That’s Life! / Fernando Damaso

Photo Rebeca

The Day of the Cuban Press was celebrated on 14 March, a day that commemorates the first edition of the newspaper Patria, directed by José Martí, in the year 1892. However, the celebration is exclusive — as is to be expected — the only participants are the government press, which has changed very little since its last congress. It continues to be complacent with the authorities who pay for it, as well as triumphalistic.

Some things–considered critiques–have been tried to improve its deteriorated image, they carefully balance a little salt and a little pepper in their articles and commentaries, to avoid calling the attention of the censors and other problems. Among these are the Letters to the Editor in the newspaper Granma, the same feature in Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth), and “Cuba Says” on the TV News. Nevertheless they can’t hide the government’s footprints.

The awards to the most outstanding journalists were for the most part given to the most-recognized defenders of the government line, in the written press as well as for radio, television and digital. Their writings and commentaries, commonly, seem to respond to journalism-by-direction rather than investigations, which seem to be missing.

For now, it seems that the problems and dissatisfactions of ordinary Cubans are only voiced by the independent journalists and the bloggers who, as is to be expected, were not considered in this celebration, along with some alternative publications, which is quite discriminatory.

Ironically, on this day of praise, the underground press that existed during the years of the Batista dictatorship appeared; a press which, like now, opposed the regime, exposed its lies and offered the truth, forming no part of the recognized press.  That’s life!

17 March 2014

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1 Response to That’s Life! / Fernando Damaso

  1. omar fundora says:

    the Castro government, perhaps his administration’s treatment of the press was best described
    by Castro himself in a 1965 interview with U.S. photojournalist Lee Lockwood:

    There is very little criticism. An enemy of Socialism
    cannot write in our newspapers—but we don’t deny
    it, and we don’t go around proclaiming a hypothetical
    freedom of the press where it actually doesn’t exist. …
    Furthermore, I admit that our press is deficient in this
    respect. I don’t believe that this lack of criticism is a
    healthy thing. Rather, criticism is a very useful and
    positive instrument and I think that all of us must
    learn to make use of it.

    Confident in his absolute control, Castro made this chilling statement to a foreign journalist in a thinly veiled attempt to claim acceptance of dissenting views. While any objective observer would consider eradication of the free press and political tolerance to be mutually exclusive, this rhetoric served Castro well in the international arena. Castro was able to present himself to the foreign press as a populist leader; yet at home, many considered him to be a ruthless dictator.
    Much like Batista, Fidel Castro and his administration sought to restrict the press, but they employed different strategies. Almost immediately upon assuming power, he eliminated freedom of the press with a number of creative if brutally successful strategies. First, he created two main constitutional provisions and laws that effectively limited a free press. Only five weeks after coming to power, Castro established the Fundamental Law of 1959 on February 7, 1959. Article 24 of this law allowed the government to confiscate the belongings of industries and individuals accused of having accepted gifts, favors, and/or subsidies from the Batista government. Additionally, in January 1960 the Castro regime made it mandatory for every newspaper to include a qualifying footnote on any article that could be interpreted to suggest criticism of any government policy. These footnotes soon came to be known as coletillas or “tails.” The Cuban government argued that the footnotes proved that Cuba had a free press and the workers also had the right to “declare that the article is factually incorrect, is a violation of journalistic ethics, an attack, and forms a plot against the Cuban revolution.”
    Second, as private ownership in Cuba quickly came to an end after 1959, the only incentive offered to journalists by the Castro government was employment at a newspaper that was owned and operated by the regime. In fact, many people were selected to become journalists in Cuba not based on training or skills, but solely on their political ideology. Third, the Castro administration used the closures and confiscations of independent newspapers to reduce effectively the possibility of a different interpretation of the goals of the revolution and to eliminate any criticism of the government. In the time period examined in this study, Castro closed and confiscated twelve major national newspapers. Although some have argued that May 1960 marked the end of the
    free press in Cuba, I continued to conduct my research until the year 1969 because that marked the
    final consolidation of the press when El Mundo was merged into Granma. Lastly, with respect to the imprisonment and exiling of journalists, my research demonstrated that there were at least three prominent newspaper editors who were sentenced in the 1960s and imprisoned for over
    45 years combined. Additionally, many journalists were forced into exile either by government threat or by personal choice. It is striking to note that there were some 2,000 newspaper professionals in Cuba in 1959 and that only three years later, 1,500 had fled.
    A comparative analysis of the dictatorships of Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro reveals important
    similarities and differences in their treatment of the press. Batista used an incentive policy that involved bribes and other inducements designed to persuade the press to report news favorable to the government. His punishment strategy included suspending constitutional guarantees and temporary newspaper closures. Castro on the other hand, exploited the idea of “revolutionary
    struggle” within the press to ultimately create a printed media that was entirely owned and
    operated solely by his government. Castro’s tactics offered little incentives for journalists other that
    those willing to report favorably would be able to work in their profession in a government-owned
    newspaper since all others were closed or confiscated. Castro’s punitive policies toward his critics in the press were far more repressive and included imprisonment and exiling of journalists. There were at least three prominent newspaper editors who were sentenced in the 1960s and imprisoned for over 45 years combined under Castro. Additionally, many journalists were forced into exile either by government threat from the Castro regime or by personal choice. I could find no such cases under Batista. It is striking to note that 75% (1,500 out of 2,000) newspaper professionals in Cuba in 1959 had left only three years later. Arguably the most important lesson that the Castro administration learned from Batista in regards to the press, is that by allowing any amount of
    freedom of the press—which is likely to include some criticism—the government would be compromising its ability to remain in power for any extended period of time.

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