14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana |15 January 2021 — The screen was black and white, the television was Russian-made, and the girl who was looking at the images was barely ten years old. The announcer spun expletives against a Cuban opponent, while an eagle in a threatening posture, the initials CIA and a crowd of raised fists also gathered on the scene. More than 30 years later, that girl — now an adult — would be one of the protagonists of another broadcast of such a crude program.
As in a never-ending series of terrible production, national television has broadcast new episodes of defamation against activists and dissidents in recent weeks. The history of these reputation-killing broadcasts is woven into the very origins of the prevailing political system on this Island, accustomed to vilifying its critics without offering them the right to reply.
Although these libels against opponents are part of the genome of Castroism and have barely changed their tricks and insults, the audience has changed a lot in the last three decades. From a captive audience “forced to believe everything the official media said,” we have moved to a country where the number of people who barely watch nationally broadcast television and prefer to consume content on demand is growing.
The way these smear campaigns were received internationally is also different. The repeated formula of the victimhood of a regime, one that always blames supposed foreign forces for the existence of critical voices in the country, no longer convinces and generates more indignation than support. In addition, these attacks against dissidents feed the denunciations of global organizations and provoke solidarity campaigns towards the victims.
But perhaps the most negative effects for the ruling party are those that are generated in the Cuban population itself after the broadcast of these capsules of hatred aimed at demonizing individuals and groups. The reactions, even those that are more in tune with the Plaza de la Revolución’s version, can be absolutely counterproductive for the objectives sought by Power.
“If they do all the things the television says they do, what they have to do is imprison them,” shouted a retiree in ragged clothes the following morning when more than a dozen faces appeared on the Primetime News as a cartography of the new enemies of the homeland. A woman close to the retirement home replied in a lower voice: “Ah, that television is a show, nothing more, to entertain,” and a laugh spread in the line for the frozen chicken.
For the most recalcitrant militants of the Communist Party, it is inconceivable that these alleged “agents of a foreign power” walk the streets, transmit their ideas through social networks and even work in independent journalistic newsrooms within the Island. Thus, the reiteration of these smear campaigns spreads the idea that the Power is weak and all that is left to it is insults and “TV programitas,” a popular epithet.
There are also other unexpected results, such as the conviction that as the economic crisis deepens, political propaganda becomes more aggressive and raucous. Many remember the harsh years of the Special Period – after the collapse of the Eastern European bloc and the loss of the Soviet subsidy – when the shops were emptied and the streets filled with billboards filled with ideology. “This is to cover up that there’s not even any rice,” said a young woman after listening to the first seconds of the television tirade last Wednesday, just before turning off the set.
Not to mention the free publicity these shows bring to the faces and phenomena vilified. Several of the defamed have enjoyed displays of popular support after being accused in the news, with messages of solidarity and even the emotional gesture of being invited by some stranger to cut in front of them in the line to be able to buy some scarce product, a true sign of friendship and altruism in these times of scarcity.
So, if the audience no longer passively swallows this defamatory “porridge,” and the image of the Government is devalued worldwide every time it spreads it, while popular reactions range from indifference to empathy with those attacked, it is worth asking why the Cuban regime continues to appeal to such formulas. What reason drives the Communist Party to bet on methods with little or even counterproductive results.
The answer is simple: the ideologues of Castroism do not know how to do anything else. Their way of acting and handling propaganda remains the same as that widely used half a century ago. Those who decide, up there, how to treat critics continue to think about the formulas that gave them some returns decades ago. The girl in front of the TV grew up and broadened her horizons, but the system is fossilized.
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