UPEC and the Freedom of the Press / Dimas Castellanos

The few expectations generated by the Ninth Congress of the Union of Journalists and Writers of Cuba ( UPEC ), held last weekend, ended in frustration. The changes that demand journalism plays an effective role in social transformations were conspicuous by their absence. The conclave ignored the issue of press freedom, a vital issue to delve into the causes of the current crisis and suggest possible solutions, although Cuba has a rich history in this area.

The Camaguey national hero Ignacio Agramonte, in defending his thesis in law said: The right to think freely corresponds to the freedom of discussion, of doubt, of opinion, as phases or directions of that.

The press in Cuba was inaugurated with Papel Periodico (Newsprint) in Havana in 1790; it disseminated the accord reached with the Pact of Zanjón of 1878, thanks to which Juan Gualberto Gomez won the legal process against the colonial authorities which allowed the public disclosure of the ideas of those supporting independence. It was multiplied during the Republic: Diario de La Marina, Bohemia, El País, El Mundo, Alerta, Noticias de Hoy, La Calle, Prensa Libre, Carteles and Vanidades, to cite just ten. In 1930 there were 61 radio stations, a number that placed Cuba 4th worldwide; and as for television, in 1950, almost immediately after the United States, Television Radio Union Channel 4, the third television station in Latin America, followed the same year by Channel 6.

Thanks to the media, from the colony to the Republic , the debate of ideas reached such importance that it is impossible to explain any event in our history without considering the role of press freedom. The best evidence was the allegation of Dr. Fidel Castro, known as History Will Absolve Me, in which he said: Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom. The people were not satisfied with the government, but the people could change it… Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, hours of doctrine on radio, debate programs on television, public meetings…”

The Russian historian, sociologist and politician Pavel Milyukov, in an article entitled In defense of the word, defined the press as the finest and most perfect expression of socio-psychological forms of interaction; he explained that the rules of relationship between man and society constitute the core of human rights and freedom of the press is the only civil liberty can guarantee all the others.

If, from the ideas expressed, we accept that press freedom is an indispensable factor for social development, any action to preclude it, can only be described as an act against the development of the country and the dignity of the people.

Yes, the nation really is everyone, Communists or not, revolutionaries or not, intellectuals or not, everyone has the right to think, express and disseminate their ideas freely, as active subjects in national issues. The opposite is exclusion, totalitarianism or apartheid. So in the age of the newest information technologies and communications, any restrictions on press freedom in a country with such a rich tradition of freedom are inadmissible.

Suffice it to recall that in difficult years like 1947, 1950 and the day after the assault on the Moncada barracks in 1953, Noticias de Hoy (News of Today), organ of the then Communist Party (People’s Socialist Party) was shut down. However, time and again, thanks to the so-called freedom of the “bourgeois” press, the communists, supported by much of the existing press, demanded that they be re-opened and succeeded, even though Noticias de Hoy advocated class struggle to overthrow the ruling system.

However — returning to the Cuban of today — the member of the Politburo, Miguel Diaz-Canel, at the closing ceremony of UPEC, suggested that what is needed to feed the desire to improve the press and make it more virtuous press is dialogue. That is, the official press is virtuous and those virtues, in his words, lie in having denounced the imperialist campaigns of internal and external enemies, so it is able and has as its mission to contribute to the achievement of a prosperous and sustainable socialism. We need to support — said Diaz-Canel — a set of principles for the Cuban press, extracted from the thoughts of José Martí and Fidel.

The question to Diaz-Canel is if what Fidel said about civil society and citizens’ freedoms during the Moncada trial retains its value, and with respect to Martí it is good to remember the central idea that he presented on the Third Anniversary of the Cuban Revolutionary Party: A people is composition of many wills, vile or pure, frank and grim, hindered by shyness or precipitated by ignorance.

Several journalists from the official press praised the subordination of the press for the purpose of PCC, as in the case of Oscar Sánchez Serra, in his article “The Congress of those we see, hear and read,” published in Granma on 15 July, that posited that the journalist is a builder of socialism.

But the person who more clearly summarized the praises of the subordination of the official press to the PCC was Victor Joaquin Ortega, who in a short editorial appeared in the weekly Tribuna de La Habana, Sunday, 14 July, wrote: “We are the weapon of the Communist Party of Cuba, the only one we need for the struggle, the son of the dignity and creative line of the Cuban Revolutionary Party founded and led by the Apostle [José Martí].”

These and other similar proposals demonstrate that the journalism of UPEC is the journalism of a political party and of a specific ideology, so that it cannot define itself as representative of the Cuban press in general, whose natural plurality extends beyond the communist ideas.

The official press sustains itself on the base of restrictions on the freedom of the press, it as not — as Jorge Barata expressed it well in a dossier on the subject published in Lay Space — plural, nor open, so it is prevented from speaking in the name of Cuban society in total. The PCC defines it politics, based on the limits established in the Cultural Congress of 1961: Within the Revolution everything. Against the Revolution nothing, a limit that should begin by defining what a revolution is and then demonstrating that there is a revolution in Cuba.

The exclusion is not only unjust and unacceptable, but unreal, because the new technologies prevent it. Another press has emerged, parallel and coexisting with the official press. Lay Space, Coexistence, Critical Observatory, Voices, the SPD Bulletin, Cuba Spring and dozens of blogs and websites that do not respond to the PCC, whose importance lies in the decision to participate, without permission, from differing views on the problems of the nation. An alternative journalism, independent, citizen and participatory, reflecting realities ignored by the official press and complying with the requirements of traditional journalism and includes others which are possible with the new technologies, despite the obstacles represented by the lack of freedom of the press.

From Diario de Cuba

2 July 2013