News Without Newness / Miriam Celaya

One of the characteristics of the scandal unleashed late last year by the website WikiLeaks is the frequency with which certain developments that should not be a news flash for anyone are revealed. Simultaneously, an idea seems to be enthroned that tends to overestimate the importance of this site as the information legitimizer. Something like saying that “if it came out in WikiLeaks, is true,” which means the birth of a sort of absolute cyber-dictatorship for informational truth: the substitution of a monopoly (the mainstream media, which WikiLeaks claims to fight) by the monopoly of a supposed “freedom of information” which, in fact, tends to advocate anarchy.

Paradoxically, it is said that the Spanish newspaper El País “has exclusive rights on information filtered by Julián Assange’s Web.” Could it be that this is a free exclusivity deal by virtue of a freedom of expression defense turned offering? Why would a major media, the Spanish language newspaper with the largest circulation, be the repository of filtered “firsts”?

As for me, among the cables published by such a site that somehow make reference to Cuba, I have not found any new news items. I think I am not mistaken if I declare that most Cubans do not need the new defender of published news reports of the US Interests Section in Havana to find out, through its former representative, Michael Parmly, that “corruption in Cuba has become a widespread phenomenon that reaches both the Communist Party leadership and professionals without political affiliation.”

Other cables reaffirm the same, detailing aspects of Cuban life that have been reported by independent journalists and alternative bloggers for a long time, such as “corrupt practices, including bribery, misappropriation of state resources and accounting shenanigans, including purchased jobs for hundreds or thousands of dollars that will later spin off copious interchanges of influence.” We are well aware of that social cancer metastasis, corruption, that has even invaded the police, one of the most affected sectors; but it is absolutely present in every niche of national life. Even the comandante himself, the generator of the Cuban National Disaster, acknowledged in 2005 that the revolution could implode because of the great corruption that exists on the Island. He stated it much later than the independent press. WikiLeaks, through El País, merely sanctifies through the mouthpiece of a foreign official what many honest Cubans –- many of whom are in prison because of it — have denounced in the first place and, more recently, as if to conjure old faults, it has been acknowledged even by the olive green gerontocracy and its most reverent acolytes.

Among the latest of the retro-exclusive news flashes that the site of the famous Julián Assange has regaled us with these last few days is Parmly’s own communication that contains “confidential information” provided to him by Vilmar Coutinho, a Brazilian who in turn received it from the Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim (what a mess!). According to the “revealing” communication, the latter “had a talk with Raúl Castro” in which the General declared “that he had no intention of doing away with the white card” — the travel permit required to leave the country — because “that would produce a mass exodus,” whose host country would be fundamentally Mexico, which “would harm bilateral relations” between Cuba and that country.

Thank you, WikiLeaks! But we Cubans already knew that the white card is one of the government’s more lucrative diabolical “milking” mechanisms. As a Cuban-American economist coined it, the “emigration industry” produces juicy dividends for the Cuban government, at no cost whatsoever, and the famous little card is one of its sources. The so-called white card, which allows native Cubans to exit the country costs only 150 CUC, and it can be obtained, in the first instance, only through the corresponding letter of invitation from abroad, paid to the Cuban government in hard currency, with the exception of those who have obtained their Spanish citizenship, who need no letter at all to go to Spain, though they still need their white card. Add to that the application for a regular passport which has a price of 55 CUC. Considering the large and continuing flow of Cubans to immigration offices to perform procedures related to this, it is easy to calculate that the amount of income generated could be, at least, in the order of hundreds of thousands annually. Add to that the monthly rent required to be paid to the Cuban consulates abroad by Cubans who left only temporarily and expect to return to the Island. That is why the General could not eliminate the white card, not because a supposed massive exodus to Mexico (more like the United States, the main and dreamed-of destination of almost all Cubans aspiring to escape). The cynicism of the General when recognizing the possibility of a “mass exodus” is not a WikiLeaks news flash either.

I could cite other examples, but that would be to extend myself in vain. I agree with those who have found only a great source of old gossip in the controversial site. If you look closely, it is only useful for fleeting chitchat, and to show that the Internet also has that dark and sinister side that that puts issues under a microscope that perhaps should remain in some office files and drawers. Apparently, for media that thrives on scandal, the personalities implicated in the gossip are more important than the news itself. Personally, I’m not very interested in revelations after the fact, unless they have the purpose of amending errors, an issue that is beyond the scope of a mere mortal like Assange. Nor does it seem ethical to me to advocate the collapse of a site –- be it official, famous, or not — as some cyber-fundamentalists have done to avenge the attack to the new idol, because I defend freedom of speech in its universality. As an independent blogger living in a dictatorship, I know what it feels like when an absolute power blocks that right.

I don’t know what WikiLeaks proposes to do ultimately; perhaps it is only about good intentions gone wrong. Maybe my assessments take me beyond a critique, but my readers know I am not complacent, and I hope that they can clarify some of my doubts. I count on that. As for the referenced website, I think so much internet talent could continue, though based on better causes (he’s done it before), and promoting the free flow of information in areas where there are serious access restrictions, while respecting the right to privacy. Freedom should not be synonymous with chaos. The WikiLeaks experience is, in my opinion, one more demonstration of the human capacity to deal ethically with technological advances, just like it has happened so many times before in history. And forgive me, readers, if this seems like an old fashioned presumption, but sometimes what we call “information” is nothing but stupidization disguised as news.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

February 3, 2011