Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Open Veins of a City

Today, when I should be publishing the last part of my articles about Cuban journalism, an emotional inability cut short my intention. Because to speak, at this time, about something else other than the lamentable events happening in the city of the national anthem, the contaminated atmosphere of pain that falls today over Bayamo’s fiery summer, is to be a traitor to what it means to be a chronicler in my blog.

The small town I live in is covered in gray. The iron gray of violence. It is a terrorized city in waiting, one whose nerves have not known peace for a long time.

It all began with a death.

As always, a death impossible to accept.  This one, most of all: the death of a child, a 13-year-old girl.

Her little body was found a couple of months ago in the bushes, lacerated, where it lay for days, subject to insects and decomposition. A small prostitute who died in a rented room, victim of an overdose of drugs forced on her by an Italian tourist.

Her story unnerved all the good people of this city. It hurt us, wounded us, we who above all base our lives and behavior on the idea of humanism. Her destination (taken in a car, at midnight, abandoned by the tourist and Cuban accomplices to the mercy of scavenging dogs and vultures in some desolate place), filled us with horror when we learned of it, especially because of her young age.

When she was discovered and photographed by the police team, she was still wearing the yellow skirt of her school uniform.

The authorities took several weeks to find the culprits. The arrests followed, one after another, endlessly. Too many well known names were implicated in one way or another in the homicide. Those who have lived in provincial towns understand how explosive such a case can be in such a confined environment where everything becomes known.

As for the perpetrators, they put them behind bars. Those directly responsible, those indirectly, those suspected, and those presumed to have knowledge of the crime. The squeal of the tires, the wail of the police cars, were repeated in different parts of the city, at any hour, any house.

Then the deadly insecurity struck. Even today.

Because still, at the very moment I write with sincere unease, the arrests have not stopped, the operations, the deployment of soldiers that are obviously intended to extend justice, even beyond the point where I don’t know if I should support it. I am referring to a social lesson. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on August 28, 2010 in Ernesto Morales Licea


Orphaned From Journalism (Part 2, Almost Final)

If someone were to ask me, what is the principal weakness, the most glaring problem suffered by Cuban journalism today, I believe I could summarize it without hesitation: It doesn’t resemble Cubans.

It doesn’t resemble anyone. Neither the audience to whom it is addressed, which recognizes less and less these triumphalist news items they read and hear everywhere, nor does it resemble even those who fabricate it. I, along with Leonardo Padura, also believe that there are great journalists in this country — as there are great practitioners in nearly all our social spheres — but they lack a medium in which to practice.

Bearers of the word are not lacking. What nobody sees around them is a democratic platform in which the word is free.

A first element to consider is the distance between the reality reflected in the media, and what every Cuban knows from his own experience starting from the time he opens his eyes in the morning.

The newspapers talk about exceeding targets, labor efficiency, clever methods of cultivation in agriculture, and the same reader who follows the news with his eyes, then has to ask himself through what loophole did the food evaporate, that food the media promised would not be missing from his table.

Cuban Television has patented a macabre cliche it repeats every year with manic precision: All the conditions are guaranteed for the start of the new school year.

We’re already coming to the end of August; it’s only a question of days until the phrase is heard on National Television News.

The journalists, adapting their rigorous questions to comply with the directives of whatever sphere, without going into great detail, without conducting an interview, reproduce the complacent (and often false) words of some officials who announce the upcoming opening of Cuban schools will occur without any mishaps.

What then do the hundreds of thousands of students who walk the halls of the high schools, the universities, find on the first day of the school year? They find a desolate landscape lacking chairs, tables and blackboards; unmotivated teachers discouraged by the lack of current literature needed for the curriculum.

The list of similar differences is endless.

But I think there is a central issue that, in my view, is the principal fault of Cuban journalism, and its professionals.

Zero coverage

How many issues vital to the public welfare and national public opinion have been ignored by the journalists in this country? How much information has been withheld from the citizens who consume what the media tells them as their only possible way of understanding the national and international reality? How unprotected have national analysts left a people? People whom they should defend and protect with their questions, faced with their totalitarian leaders entrenched in power for life?

