“I do not want to put on a ‘media show’ “ / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Juan Antonio Fernández Estrada, a professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Havana, said he does not want his dismissal to turn into a ‘media show’. (Cubaposible)
Juan Antonio Fernández Estrada, a professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Havana, said he does not want his dismissal to turn into a ‘media show’. (Cubaposible)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 4 November 2016 — How many times have we heard the phrase “I do not want to put on a media show,” especially from people who have been victims of institutional abuse in Cuba? It would seem that there is a generalized notion that publicizing a problem hinders its solution. Is this really true? Not in my experience.

It is true that the mere fact of sharing with public opinion in a determined situation is not an act of magic that exonerates us from any frustration or suffering, but also it is a myth to believe that everything will go better if “nothing comes out on the internet” or in “the press of over there.”

I have known cases where unscrupulous leaders have trampled the dignity of workers in the most diverse areas without feeling the minimum weight of the law and much less the moral judgment of public opinion, because when abuses are committed under the shelter of silence, the victims suffer double and the victimizers remain unscathed to continue committing their crimes.

As I’m not given to relying on stories that are two old or too distant, I will mention some recent events that reaffirm this false perception. Just a few months ago Omar Everleny Perez was fired from the World Economy Studies Center, at the University of Havana. Aside from information from third parties and some timid comments from the professor himself, the reality is that nothing formal was published about it. Nor was the decision overturned.

Then there was the firing of the Radio Holguin journalist, Jose Ramon Ramirez Pantoja, for publishing the remarks of the deputy director of the Granma newspaper. In this case, also, the journalist himself approached it very timidly and in his close circle, when it came time to call things by their name, although more comments circulated on Facebook than in the previous case. Nor was there any reversal of course, with the final result of the process far worse than one might think.

Last week, this newspaper published an interview with Professor Juan Antonio Fernandez, expelled from the University of Havana, in which he also mentioned this phrase: “I don’t want to make a media show of this.” It’s curious how we have embedded in our hypothalamus that sharing our problems is an act of “ideological weakness,” a “concession to the enemy” or, even worse, a betrayal of who knows who.

But apparently it’s very different when the problem happens to a “comrade” with another country. The exaggerated media coverage by Telesur and other national media in the case of Victor Hugo Morales comes to mind, when his contract was cancelled with an Argentinian television network after it stopped receiving the Kirchnerista check (bribe) after the election of Mauricio Macri as Argentina’s new president.

The headlines in the official press denounced the “abominable censorship” which the militant was supposedly a victim of, who certainly, thanks to this whole campaign, didn’t delay in finding another foxhole. Indeed, that’s one of the good things that happens in more than a few cases: when you have closed one door and others, who share your vision, can cooperate in opening another one even wider.

The phobia that exists among Cubans about telling the media what has happened to them has two key components. One, the fear of reprisals that might be even worse by a system that doesn’t tolerate being accused of anything, and that has control of all the strings to weave the most sophisticated traps. Two, the lack of confidence in national public opinion that has no real weight, nor is it accustomed to pressuring any institution, and much less the government, so that the limited repercussion that a specific case will have overseas and this can come via the antenna, distorted or manipulated.

In any case, I believe there is a legitimate right to make public knowledge what we consider exceeds our limited personal capabilities of self-defense. But this confidence that any of us can have in what exists and what could determine the solidarity of our people, should be cultivated with the rightful exercise of citizen opinion, the responsibility and seriousness of the media and, especially, the strong and effective articulation a broad civil society that covers every corner of the country.

National public opinion should become the protective shell of each fair person and the worst nightmare of those who violate their rights. This public opinion is not an abstract or distant entity: it is you, it is me, it is all of us.