Iván García, 28 May 2018 — In the faded kiosk, hanging on a piece of string, is the Granma newspaper from two days ago, a Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth) also outdated, and a Bohemian magazine for the month of April.
A thin lady with heavy-frame glasses, unties a bundle of the Communist Party organ and while counting newspapers, she runs her dry fingers across her lips. Separating a handful of copies, she puts them under a broken shelf. With an impossible slowness, she starts selling the Granma newspaper to a dozen old pensioners, who earn a few pesos by reselling newspapers in the streets of Havana.
“Every day I buy 60 or 70 newspapers at twenty cents. Each day I sell 40 to 50 Granmas at one Cuban peso. Those that I have left, I also sell them. It does not matter if they are old, because people use them to wrap the garbage, for toilet paper, or to clean their windows,” “says Rufino, 75, a former railway employee who receives a pension equivalent to $10 a month and tries to make it to the end of the month by selling newspapers and handmade candies.
Every day, he walks an average of seven to eight kilometers selling Granma. Rufio scans the paper and then calls out a headline. “When a fat skewer (someone important) dies I sell a lot. Also when a report about corruption or the government dictates new measures. In general, those who buy the press most in Havana are people from 30 to 40 years old. Younger people pass on the newspaper. ”
When you ask Marlen, an engineer of 48, engineer, which media he prefer, he smiles before answering. “The ones I usually read the most are the three national ones (Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores), which more or less say the same thing and are quite boring, because the way of writing is not very pleasant. The Cuban press is too politicized, lacks research papers, critical articles and chronicles about the real life of Cubans. The same happens with the television news. The best program is Carta sobre la mesa, the Caribbean Channel and some things on the Havana Channel. In short: our press goes from bad to worse.”
When he is able, Marlen is informed through the Univision news or Channel 51, through the illegal cable antenna. Or on Facebook, where they sometimes disseminate materials appearing in openly anti-Castro media such as Cubanet, Diario de Cuba and Martí Noticias, among others.
Daniel, 34, with a degree in social communication, believes that “the range of information available to Cubans is permeated by the lack of rigor of political analysis, bias and lack of objectivity. It does not show all the information, only a part,” he points out and mentions two cases:
“The editorial line is crazy. During the Summit of the Americas, you read that the Cuban delegates left or protested the attendance of ’mercenaries’, but they did not put the news in context, they did not clarify what it was about. Who were the ’mercenaries’ and what did they expose? A few days ago, Granma published that they will not allow parallel Art Biennials. In passing, they mentioned the 00 Biennial, but without explaining what the Biennial was about and why it would be prohibited. It is a string of hollow words, lacking an analysis that convinces. And from time to time they sneak in fake news. ”
If information is power, then Sheila, 17, a junior in high school, has none. Sitting at the entrance of the old Secondary Education Institute of La Víbora, with a bit of pride she says “I don’t waste my time reading the Cuban newspapers. Nor books that sell in bookstores. If anything, I read a novel by Paulo Coelho brought from outside.”
She learns what is happening in Cuba and the world with evident delay. “Sometimes I know something through social networks or when my dad who lives in Miami calls. I do not think I miss anything important. The Brazilian and Colombian telenovelas, salsa music, reggaeton and fashion magazines are mine. The rest I don’t care about.”
No one believes the words of the late Fidel Castro, who claimed that the Cuban people were the most educated and with the highest political level in the world, which continues to be repeated by official propaganda.
“That statement is not true. Government officials and State Security officials are more indoctrinated than informed. The information that is offered in Cuba is extremely slanted. By not selling the foreign press, and with the high price of the Internet and the censorship of numerous digital pages critical of the regime, citizens have a very limited ability to evaluate the information they read or listen to,” underlines Carlos, 62, a sociologist.
Lídice, 37 and with a degree in history, believes “that by not being able to access a greater number and variety of sources of information and different points of view, the quality of the debate and analysis is impoverished. In the national and provincial media you do not find a single opinion piece that openly criticizes the president or the measures he takes. However, criticism of all kinds proliferates on the street. The independent or alternative press makes criticisms, but has little readership within the country. The majority of Cuban journalists who write on their own on foreign sites are not known. Very few, for example, found out that Julio Batista won the King of Spain Journalism Award. Some unofficial reports reach the population thanks to social networks, not because you can access these websites.”
This notorious information deficit means that in Cuba the right to freedom of information, opinion and expression contemplated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a business. From the rent of the illegal antenna to the purchase of magazines and newspapers that come in on planes and that airport workers clandestinely sell in foreign currency.
Emma, 51, a teacher who periodically visits the United States for family matters, recalls “that the bulletins and summaries compiled by the former United States Interests Section, today the Embassy, with news about Cuba that came from the foreign press and independent journalists, and that people obtained free when they went there for an immigration process, circulated as samizdat throughout the country. Now, with the reduction in the diplomatic staff, not only the consular officials disappeared, but also those bulletins.”
A director of radio programs believes that “the best tool to hear the news from Cuba that the official press does not broadcast, is the radio, as long as you have a short-wave device. Television is the perfect medium, which attracts more users, but is blocked by the State, except in international hotels. With the illegal antenna and the ’packet’, better information could be obtained. But those who design these programs, in order to avoid problems with the police, barely include news of a political nature. Newspapers such as The New York Times in Spanish or El País in Spain, can be read in any park with Wi-Fi, which costs a convertible peso the time of connection and Cubans prioritize communications with their relatives abroad. If you want to be well informed in Cuba, you just have to dedicate time. Or money, in the case of the internet.”
According to a brief survey of a dozen people of both sexes between the ages of 18 and 78, the online sites that citizens access most, through proxies or Facebook, are Diario de Cuba, El Nuevo Herald, Diario Las Américas, Martí Noticias, Carta desde Cuba, 14ymedio, El Estornudo and OnCuba Magazine.
Cubans often hear about the news from their relatives living abraod. “I heard about Fidel’s death from my brother who called me from Miami, because I can barely see the television here,” confesses Manuel, 45, a taxi driver.
The control of the olive green autocracy over information and state media is less severe than two decades ago. Currently, the mobile phone has become a valuable communication tool in Cuba. And Granma newspaper has been left to wrap the garbage. Or as a substitute for toilet paper.