Yulieski Gourriel, the Internet, and Other Cuban Demons / Ivan Garcia


Iván García, 7 July 2105 —  In the Cuba of the Castros one thing is certain: the role of the people is to applaud, accept, and await the executive edicts. So long as the boring newspaper Granma does not confirm a news item, then reports about it are false.

The secretive handling of the press by the autocracy has far exceeded the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its official news agency TASS. If in Moscow it took three days after Brezhnev’s death to announce it to the people, in Cuba some news can take a month to be acknowledged.

In other cases, the people never find out. Cubans know little or nothing about the transfer of weapons to North Korea, or that Antonio Castro, Fidel’s son and playboy of the olive-green bourgeoisie, won a golf tournament in Varadero. As far as the state media is concerned, Rihanna, Beyonce, and Paris Hilton did not visit the island.

Researchers charged with collecting information about the Special Period, a static economic crisis that lasted for 25 years, can gather nothing by reviewing the official press: the news of the time overflowed with optimism; it did not report on shortages, but only highlighted popular support for the Revolution.

In the field of information, Cuba is stuck in a third dimension. The rumor mill has become a science. On the street, the average Cuban can expect to learn of the arrest of a minister, that another baseball player jumped over the wall, and that the general has a journalist girlfriend. They learn these things by other means.

This summer’s drama is the case Yulieski Gourriel, probably the last great star of Cuban baseball. By numbers, Gourriel is the best player on the Island. A five-tool player.

In 2014 he was hired by the Japan Professional League where he performed remarkably. But this season he breached his contract by not reporting in to the organization, claiming injury.

Officials of the Yokohama DeNa BayStar nine asked Gourriel to travel to Japan to be evaluated by team doctors. Yulieski did not show up, simply preferring to recuperate at home.

They imposed a heavy fine and canceled the contract. Yulieski himself started feeding rumors when on April 5 he posted on his Facebook wall a cryptic note that said “Things happen for a reason. What is coming could be better. “

Because everything in Cuba is covered by a shroud of mystery, little can learned about Gourriel’s intentions. According to ball players in Havana, Yulieski married a granddaughter of Raul Castro.

For reasons unknown, Yulieski withdrew from participating in the selection of the national team for the upcoming international events. Something unprecedented. And that could result in his being sanctioned by the Cuban Baseball Federation.

On the Panorama Sports program of Radio Rebelde, reporters of the caliber of Ramon Rivera and Luis Alberto Izquierdo received emails and phone calls from fans asking about Gourriel.

The state journalists belong to the ideological sector and are considered “soldiers of the Revolution.” Rivera and Izquierdo did some semantic juggling to try to please their listeners. They called Yulieski’s house and the phone is out of service.

Clearly, the State, its ministers, spokespeople, and leaders disparage the official press. They hide information, don’t offer interviews, and cavalierly ignore them.

This is silly, because if the partisan press is unable to meet the people’s expectations of the news, the people will seek information through other channels. And that’s been happening for a long time.

Gourriel’s case serves to connect to another issue that leaves the official press dangling. On Friday June 19, the national television news announced with great fanfare the opening, on the 23rd, of 35 new Wi-Fi access points in several localities.

On the appointed day I went to La Rampa, where according to the news report there would be a wireless zone from the Yara Theater to the Malecon. It was all a hoax. Zero connections.

I went to the ETECSA commercial office in the basement of the Focsa Building on M Street between 17th and 19th in Vedado, to investigate the matter. Most of the employees were unaware of the information.

An engineer told me that the service would began on July 1. So why did the news announce its start on June 23? “Those people are clueless. They say what the uninformed officials say. Because of technical problems, the network still isn’t up,” he replied.

They are still selling internet-browsing cards at 4.50 CUC an hour, although it was announced that as of June 23 they would be reduced to 2 convertible pesos. “No one has told us about this reduction. Until it’s printed in the Gazette it’s not official,” said an employee.

The regime leaves the press that it sponsors in a very bad way.

Yulieski, the State, and Raul Castro should learn that public information is not a private preserve. It is a civil right.

Translated by Tomás A.