A perfect example of this would be the uncompleted history of an event that is taking place on the Island today, and about which the rest of the world possesses much more information than the people who live where the event is taking place.

This is the release of prisoners of conscience imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003. The well-known 75.

What has been the media coverage inside the country of this event which would be socially important in any country in the world? None. Zero. The totality of information available to Cubans from the officially controlled media, has been the trifling note published by the Catholic Church in the Granma newspaper, when the prisoner release was made official. A note, to paraphrase Garcia Marquez, whose wording served not to tell but to hide.

The international media reported extensively today on the release process — and later the exile — of these independent journalist; and in Cuba, the country’s owners continue to speak of apocalyptic nuclear threats, the tension in the conflict with Iran, and books about the guerrilla adventure in the Sierra Maestra.

Stunning, startling disinformation.

Three Examples of the Information of Bewilderment

Taking as a reference point that note published by the Cuban Church on page 2 (inside) of the newspaper Granma, we can deconstruct a trend in the media that has been verifiable for too many years.

Something we could call information about the confusion.

It would be presented something like this: an incident takes place on this Island of Events. The official media (which is all the media there is) look elsewhere, and Cubans, well trained in the exercise, must appoint themselves — it’s never been said better — to clandestinely ferret out the desired information.

However, later, for reasons of political expediency, the establishment decides to respond to some kind of international media pressure. And does so from its media. That is: from ALL its media.

But as connecting to the Internet is an impossibility for the reader, he can only read Granma or Juventud Rebelde (Young Rebel) every morning, sometimes wondering what they’re talking about in these articles which, logically, make no sense.

Here are three recent examples.

1. One day young Eliecer Avila from Las Tunas, from a packed room at the University of Information Sciences (UCI), challenges the president of Cuba’s National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada. First the BBC and then the whole world are talking about it: a young computer science student had the unfathomable courage to ask uncomfortable questions, and to publicly demonstrate his disagreement with the head of his parliament.

Who heard about this in Cuba? Only owners of a computer, with a USB port-connected DVD player, the friends of friends who could access the video. The Cuban press remained absolutely mute.

When they wanted to “disprove” before the whole world that there had been any dissent from this young peasant activist, National Television headed off at full speed to his eastern hometown and stood him before the cameras where he confirmed his support for the Revolutionary process.

The problem was, he was providing follow up to an event that had never been reported on national television.

2. In 2007, a prominent intellectual signing himself James Petras published, together with Robin Abaya, an essay entitled Cuba: Continuing Revolution and Contemporary Contradictions, a serious analysis of the Cuban reality.

Both Petras and Abaya are recognized as comitted intellectuals of the Left. But like so many academic progressives, they tried to defend a social model which is impossible to subject to rational thinking.

Ignoring the stagnation of a country that, like the pillar of salt going back to Sodom has not advanced for decades, is something that requires great persistence from mentally handicapped people, but not from men with their own ideas.

But we all know that admitting criticisms, wherever they come from, has not been a tradition in this land of dreams.

A few days later, Fidel Castro reappeared on the front pages of all the newspapers, and made speeches on all the radio and television newscasts, with a Reflection entitled The Super-revolutionaries, which was an apparent reaction to James Petras’ and Robin Abaya’s article.

The huge percentage of Cubans, completely uninformed about what he was talking about, totally unable to access the original article, could not understand what this exposition of the Comandante was all about.

3. Last, but not least: A poor man dies a grisly death in a hospital in my country. He dies of hunger. Having begun his strike from Kilo 8 prison in Camagüey, 86 days later he stops breathing in the General Hospital of this same city. His name is now sadly famous, Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Of him, of his martyrdom while he was still alive, very few Cubans knew anything. A few activists from opposition parties knew of him, as did the privileged ones who have access to the Internet. No one else.

The rest of us Cubans living on the island learned of this painful case more than a week after his death, when National Television received the order to counter the huge wave of international protests that were beginning to spread with an awesome force.

