A Country Narrated By Its People

Image of the incident recorded by one of the first residents of the area who ran to help the victims of Cubana de Aviacion flight DMJ-972 in Havana. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 May 2018 — In recent days the images of two unfortunate events have jumped from one mobile phone to another across the country. First were the videos of the Cubana de Aviacion crash on May 18 and then the films of the floods in the center of the island. In both the tragedy and in the emergency the citizen information channels have been faster and more effective than the official media.

The press controlled by the Communist Party has been seen to act clumsily, compared to the rapid and viral news transmission Cubans have achieved on their own, thanks to new technologies. Even Granma’s “minute-by-minute” updates on its digital site suffer from the delays cause by having to wait for authorizations about what events can be talked about and how they must be addressed.

The nationally circulating newspapers distributed in the network of government-run kiosks have silenced all the statements from pilots, flight attendants and experts who point out the technical problems and penalties that have characterized the Mexican company Global Air in recent years. Cubans have learned about these circumstances entirely through alternative networks.

In a Havana high school in the Plaza of the Revolution municipality, the teenagers have exchanged at least a dozen videos about the air disaster, including interviews with a former employee of the firm who denounced the technical problems of its planes. To silence the existence of these testimonies in the news only increases the distance between official journalism and reality.

While the television broadcasts, over and over, the face of president Miguel Diaz-Canel in the place where the Boeing 737 fell out of the sky, videos circulating in the streets show not only the first neighbors who arrived to help the survivors, but also the vandals who tried to take wallets, cellphones and money from the wreckage of the plane. Thanks to these images filmed by amateurs, the ineptitude of the rescue team has also become known.

In the recent days of heavy rains it is also the cellphones and cameras of ordinary people that have allowed us to see the collapse of the bridges over the Zaza and Sancti Spiritus rivers, and the dramatic situation of families with their flooded houses or lost harvests.

National television, on the other hand, has chosen to give more space to the visits of the officials inspecting the state of the tobacco in Pinar del Rio and the boring meetings of party cadres dressed in olive-green who insist that everything is “safeguarded.”

Meanwhile, Civil Defense didn’t bother to release information, an alert or an alarm for the affected territories, but the residents of the sites with the most damage advised their families and people living in nearby villages about the advance of the waters from a dam or the increase in the flow of a river. Not only has the news travelled from one cellphone to another, but the warnings and proofs of life have as well.

One can imagine this same scenario under the absolute information control of the government. Would the antecedents of an accident or the magnitude of a natural disaster come to light if Cubans didn’t have their own sources to learn about them? The experience from the years when the official press completely dominated the scene tell us that the answer is no.

The dangers of this new scenario, however, are also many. Apocryphal images, falsified videos and photos attributed to one moment that actually belong to another, also abound in this avalanche of content that has been unleashed on the island. Even the official sites have republished some of these hoaxes as authentic.

However, beyond the risk of ‘fake news’ and the morbid reproduction of some of these images, the final balance is much more positive than alarming: Cubans are informed now they have their own narrative of the country and have left, far in the past, that informational innocence that served such nefarious purposes. news


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