Information as Treason / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

"For the retrograde Cuban officialdom all cats are gray." (EFE)
“For the retrograde Cuban officialdom all cats are gray.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 14 October 2016 – Authoritarians aren’t very given to calm. They need the citizens to feel widespread discomfort to be able to govern them with ease. This scenario of fears has sharpened recently in Cuba, where the government has strengthened or opened new fronts against the opposition, against the self-employed, against young people who aspire to a scholarships to study in the United States, and, especially, against the independent press.

The battle drums sound and the main enemy is embodied on this occasion by journalists not affiliated with the state media who are reporting on the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. The government is opposed to “private sites, or those openly in service to the counterrevolution” giving “an image, not of a different, but of a distorted reality,” according to an article published this Thursday in the official newspaper, Granma.

The Granma article, titled “Matthew: Humanism, Transparency and Manipulation” is barely a skirmish in the escalation of recent weeks against publications that have escaped Communist Party control. What is new is that this time the attack reaches certain areas of the independent press that have fought tooth and nail not to be included in the sack of “enemies.”

The current offensive against them, embodied in the arrests suffered by the Periodismo de Barrio team and its director Elaine Diaz, the threats against Fernando Ravsberg about a possible expulsion from the country, and the sanction against Holguin journalist Ramirez Pantoja, show that for the retrograde Cuba officialdom all cats are grey, or, and it’s the same thing: the journalist who doesn’t applaud with sufficient enthusiasm is a traitor.

The official onslaught has reached the report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the situation of the press in Cuba, a study prepared with the cooperation of Ernesto Londoño, a journalist for The New York Times whose editorials in favor of the thaw with the United States were, until recently, praised by Cuba’s government press.

Now… now we’ve all been tossed into the same sack.

It serves the new victims not at all to distance themselves from those who have been stigmatized by official propaganda on prime time television programs. There is little to be gained today by the acrimonious official rejection of independent journalism born in the nineties. Nor even that abomination of “controversial” or dissident bloggers as they publicly insist they are guided by a leftist ideology.

None of that matters. Because what is happening now is a clash between two eras. An era in which the Cuban Communist Party could control, decide and manipulate at will all the information published in the island’s media. A time when we learned weeks later that the Berlin Wall had fallen, and when the images of the 1994 Maleconazo uprising in Havana itself were whisked off the front pages of the national dailies. This era is dying and another is being born, thanks to new technologies, to many journalists’ commitment to the truth, and to the growing eagerness to be informed displayed by many Cubans.

However, to the Plaza of the Revolution, accustomed to deciding each headline and appointing the directors of every newspaper, radio and TV station, it matters little whether the new object of their animosity is a fashion magazine, a sports publication or an information site. If it doesn’t have the Party’s seal on it any attempt to inform will be seen as a declaration of war.

As long as Cuban journalists fail to recognize that beyond their editorial nuances, their phobias or their individual ideological affiliations they must unite and protect each other, officialdom will continue to land these blows. They will demonize, arrest and confiscate the tools of the trade, whether the journalists they are talking about the migrations of birds of prey or acts of repudiation suffered by the opposition.

The only thing worth distancing ourselves from right now is letting the forces most opposed to free information tear us apart. Separated, we are just journalists at the mercy of the whims of power; together we are united in a vigorous and needed profession.

Let this article serve to transmit my solidarity to all my colleagues who today are in the crosshairs of repression, whatever their editorial line, the focus of their work or the color of the dreams they cherish for our country.