I was one more of those taken by surprise, one more of those dismayed with what seemed like something taken from a horror fantasy; and this had just happened right under our noses without a single decent journalist being able to inform his people of the disgrace. A national journalist delivered an embarrassing report on primetime news which simply slandered Zapata Tamayo, manipulated his story and bent the news to the will of the journalist.

The reporter told us that Zapata had been treated at the hospital, never mentioned that he had been on a hunger strike, nor even that he was a prisoner. It was a story that began with the last days of a man whose previous acts we were not given to know.

A journalistic aberration

I cannot describe today the feelings of pain and overwhelming impotence that overcame me after contemplating this material. Minutes after seeing it I wrote an article titled The Death That Never Should Have Been, which is still circulating on the web.

I believe that was the decisive article that led to my expulsion from Cuban institutional journalism.


Orphaned From Journalism (Part 1)

Just recently I discovered with regret that I had only one task pending in my passage through the institution of Cuban journalism. A yearning that had been building since my feverish college days maybe five or six years ago.

That is, to attend as a delegate a National Congress of the Union of Cuban Journalists. A difficult undertaking for someone who was not linked to this organization of the Cuban press, and who was not a member of the Union of Young Communists.

It so happens that these congresses stir in me an irrepressible curiosity which, clearly, I can no longer satisfy first hand. Like secret organizations, like the rituals of mystical sects, this meeting where specialists would gather to discuss or analyze a profession that does not exist in their country, seems to me an exotic thing worthy of having lived through and immortalizing in marble.

It would be the same to me if Cuba decided to hold a National Symposium on Eskimo Culture.

To speak without shame about journalism, in a country that has killed its essence, can only be understood as a cruel irony. In any case, it has not lost its attraction for me, nosy person that I am.

I think had I been able to get myself a seat I would have played an amusing game of suppositions. The game would have been this: guess, behind the poses of the meeting, which of these royal colleagues were the ones who thought of themselves as the paladins of information in Cuba, the ones who slept soundly thinking themselves the defenders of the public truth; and which only played the role to survive, knowing in their heart of hearts that real journalism was much more than obeying directives without any opportunity to ask questions.

Because yes, contextualizing a phrase by Pedro Luis Ferrer, there is a question I haven’t stopped asking myself from the moment I became a communications professional in Cuba: are many of the journalists of this country aware of the past that awaits them?

Are they aware of what it will mean, in the future of conciliation that I want to imagine without bitterness or violence, to read what they wrote, full of lies or hiding the truth, repeating the slogans of the tabloids; hearing themselves on the radio energetically supporting decisions which, in the privacy of their own homes, they criticized just as much as everyone else? Seeing themselves applauding in front of the television cameras while listening to speeches they didn’t even want to attend?

I’m speaking not from the point of view or distance of someone who has long since lost contact with our reality. I speak with the knowledge of someone who knew the circumstances, who until just a few months ago talked ad nauseum with my journalist colleagues, believing in our bonds of friendship and listening to revealing testimonies about the blatant and cruel hypocrisy that surrounds journalism in my country.

Any time you evaluate a phenomenon as complex and diverse as communication, in a country of exceptional conditions, multiple possibilities always present themselves, inviting us to dissect the various parts of Cuban journalism. Looking inside one of the leading causes — I say this without hesitation — of the strictures of thought that the society in which I live suffers today.

Just a starting point

I don’t have to make any special effort to remember the initial event that made me question, honestly, the world I was about to join. It happened in an editing booth at the local television station in my province. The year was 2004. I had just turned twenty.

A well-known colleague was editing some material about the single comparison most recreated and manipulated in our national history: Cuba, gray and weighed down, before 1959, vs. Cuba resplendent after 1959. The voice over emotionally narrated the transition, from darkness to light.

But an unforeseen delay threatened the program: the presumably ancient images of the impoverished nation were nowhere to be found. They had looked through all the files, in vain. The documentary had to air the following day.

That journalist’s solution is something I will never forget. She probably will.

