14ymedio, Lucía Oliveira, Havana, January 24, 2024 — They call it the Ñico López delegation – since its members will stay there, at the Communist Party School – and it touches down this January 26 in Havana. That day the regime will gather in the capital all the new journalism graduates from the universities of Oriente, Holguín, Camagüey and Las Villas to assign them a position in the official press, where it is more noticeable every day that there is no one to fill the positions.
“It was decided that recent graduates who wished could join that contingent for Havana. It was a decision of the Cuban universities, based on a proposal from the Central Committee of the Party, appealing to proposals formulated in the XI Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (Upec),” says a professor at the Central University of Las Villas, on condition of anonymity.
How voluntary the situation is, however, is not so clear. There is an order, he says, that all students graduating in 2023 reinforce the meager roster of journalists in the regime’s media in Havana.
The official press has published different calls in at least the last year that, judging by the frequency with which they are re-disseminated, are not being well received. Demotivation due to the lousy salaries in the state sector – 5,060* pesos plus “monthly stimulation payment,” Cubadebate promises – and the lack of enthusiasm for rigid media in which there is barely an inch for dissent have not helped, and the graduates themselves who will arrive in Havana on Friday make their intentions clear.
In Havana they will give us accommodation and we will have access to more hours of electricity and a more active social life
“This opportunity is very good for me, I am from a municipality and in my area there is not much cultural life. In Havana they will give us accommodation and we will have access to more hours of electricity and a more active social life. I would like to try and see if it is possible for me to settle in better and get a part-time job or perhaps opt for the private sector once established,” says one of the graduates.
Initially, those summoned had been assigned to the local press where they live, while rumors about the transfer to Havana spread like wildfire. It was only last week when the rumors were confirmed.
“We were all a little lost. A lot was said, but nothing official. Then a list with our names and work locations in Havana was leaked; I was assigned to the Granma newspaper. I was calling the provincial PCC board and contacted by the person responsible for the process in the province, Neisi. On January 19, they officially confirmed to us that the rumors were true,” says a graduate from Holguin.
A professor in charge at the University of Oriente and consulted by 14ymedio affirms that the delay in communicating this decision does not have the slightest importance, since the majority were happy about traveling to the capital. However, she asks the big question that worries the Party and Upec. “It was presented to the kids as an option, little by little we dropped the possibility and the reaction was favorable. All or almost all want to look for better opportunities in Havana. Now, the question I have is: how many of them will really stay working working in the assigned media?”
“We were all a little lost. A lot was said, but nothing official. Then a list with our names and work locations was leaked”
“Right now I don’t have the opportunity to emigrate to another country and I don’t want to watch my life pass in the local environment in which I was initially placed,” says one of the recent graduates. “This trip to Havana allows me to expand my world and opportunities for development. My goal is not to work permanently in a national media outlet, but this allows me to arrive and have a certain stability in which I can get other opportunities.”
This problem, which is already a headache for the regime, seems to have no bottom. Already in 2019, Randy Alonso Falcón, director of the Multimedios Ideas group, which brings together Cubadebate and other journalistic companies, placed the coverage of positions in official media at 40%. “The current enrollment numbers in the university degree will not cover this pronounced deficit even in the medium term. Professional reorientation courses (…) have over time become the main way to fill positions in the sector,” he wrote.
A few years ago, to access the degree it was required to pass the three entrance exams to higher education. In addition, an aptitude test in three phases (comprehensive general culture, writing and interview) and a high grade average are required. A study of the environment of those selected is also carried out to detect their political qualities.
The shortage of students has led to the flexibility of admission and currently a student only has to complete their last year of high school at a University College authorized by their corresponding university. Despite this, there is no way to meet the demand.
“In the last aptitude tests it was necessary to lower the difficulty of the exams – which are not difficult from the start – due to the low preparation level of the candidates. Another recurring problem is the lack of journalists in municipal media, which is why priority is given to admission, even if the preparation is not ideal,” says a professor of the degree at the University of Oriente who, like all those consulted, asked to remain anonymous.
An old study, published in 2016 – when the worst years had not yet arrived – on the professional trajectories of graduates from the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana between 2010 and 2014 revealed that 14.4% of students from these promotions had emigrated. Of the remaining 85.6%, 95.6% were in the capital. And the most alarming point: they all said they were disenchanted after five years in the profession. From 70.4% who marked the answer “very motivated” at the beginning of the career, only 23% continued to have that spirit.
The truth is that I don’t like any official media, I don’t have a preference nor do I aspire to work in a specific one.
This attitude has predictably worsened, but what is certain is that it has not improved. “The truth is, I don’t like any official media, I don’t have a preference nor do I aspire to work in a specific one,” another graduate told 14ymedio. “I prefer writing in an agency because then no one sees me. I have no other choice and that’s why I go. I want to explore and see if it’s possible for me to get something that has nothing to do with journalism because the truth is that the clash with the practice has made me disgusted.”
The ideological factor also weighs heavily in that experience. Those interviewed revealed that they had to actively participate in networks and in person in acts of support for the regime and, if not, face the consequences.
“They began to harass me for not wanting to be part of this,” says a young journalist. “Then they proceeded with threats to invalidate my degree. The problem ended with surprise ’meetings’ at my workplace with a lieutenant who was ’attending my case’ and he knew my entire history on social media, meetings with my parents at their workplace, extortion attempts, and a warning letter.”
Finally, her superior told her that it would be best for her to get a false sickness certificate so she could stop going to work. Only the intervention of a lawyer could get her out of that situation.
“When I arrived with the lawyer, they immediately released me from my position, because they knew that what they were doing was illegal. That’s why I didn’t reintegrate into social service and now I work as a freelance journalist. Then I found out that the same thing happened to one of my classmates,” she adds.
“In Cuba, if you practice journalism within the official media, you feel like a puppet repeating propaganda, which ends up demotivating you professionally, without addressing the issue of salary. If you practice it outside then you run the risk of receiving retaliation,” says another. A panorama that only leaves journalists with the same path as hundreds of thousands of Cubans of any other profession, exile, although “it is very difficult to revalidate the degree in another country.”
“I am passionate about journalism, but after seeing the difficulties that my teachers and colleagues are going through I decided that I do not want to practice it in Cuba. I did not apply for social service because if you go one day then it is very difficult to leave. I cannot tell people that everything is fine when I know that reality is very different. I prefer to work as an individual while I receive unemployment benefits.”
*Translator’s note: At current prices, a single carton of 30 eggs costs 3,000 pesos.
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