The Battered Press / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Two papers, same owner, same front page. (YS)

14YMEDIO, Fernando Damáso, Havana, 21 July 2014 — It is no secret that the editorial policy of a newspaper responds to the interests of its owners. In countries where freedom of the press exists and is respected, newspapers abound, reflecting many different interests. In countries where freedom of the press is clearly absent, one, two or three newspapers are sufficient, more than enough to cover the form, because they all say the same thing and defend the same principles.

The case of Cuba is a good “bad example”; Granma, Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), and Trabajadores (Workers), each in its area of influence, serve a single objective: to defend at all cost the established political economic system.

In Republican-era Cuba, with a population half as large as today, there were 14 national newspapers: Diario de la Marina, El Mundo, Información, El País, Excelsior, Prensa Libre, Mañana, Alerta, El Crisol, Ataja, Tiempo en Cuba, La Calle, Diario Nacional and Noticias de Hoy. There were also two newspapers in English and three in Chinese, as well as newspapers in each one of the six provinces.

Some came out in the morning and others in the afternoon. Some included comic strips and were printed in color with photographs, and some had weekend supplements. In their Sunday additions the newspapers multiplied the number of pages and had a great number of advertisements. They sold for five cents during the week and 10 cents on Sunday.

This variety of daily papers covered the entire Cuban social spectrum, from the most conservative positions represented by Diario de la Marina, to the most radical represented by Noticias de Hoy, the newspaper of the communist. Between one or another there appeared the whole gamut of political, economic and social concepts. Some prioritized political news, and others events. All of them dedicated space to culture and sports, where qualified journalists had regular columns.

In their Sunday editions Diario de la Marina, El Mundo and Información devoted ample space to literature, visual arts, theater, music, film, science, among other topics, with articles written by prestigious intellectuals who were not forced to toe the editorial line.

Leafing through old copies, articles appear from important personalities and journalists such as Enrique José Varona, Juan Gualberto Gómez, Rubén Martínez Villena, Raúl Roa, Carlos Márquez Sterling, Sergio Carbó, Jorge Mañach, Anita Arroyo, Emilio Roig de Leuchsenring, Gastón Baquero, Felipe Pazos, Mirta Aguirre, Eladio Secades, Edith García Buchaca, Alejo Carpentier, Agustín Tamargo, Enrique de la Osa and many others who make up the endless list and demonstrate the multiplicity of views.

Every citizen could freely choose the one most corresponding to their own, without dogmatic impositions of any kind.

There were dailies that exploited sensationalism and yellow journalism to sell their copies quickly, and those that offered more serious news in a measured way, which were most of them. Newspapers were hawked on the streets by vendors, using as promotional hook the main news on the front page, always leaving up in the air a question that forced you to buy it, if you wanted to know everything.

Some famous hooks, often repeated, were: See how they caught him! He struck her and fled! He stole and jumped from the second floor! Get the scandal! Here is all the evidence! The cyclone is coming tomorrow! and others.

The main points of sale were the bus stops, where they were offered to the passengers through the windows in quick sales transactions. In addition, there was home delivery by subscription or, more leisurely, by distributors that roamed the neighborhoods. They were characterized by punctuality, thus ensuring that the papers arrived daily before breakfast or before dinner, depending on whether it was a morning or evening edition.

After 1959, the Republican-era press had a sad ending, first with the invention by the government of “tag lines”—short texts, supposedly written by “revolutionary” workers, were added at the ends of articles and reports to reject the opinions expressed—and finally, with the intervention and closure of the newspapers.

The Republican-era Cuban press was dismissed during the last half century by the spokespeople of the ruling party, forgetting that it provided an important service in the defense of citizens’ interests and in critiquing the different governments in every era, a source of pride and an example to imitate in these times, where free opinions are only possible in the few independent newspapers that exist against all odds, persecuted and suppressed by the authorities, and whose circulation is hindered.