Iván García, 20 November 2017 — While Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the oldest dictator in the world at age 93, was giving a televised statement from Harare, surrounded by soldiers and elegantly-dressed officials, many miles away from Zimbabwe, Edna, a history professor at a pre-university, was washing clothes in Havana, in an anachronistic Aurika from the Soviet epoch.
When I ask Edna her opinion on the political crisis in Zimbabwe, she shakes her head and tries to find words that don’t sound trite. “If you ask my kids, I’m sure they don’t know who Robert Mugabe is and they wouldn’t be able to find Zimbabwe on the map. People here are disconnected, although I don’t include myself in this group, since I try to keep up with what’s happening in Cuba and the world,” says Edna, and she adds:
“I went on internationalist missions twice in Africa, once in Angola and another in South Africa. And I can tell you that those freedom fighters, like José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, ended up being dictators. The honorable exception was Nelson Mandela. Mugabe was in power for 37 years, olympically violating human rights and committing fraud in fake elections. Our press treats him like a king, because in addition to being an ally who always votes in favor of Cuba in international forums, our rulers are a reflection of him. Joaquín Sabina, my favorite singer, says in an interview that the Cuban revolution and the Venezuelan revolutions aren’t aging well. The same is true of the African independence movement, in which Fidel Castro played a big part; the same thing happened.”
To find someone on the streets of Havana who will seriously comment about a foreign event is hard. Most reject a question with a shake of their heads or muddle through with a mechanical response.
But an independent journalist like Juan González Febles always has a response: “It’s logical that the Regime doesn’t offer information. There’s a kind of club of dictators who indulge each other. With the Argentina dictatorship, Fidel Castro did business with the soldiers and offered them aid during the war in the Malvinas. Beginning with Honecker, passing through Ceausescu and ending with Mugabe, the Cuban Regime decorated the whole lot of them with the Order of José Martí. Right now a high-level delegation from North Korea is in Cuba. Almost no other country would permit an official from that rogue state to visit. The media silence comes from a debt of gratitude that the Cuban dictatorship has with the rest of the totalitarian governments in the world.
The State media have barely mentioned the grave political crisis in Zimbabwe that will mark the end of the Mugabe era.
In spite of the slow connection, browsing on the Internet I found that Prensa Latina published an article, reproduced Sunday, November 19 by Cubadebate, with the headline, “President Mugabe deposed as the political leader in Zimbabwe.” The same story was also released in the online editions of Bohemia and Tiempo 21 from Las Tunas. Previously, two “decaffeinated” commentaries were published: one on Thursday, November 16 in Granma (“Zimbabwe, the headline of the week”) and the other on Friday the 17th in Juventud Rebelde (“Discussion of the situation in Zimbabwe”).
However, Telesur, a channel funded with the petrodollars of Hugo Chávez, on Sunday the 19th transmitted the televised conference of Mugabe surrounded by soldiers and officials.
In Cuba, all news media, national or provincial, are directed by the ideological department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. And they are always cautious and careful about condemning or criticizing communist governments, governments with leftist tendencies or any that are economic allies.
Nothing has been published on the Island about the corruption in China of the children of high officials and their spectacular lifestyles, and the press is silent about the relatives of Xi Jinping who are implicated in the Panama Papers.
The monarchist tyranny of North Korea is treated with the utmost respect. And you’ll never see the official analysts, experts on the U.S. or the European Union political systems, write an article condemning the testing of nuclear missiles by the Hermit Kingdom Kim family.
However, there’s a surplus of space and ink for counting killings in the U.S. or pointing out statistics on capitalist poverty. But about Zimbabwe, hardly anything is known. Cubans don’t know about the terrible economic situation, with 90 percent of its citizens unemployed, or that the average life span isn’t more than 40 years.
With Africa, the information blackout is redoubled. The role of the Castro autocracy in the struggles for emancipation on that continent is known. Fidel Castro maintained a special friendship with Robert Mugabe. In August 1986, Castro was in Zimbabwe to participate in the Eighth Summit of Nonaligned Countries, which was celebrated in Harare, the capital. For his part, Robert Mugabe made several visits to Cuba, on the following dates: September 1983; 1986 when he was decorated with the Order of José Martí; June of 1992; July of 2002; September of 2003, and September of 2005, according to photos found on Google. His last trip was in November 2016, in order to attend the funeral of his “brother, Fidel.”
Hence the scarce news on what is happening in Zimbabwe with the old friend of Castro the First. Nor do the Cuban media mention the enormous fortune accumulated by Isabel dos Santos in Angola, or the scandals of Teodorín Obiang, son of the intolerable dictator of Equatorial Guinea.
As for Latin America, we’ll never see a reproach against the regimes of Nicolás Maduro, Evo Morales or an analysis of the litigation against Lenin Moreno and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. The National press never qualified the FARC of Colombia as a terrorist organization. Nor did it publish one line on the detention for narcotrafficking of the nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro’s wife.
The media in Cuba are an arm of the Regime. It uses them for the benefit of publicity. The ideology department of the Party isn’t stupid. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot with the monster that they themselves created.
For Cuban readers, Zimbabwe is a socialist democracy and Robert Mugabe is a hero of African independence. And his wife, Grace, repudiated in her country for her love of luxury and her delusions of grandeur, if we give credit to the commentary published in Juventud Rebelde, is an innocent woman who was a child when the war of liberation took place.
If someone wants to be informed objectively and know other points of view, then he must pay one convertible peso, two day’s minimum salary, to navigate on the Internet for one hour. That’s the only way.
Translated by Regina Anavy