the ability to adapt to each new circumstance and survive any political upheaval, a quality that allows it to manipulate the discourse and elect its “judges” at each new turn.
In the present circumstances of non-confrontation with the Empire, Hassan Pérez, an angry and hysterical beefeater, now disappeared from the scene, would be out of the question. Instead, someone like Harold Cárdenas is ideal: he is reasonably disapproving, moves within government institutions (so he’s controllable) and knows exactly where the line that cannot be crossed is. Additionally, sensible Harold remains safely distant from all the independent press, and he uses the same epithets to refer to it as does the government: “mercenaries at the service of imperialism,” or “CIA agents.”
Another dangerous illusion is the alleged existence of a “progressive wing” within the spheres of power in Cuba, to which — according to what Londoño stated in the NYT — Harold Cárdenas is closely related. On this point, the utter lack of journalistic seriousness of the NYT is scandalous. The myth of a “progressive” sector as a kind of conspirators — which is actually a host of opportunistic individuals — close to the tower of power, waiting for the chance to influence changes in Cuba, has been spreading in the media outside the island for a long time, but, so far, this is mere speculation that has no basis whatsoever.
In addition, it is unacceptable to limit the hopes of a better future for Cubans from the inferred recognition of those who are the currently close supporters of the regime. No change in Cuba will be genuine unless it includes as actors, in all its representation and variety, the independent civil society and all Cubans on the island and the diaspora. Nor will there be true freedom of the press as long as the dictatorship is allowed to select its “critics” while it punishes independent thinking of any fashion.
As for the imaginary meetings at all the universities in the country to discuss the political future of Cuba, this is the most fallacious thing that could have occurred to Mr. Londoño, and it exposes a huge flaw in the credibility of the NYT. Could anyone seriously believe that the Cuban dictatorship would allow questioning of the regime within its own institutions? Could it be perhaps that Londoño and the NYT managers have shattered in one fell swoop the Castro principle that “universities are for revolutionaries”?
But none of this is really a surprise. The prelude started in October, 2014, when an avalanche of NYT editorials was written by Ernesto Londoño, noting that it was time to change U.S. policy towards Cuba, an idea I share in principle, but for very different reasons and arguments as those the NYT advocates. Two months later, the restoration of relations would be announced.
By then, Londoño and his employers didn’t remotely have a clue of the Cuban reality; neither do they have any now. But what has become a conspiracy against the rights of Cubans cannot be construed as naive or as good intentions gone astray. Perhaps it is time that this Latin American, whose will has been tamed so appropriately to the old northern colonial mentality, that which considers the people of the subcontinent incapable of self-achievement, should write about the serious conflicts of his own country of origin — which, paradoxically, are being decided in Cuba today — if he at least knows more about Colombian reality than Cuban.
Meanwhile, it appears that the peddlers of Cuban politics have managed to weave much stronger ties with the NYT than we imagined. No wonder NYT editorials seem to have turned that newspaper into the New York branch of Cuba’s State and Communist Party newspaper, Granma.
Translated by Norma Whiting