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Letters (Unencripted) From Cuba

29 Apr

Fernando Ravsberg, BBC correspondent in Cuba

It’s not the first time an article by Fernando Ravsberg, Cuban correspondent for the honorable BBC, left me feeling frustrated, bittersweet, as a result of, in my judgment, certain skin deep and inconsistent analyses established by him.

But it is the first time I’ve decided to comment in writing. Now, after reading his last blog post, I break the ice.

Of course I knew the wide acceptance “Letters from Cuba” has among some readers in my country, including among my personal friends; and I knew, also, the notorious discredit this journalist has among the community of independent bloggers, and among many Cuban intellectuals who, in addition to exercising their right to disagree with official dogma, take the written word as a fundamental means of expression.

His well-read blog, also followed by those who see in him an approach different from the national daily’s, is criticized by others who brand it complacent and vaguely hypocritical, the velvet glove with which Fernando Ravsberg draws the reality of the Island for the world. Let no one doubt it: a blog hosted on the BBC has readers of course, and this implies a responsibility in capital letters.

In which of these two factions — if that is the split — do I include myself? Well from time to time I pass through his website, “hearing” his particular view of the facts, agreeing or disagreeing, and always I respect, as a colleague, the intellectual exercise implied in wanting to reflect a country as convulsed as Cuba, in just a few paragraphs.

To be perfectly strict I have to say, also: I’m sure that the BBC could find better professionals to send to the Caribbean nation. Fernando Ravsberg is not a significant journalist in our language, today, and serves in one of the most complex and challenging theaters (Cuba) that can be found in the world today.

On my personal scale, he’s a craftsman of words, someone with an academic style, grammatically correct, but without something inherent in every practitioner of memorable journalist: a refined style. His writings, even the best and most poignant, exude a clerical preparation, that of the report. Fortunately they always have the virtue of brevity.

However, this is not so now, after reading “Honeymoon, the virtual war, real life,” compels me to write about the Uruguayan journalist who has wandered, for a long time, slowing and with pen in hand, among the ruins of our singular Havana.

Fernando Ravsberg does not understand why independent bloggers, or classic opponents, need to encrypt their messages to send them off the Island, or even to communicate within its walls.

To this I, a Cuban as he is not, add: not only the disaffected, millions of ordinary citizens also need to compress and encrypt their communications, if they want to keep a minimal personal privacy.

I quote Ravsberg unfortunate text, “The dissident bloggers have reason to say that in Cuba privacy is not respected and so encryption techniques are criticized. It could be, but I bet that in these times encrypted messages raise suspicions even in the most democratic nations of the world.”

And then he adds, “Maybe it’s that I know few people but there isn’t a single one of my friends who uses encryption keys to communicate on the Internet.”

Carefully considered, analysis such as this is what generates my lack of confidence in the intelligent thought of this communications professional. Or, still worse, his commitment to the truth.

Because supporting such a thesis, Fernando Ravsberg forgets, doesn’t know, or hides, a great truth: in democratic nations individuals not only don’t encrypt their dissident messages, but they wrack their brains looking for ways to make them public.

I will never forget my fascination, three days after stepping on American soil, seeing an old man at a stoplight with a sign — Republican — that read: “How much more will it take for Obama to understand he’s not eligible to be President, let alone for a Nobel Prize.”

In democratic nations, only those who place bombs in metro stations, smuggle organs and drugs, or harm society with their criminal acts, need to protect their electronic or telephone communications. Not law-abiding citizens.

And if the BBC colleague says that not one of his friends uses encryption keys to communicate online, his statement leads to two possibilities:

1. The man chosen by the British to sniff out the essence of Cuban society, doesn’t have among his acquaintances a single “ordinary” Cuban, of those who set passwords for their archives using WinRAR to communicate privately with a family member living abroad, or to arrange a trip to escape.

2. The man chosen by the English doesn’t have the slightest idea of what it is to use a clandestine Internet connection with protective passwords or anonymous proxies to hide the sites he wants to visit.

And he doesn’t know for a key reason — the essence of my disagreement as a colleague and as part of the burdened nation he has decided to recreate — because Fernando Ravsberg seeks to establish well-informed judgments about a country which, in its essence, he does not know.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, to not tar him with the brush applicable to so many journalists who, in order to continue their stay in this Jurassic and exotic scene which is Cuba decide to use the soft tones of a tourist watercolor to paint their written portraits, I prefer to call him a poorly integrated foreigner. Not an opportunist.

But the same tropical Cuban oxygen isn’t breathed by the person who emerges from a debate sponsored by the magazine “Topics” in the narrow Strawberry and Chocolate room in the capital and runs to his page to post cheers to a perceived tolerance, to progress on freedom of expression, on the same day that Stephen Morales was expelled from the Party for criticizing corruption and I lost my job for dissenting from the national information policy.

Serious in a journalism of respect: shortly after a new post, backtracks from his raucous joy, and admits the gag imposed by the organizers of the civic debate, which banned him if he wanted to continue attending, from writing about what happened there.

More serious still: Week later, the correct Ravsberg accepts the rules of the game, and in order to preserve his permission to enter the little debate in the capital room, he publishes a post as a wink, about “nothing happened” there. The wink is this: “It’s agreed that I say nothing, they don’t close the doors, right?”

Above and beyond my very personal opinions, above and beyond my true respect for his way of exercising our so complex and subjective trade, and above and beyond my transparent evaluations with regards to his basic handling of the journalism tool, the written word, Fernando Ravsberg posits an ethical and moral view that, if he is an honest man — which I think he is — needs to be addressed very soon, and sharply: “The Cuba that I describe, is my Cuba — that of a semi-assimilated and well-favored Uruguayan, or is it the Cuba that a demanding and truthful journalist should write about?”

There is no intense journalism without conflicts. Anyone who wishes to remain on good terms with God and with the Devil should change their profession. Or, merciful alternative, move the context and write a blog entitled “Letters from Switzerland.” I’m sure that there they will not know citizens who need to protect themselves from the great eye that sees everything, encrypting their messages.

Pardon the absolutism, but writing about Cuba is far too much for them — those who do not respectfully suffer the ailments of an aching country, or those who have not engaged themselves in an extra dose of commitment, ethics, and bravery.

March 23 2011

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