She extracted a cassette from among her things. She mounted it and told the editor to capture what came next. Before us was a succession of images of malnourished children with distended bellies, ruined houses threatening to collapse on the camera itself, mud and misery, hunger in hundreds of faces, people in rags, skeletal dogs eaten by scabies.

I was struck dumb. Not by the gruesome impression of the scenes before me, but by my sense of what the journalist was about to do.

The images had been taken (I believe for internal consumption within certain political circles) a week ago in a rural village called Rio Cauto in the province of Granma. The color of the DVC Pro camera they had been taken with revealed their currency. This was no problem, however, for the cubicle with the latest editing software.

Removing the color was the work of seconds. The editor said nothing. Soon the same hungry faces emerged, the same third world landscape, but now in the black and white of a distant past, to which, according to the material, we should never return.

The voice overs of that journalist, now an icon in the local press, spoke of the misery of living on the island before 1959, while images taken just a few miles from home the week before, flashed on the screen. Minutes later, the montage displayed the rebirth of the country in colorful scenes of smiling healthy children and the openings of new buildings.

I didn’t have the courage to watch the film, the following day, when it aired in primetime.

Translated by Angelica Betancourt


Tropical Cancer

From the moment you push the door open, you notice something is not right. By now you should be feeling a change in the atmosphere, the change of temperature to give your skin, so mistreated by the sun, a breather. You should feel the air conditioner running at a place where you pay with the coin of higher value in your country.

Nevertheless, inside awaits a heat as intense as the one outside. Maybe hotter.

The salesclerk, a skinny mulatto, is wearing his button-down shirt as required by the rules. At his armpits, the blue color from the shirt gets darker: the sweat runs all the way down his ribs, it forces him to pull the shirt away from his body over and over again during his shift.

You ask him for a soda, and you lay the convertible peso that equals two days of work on the counter. You know you can’t allow yourself to spend that type of money frequently, but the climate is maddening and at moments you feel forced.

When you reach for the can, you think there has been a mistake:

– It’s not cold, my friend, can you change it for me?

His answer, a little indifferent, is the answer of someone who has had to repeat it on countless occasions:

– They’re all like that. The rules about saving force us to set the fridge at the highest temperature, that is why they can’t get as cold as they should.

You’re still holding the can in your hand. You know that it is not what your lips are waiting for to mitigate your thirst. You know you’ll regret having spent two days worth of your salary for a drink you won’t enjoy. But you sense the same thing will happen in every store you go to. Read the rest of this entry »


My Friend The Enemy

A suspicious incident has provided me with writing material this time.  As a sample of a rare will for controversy and democratic confrontation, the site Kaos en la Red, which promotes itself as the champion of intellectual reflection, has just censured a post originally published on this blog, which some reader decided to post on that portal.

The text My Own Vindication of Cuba appeared on that site under the free publication section and soon after went to the main pages of the section named Cuba.  After reaching a considerable amount of readings, and after being commented on by many readers, it disappeared without leaving a trace.

The interesting thing is that, according to some comments I had access to via e-mail, a few feverish readers uttered howls of indignation before such opprobrium towards the progressive Kaos en la Red.  The opprobrium was the appearance of my text there, not its later censorship, even requested by many of them.

How is it possible – they asked themselves – that our site, the trench of the united leftists allows the enemy to infiltrate in such way? How is it possible that we offer tribune here to an author (me) who admits on his Facebook page that he reads with dedication Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Alberto Montaner?

Soon after, Kaos en la Red retired my inglorious article.

I must confess: I have enjoyed the anecdote.  At some point they announced to Sigmund Freud that the Nazis burned his books.  The response of the wise psychoanalyst was a sarcasm without equal: “Humanity has progressed so much!” he said, “in the Middle Ages they would’ve burnt me.”

In no way does my ego want to think itself dangerous to the orthodox leftists, just as it seemed the work of Freud was to the retrograde fascists. But this thought seduces me: it had to have something, right? Otherwise my simple article would still be there.

