Where there’s smoke…

Let us leave aside the journalistic theory that an unconfirmed rumor is not newsworthy. At least not in Cuba. On the island, idle gossip acquires the character of news. It even happens that at times the rumor is more accurate than the miserly news the regime deigns to publish.

It so happens that the government controls every aspect of society. It masterfully manages the flow of information. Although it cannot prevent infiltrations from happening in the form of gossip and whispers.

In any society where freedom of the press is a part of the laws embedded in the Constitution, a journalist only has to pick up the phone and call a government source to confirm a point.

Or demand information in the name of a set of rights that prevent a government from denying or manipulating. This does not happen in Cuba. Here, when rumor is repeated with insistence, it is because something is happening.

I will give you examples. The government reported as accurate that 26 demented people died Havana in the Psychiatric Hospital of Mazorra in January. Independent journalist and other sources raised the figure to more than 60, including those who died in several Havana Nursing Homes during the cold wave the country endured at the beginning of the year.

In addition, the government hides information about the economic collapse. According to rumors, there is a video only shown to the members of the Communist Party, about the difficult crisis of resources.

And these days, it is vox populi, that there is a supposed corruption scandal involving the highest figures of the government. The rumors mention the names of the Minister of the Interior, Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, and one from the Armed Forces, Julio Casas Regueiro. Without much fanfare, the minister of Aeronautics, Rogelio Acevedo was taken out circulation. And in previous days a strong man from the Castro’s elite, the Chilean Max Marambio, aka El Guatón, was as well.

The official press keeps the usual silence. The Cuban media has to wait for executive orders to divulge the news, to the rest of the island, the hoaxes and speculations are known as Radio Bemba, the gossip network, literally “Lip Radio.”

In the absence of credible information, Radio Bemba is spread at supersonic speed.  Whispers involve everything, from Fidel Castro and his brother Raul’s health, to new state prohibitions or laws that will be proclaimed. The ratio of correct guesses is about 60%.

As a result, people believe the rumors to be more truthful than the insipid state information, which paints a perfect world for us, one where everything increases, from the meat production to the construction of homes. The National Television News, whose acronym is NTV, is called No Te Veo — I don’t watch you — by the man on the street.

But if someone’s credibility is in the basement, it is that of the news media. Cubans consider that the disinformation is three times greater than the information.

Whether it is by emails, Twitter or SMS, it is common to learn certain news before the State Press releases it. Now, in this spring doomed to be hot, when Cubans do not expect anything good from the meager economy, and where the whispers of scandals involving big personalities grow like a snowball, it remains to be seen whether the wave of whispers is true or false.

But where there’s smoke…

Ivan García

Photo: Janex & Alba, Flickr. River in Baracoa, in the extreme east of Cuba.
Translator’s note on the photo: The Spanish expression for, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” is (loosely translated) “When the river sounds, it is because it carrying water.”

Translated by: Mari Mesa Contreras