I do not think there is better way to weigh the worth or the worthlessness of the media in a country, than to carefully analyze what they themselves do.
Like few other jobs in the world, journalism has a peculiarity which at times is its own worst enemy: its raison d’etre is public consumption. No other profession is as visible, as this mass communication, where millions of brains interpret and evaluate the product you have offered for their consideration.
In the case of the Cuban press, the manipulation of information, concealment of events of interest to society, and the total absence of critical views or in-depth analysis of the political and social framework that governs the destiny of the island, represent some of the characteristics that could be seen as increasingly visible endemic ills.
For each of these points, the same newspapers we read every day, the same National Television, offer endless arguments that at times, rise to the level of attacks on the intelligence of the media consumer.
Let’s look at a few examples.
A CERVANTES PRIZE FOR A SAD TIGER
On April 27, 2009, the Holguin newspaper posted an article signed by Petra Silva Cruz, entitled The Two Cuban Cervantes Prizes.
In this article, the author briefly reviews the life and work of two immortals of Cuban literature: Alejo Carpentier and Dulce Maria Loynaz. Both were awarded the highest recognition of Hispanic literature, the Cervantes Prize.
After perusing it, the reader is left stupefied by a brief — brief but of staggering proportions — omission, a paradox worthy of comic theater. It so happens that the Cervantes Prize has been won by not only two, but three Cubans. Three. And the third is a child of the same province as this newspaper, Holguin.
Guillermo Cabrera Infante was born in 1929 in the Holguin village of Gibara, which is also famous for supposedly being the first place that Christopher Columbus set foot in his discovery of the island
Cabrera Infante was awarded the Cervantes Prize in 1997, and his novel Tres tristes tigres (“Three Sad Tigers,” but renamed in translation: Three Trapped Tigers) is generally considered a masterpiece.
So why has this man, considered a master of contemporary Latin American narrative, been so blatantly robbed of his Cervantes Prize, and that by a newspaper which — carrying the absurdity a step further — represents the region of his birth?
It’s very simple. Because to be Cuban, according to the official press, is to support the system and the government. Both have the uncanny ability to strip the citizenship of those who are disaffected, successfully re-baptizing these people as “stateless” and “traitors” for their choice to disagree with the official party line.
As a consequence, therefore, there is no media outlet in this country where one can mention the name Guillermo Cabrera Infante.
But as it would be too much to ask the triumphalist propaganda not to refer to the two Cervantes winner who remained in the Island, the awarded tigers are reduced to two with no concern for the veracity of the information, an insult to journalistic decency.
A BASEBALL GAME THAT NEVER ENDS
Baseball World Cup in Havana, 2003. Fighting it out for a place in the semi-final were two opponents who played with real passion: Cuba and Brazil.
The course of the game was worthy of a Hollywood script, with spectacular plays, last-minute photogenic fly balls, and nerves stretched to the point of delirium.
Now Cuba has the opportunity to leave Brazil on the field: it is the 9th inning and the stellar Yulieski Gourriel reaches third on a triple setting off a euphoria from one end of the Island to the other.
But the game is not yet won.
Next up is another prodigious player. His name: Kendry Morales. (Currently he is the star first baseman of the Anaheim Angels in the American major leagues.)
His phenomenal home run stops physical time for Cuba’s fans. The film of his figure rounding the four bases is repeated ad nauseam on national television.
But something unexpected was about to happen: Shortly thereafter, Kendry Morales left the country en route to his dreams of playing in the American majors. His departure from the island took place just before the National TV sports journalist, Julia Osendi, was to present a flowery piece about current events in “revolutionary baseball” on the TV show The Roundtable.
I am sure it could not have been easy for her. She had to talk about the 2003 Baseball World Cup, and its most electrifying game: the one decided by Kendry with his spectacular home run. But in her report, she only mentioned the triple by Gourriel. The home run hit by the former player from Cuba’s Industriales team never happened.
To be allowed to present her work, Osendi had to vaporize the same athlete whom the entire country had loved with a passion, on behalf of a political precept that considered him a deserter and an enemy, and therefore someone who could not be mentioned in the media.
Judging by this story, once Kendry is erased from history, Yulieski Gourriel is still standing at third base, waiting for a cleanup hitter to drive him home. The game is not yet over.
I am sure that future researchers seeking to conduct a sociological assessment of this Caribbean island, through the newspapers preserved in libraries, television news reels recorded on old tapes or digital copies, will be faced with a dilemma: Accept as valid the historiographical material, adulterated, incomplete, and warped to accommodate the political interests of the national press in these times; or resort to the true chronicler of our recent history: Art.
In the History of Cuba that I want to read some day, it will be awarded to art, to the artists of this country, to provide the reference points and social analysis that by definition should have belonged to journalism.
Why? Because it is only through a handful of films and documentaries, reckless songs (which would cause their singers to be banned), irreverent novels (whose authors would be officially banned), that a Cuban can find a representation — good and bad — that he can identify with.
Only through plays which would be quickly be censored, through art exhibitions closed down, has an entire country managed to express itself in a more or less public way without the support of a responsible and incisive press.
What has brought this about? A substitution of identities, where, even though it is art that has been tainted at times with too much social criticism, Cubans have found voices that finally say what the media has been shamefully silent about.
Cubans have had to flock to theaters to hear the incendiary words of a homosexual discriminated against, expelled from his country, for daring to prefer strawberry ice cream over chocolate. They must read the novels of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, the stories of Ángel Santiesteban, the testimonies of Amir Valle, to find a reflection of reality flooded with beggars, prostitutes and rafters, because from national television’s viewpoint there are only permanent headlines of exemplary workers and production plans far exceeded.
The conclusion in this respect was given to me by the singer-songwriter Pedro Luis Ferrer in an interview that I conducted just two years ago. To my question about why one finds more information about his rift with the Cuban government than about his musical career, the artist replied:
“I accept it as an inevitable phenomenon: in places where the press doesn’t play its role, and doesn’t say the things that have to be said about politics or the economy, people substitute values, and they approach art to find the news they cannot find in journalism. Consensus sites are created in art, while they should have been created in other areas.
“To change that would require politicians to do what they have to do. And journalists and economists do what they have to do. And then it would not be necessary for Pedro Luis Ferrer to say in his concerts and interviews what, by definition, should have been theirs to say.”
FINAL BALANCE OF THE ORPHAN
A people orphaned from journalism can not be healthy enough to build a just society. A society which is, as Jose Marti, the Master, said, “With All and For the Good of All.”
A public orphaned from public debate, creates a place where the alternative media (blogs, underground musicians, underground television serials) have gone on to become essential for the information-hungry city, which has no real tools to generate plurality of thought. Much less democracy.
The dull and obedient journalists in Cuba carry on their shoulders the responsibility for what we now, regretfully, see: a society incapable of civilized debate. Those journalists must take the blame for the mental deformation that has made Cubans a people without the will to value even our most elemental human rights.
I believe that within a people so orphaned from journalism, the voices from alternative platforms, with huge dangers and threats, with good decisions and regrettable deviations, have carried the weight of national and international information, and one day could be accepted as the bright spot in the darkness, the Yang within so much Yin.
I refuse to be pessimistic, but around me, for now, I can not see any other examples of real journalism, free and consistent with the social reality.