Neither do I think I can discover any truth by affirming that Kaos en la Red represents a faction increasingly impoverished and discredited precisely for their lack of plurality, for the panic that divergent voices inspire in them; I wouldn’t expect anything else. Read the rest of this entry »


All The Lights Are Red


They knocked on the door twice before identifying themselves.  When they said “It’s the Police,” he already knew it couldn’t be anybody else.  No one else would’ve knocked with such rudeness.

His face pale from nerves, he let them enter, knowing there was no going back.  After searching the house all over, they decided to open a washing machine placed (strategically) behind the bathroom door.

They looked at each other with a satisfied expression: they had found the merchandise.  The thief was lost.  Soon after, in a drawer in the bedroom they would also find some money that, although it wasn’t much, it was proof of illegal commerce; therefore, it would also be seized.

They took him out in handcuffs, in the middle of the day. They put him inside a police car.  One of them stayed at his house, interrogating his wife who was barely able to stammer with her throat tight from fear and astonishment.

The operation had concluded with great success on a busy city street, and the curious, the neighbors, and the occasional lingerers stepped away so as not to be taken as sympathizers of the disgraced.


I would’ve wished all this to be only my imagination, my literary voice, but it’s not.  What I just described took place in Bayamo only three days ago.  The detained man was a personal friend of mine.  I have to confess I haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep since this past Thursday.

This delinquent is not really a delinquent.  The merchandise is neither marijuana nor laundered money.  It was simply pants.  Just that.  A load of twenty jeans bought at a good price in the country’s capital, and brought (along with many sleepless nights, shock and hardship) to this eastern city.

Let me clarify the “good price”: fifteen convertible pesos.  They were bought at a store in Havana that had lowered their price for having small manufacturing defects.

They could be sold for twenty convertible pesos, or with luck for twenty-two, in this part of the country.  Small profit for this smart merchant, big profit for the buyer who wouldn’t have had access to them any other way.

Nevertheless, the eyes trained in the art of informing don’t rest.  Some diligent “collaborator” reported the crime, and the forces of order showed up. What crime? Well… something that in this, my island of euphemisms has been named, “hoarding.”  That’s how it’s defined, and that’s how it is punished.

What does this idea of hoarding consists of?  Possessing a large enough quantity of something to make it worth trading in it.  It doesn’t matter if it is soda crackers, fan blades, or in this case, jeans with small manufacturing defects. The number they consider as too high has not yet been stipulated.  That is left to the police officer’s interpretation. Read the rest of this entry »


My Own Vindication of Cuba

I think of Martí this very instant.  I remember his fired up words on that document he named “Vindication of Cuba,” where, in name of the voiceless, the Master answered a diatribe of The Manufacturer newspaper that accused us of being inefficient and soft, weak on the thought of establishing a true nation. It also accused us of laziness.

Today it is not The Manufacturer who marks us as lazy people.  It is called Granma, and it is this country’s official newspaper.  Whoever follows its pages daily knows what I’m talking about: the constant and increasingly more aggressive terms in which its journalist refer to an evident phenomenon in current Cuban society: all the willingly unemployed among a great part of the population, especially among the youth.

Paying attention to what our mass media proclaims, it looks like the offensive words of such newspaper are revealed in our current Cuba. What does this mean? That our most recent crusade undertaken by the Cuban officials is against lazy people, against whom even our Penal Code establishes measures under the title “Social Dangerousness.”

The Granma editorials say: “We have to eradicate them. We have to cut out the laziness by the root.” For my part, in order lay out my argument, I allow myself to demonstrate elementary concepts.


If there’s something that this fertile land produces, aside from fruits, cigars and baseball players, it is working men.  Men who, behind any adversity or impossible task, find the way to accomplish their endeavor, always with effort, always with work.  We have a legion of laborers who get up from their beds every morning without knowing what they’ll be able to eat for breakfast, what they’ll leave for their children to have for lunch, on what transportation they’ll get to work on time, with what tools they’ll perform their functions during the eight or ten hours they must stay at their post.

And just like these, we also have another legion that got tired of that bitter litany and decided to test their luck in other shores at their own risk. Read the rest of this entry »