We Don’t Believe the Television / Yoani Sánchez

Laura Pollán, leader of the Ladies in White. Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

I often complain about this self-sufficient little fatty in every Cuban home — the television — and its excessive influence on our lives. This week, for example, the nightly programming has been saturated with political messages that we later hear repeated in schools, workplaces, offices… in the infinite spiral of ideological propaganda. But in the midst of this slogan overdose from the loudspeakers, we can also find people who have not watched the National News for months and who can’t remember the last time they flipped through the newspaper Granma. They are people who lead a parallel life to that broadcast on the official screen, those have voluntarily vaccinated themselves against the excesses of hegemonic discourse.

But the growing suspicion with which so many of my compatriots receive the news and opinions broadcast through legal channels eases my mind. Not only do they apply it to the exaggerated figures for agricultural production, but this lack of confidence extends to the reports on foreign relations, the physical state of some public figure, and even a simple sports commentary. Cubans increasingly doubt what they are told, begin to read between the lines, and interpret, in reverse, information in the national media. The disbelief has gotten to the point where insult is deciphered as praise and vice versa. Those demonized by partisan publications are thus transformed into admired beings — albeit in a whisper — and even those fired from the government apparatus acquire a certain aura of appeal.

Knowing this peculiar phenomenon of reinterpretation, the number of people who have called me to ask about the health of Laura Pollan does not surprise me. The great number of friends and onlookers who have gathered outside the Calixto Garcia Hospital emergency room where she was admitted for acute respiratory distress is comforting. Considering all the insults, curses, and lies that have been launched against this woman on the official television, the reactions of so many Cubans in solidarity with her is a revelation. The dozens of text messages transmitting medical reports about the leader of the Ladies in White, the prayers at shrines throughout Cuba, and the encouragement from so many other peaceful activists, are the major silencers of this shrill character who — in our living rooms — launches into a tirade we no longer believe in.

8 October 2011