[Marxism] In Cuba’s Press, Streets and Living Rooms, Glimmers of Openness to Criticism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Dec 8 09:26:03 MST 2013


NY Times December 7, 2013
In Cuba’s Press, Streets and Living Rooms, Glimmers of Openness to Criticism
By VICTORIA BURNETT

MEXICO CITY — It is a rare day in Cuba when the Communist Party’s 
triumphalist newspaper suggests that the government — just maybe — 
messed up. Or when the party’s chief ideologist renounces government 
secrecy. Or a salsa star, performing at an official concert, calls for 
the freedom to vote and to smoke marijuana.

But such gestures of openness are becoming more common.

Glasnost it is not, say Cuban intellectuals and analysts. But glimpses 
of candor in the official news media and audacious criticism from people 
who, publicly at least, support the revolution suggest widening 
tolerance of a more frank, if circumscribed, discussion of the country’s 
problems.

“There is more space for debate,” said Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban 
political scientist and blogger who lives in Mexico. “People are more 
outspoken.”

For decades, Cuba’s garrulous citizens discussed politics sotto voce and 
barely referred to Fidel and Raúl Castro by name, even in their own 
living rooms.

But in recent years, especially in Havana, Cubans have begun talking 
more openly about the economy, the political leadership and the 
restrictions they resent. As they taste new freedoms and, increasingly, 
discuss their problems online, they are pushing the boundary between 
what can and cannot be said.

“What people can get away with has changed,” said Ted Henken, a 
professor at the City University of New York.

Much of this comes down to President Raúl Castro’s style, said Carlos 
Alberto Pérez, a self-described “revolutionary” blogger. Since Mr. 
Castro took over from his ailing brother in 2006, he has invited Cubans 
to give their opinions on the economy and called on the state-run news 
media to be more incisive.

“People in Cuba want to debate, argue, listen and be listened to,” said 
Mr. Pérez, whose website covers issues ranging from the difficulty of 
getting a body cremated to public transport.

Overhauls allowing limited private-sector activity and more freedom to 
travel have loosened the state’s grip on Cubans’ lives and led them to 
question more openly a political system that has kept the same people in 
power for more than five decades.

In September, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference made a bold, if oblique, 
bid for a more democratic system, calling in a pastoral letter for an 
“updating” of the political model and saying Cuba should be a “plural” 
society.

Meanwhile, the Internet — despite being out of reach for most Cubans — 
has broken the state’s monopoly on information and allowed for a 
spectrum of opinion, bloggers and analysts say. Bloggers, including many 
who support the Communist system, have written about economic 
mismanagement, the timidity of changes, corruption, bureaucracy, the 
lack of Internet connectivity and the passivity of the state-run news 
media. Blogs and Facebook posts often spur streams of blunt online comment.

“It’s revealing that people who are supposedly on the inside are making 
the same criticisms as people on the outside,” Professor Henken said.

There are still limits. While the government preaches frankness, it 
continues to crush opposition, and those who step over the fickle line 
between loyal criticism and dissent risk ostracism, loss of employment, 
harassment or jail.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an 
independent group that tracks treatment of activists, said there were 
761 short-term arrests of dissidents in November, one of the highest 
figures in the past two years. And in October, five independent 
journalists were detained for several days, according to Reporters 
Without Borders.

“It’s ambiguous,” said Mr. Chaguaceda, the political scientist. “It 
depends who you are, how you say things, where you say them.”

In the middle of a nationally televised concert in September, the jazz 
singer Robertico Carcassés surprised the nation by calling for the right 
to elect the president, the legalization of marijuana and freedom of 
information. Even more shocking was the authorities’ reaction: After 
barring Mr. Carcassés from performing in state-owned venues, meaning 
most of them, they backed down after Silvio Rodríguez, a famous 
revolutionary singer, stuck up for his colleague’s right to speak out.

The state-run media, which comprises virtually all press, television and 
radio in Cuba, has publicly embraced what it calls the “battle against 
secretiveness” and made efforts, however tepid, to shake up its 
coverage. In September, the state-run television news introduced a 
segment, “Cuba Dice,” or Cuba Says, in which Cubans on the street are 
interviewed about issues including alcoholism, housing problems and the 
high price of fruit and vegetables.

In October, Col. Rolando Alfonso Borges, chief of ideology for the 
Communist Party, told a summit meeting of the Cuban Journalists’ Union 
that the party rejected secrecy. Last month, Miguel Díaz Canel Bermúdez, 
first vice president of the Council of State, met with journalists in 
the provinces to urge them to be more polemical.

In a highly unusual show of flexibility, Granma, the party’s official 
newspaper, wrote in November that public opinion seemed to be against a 
recent ban on private 3-D cinemas. Noting the “rich” online debate, the 
article said Cubans supported regulating and reopening the movie 
theaters and hinted that the decision might be reversed.

Indeed, blogs have won high-level readers. The reform-minded blog La 
Joven Cuba was blocked for several months last year after it published 
several critical articles. These days, however, “we bump into officials, 
and they tell us, ‘Oh, I was just reading your article,’ ” said Harold 
Cárdenas Lema, 28, one of the blog’s founders.

The Internet, coupled with greater traffic between the island and the 
Cuban diaspora, has smudged the divisions that have defined life in Cuba 
since Fidel Castro’s 1961 dictum, “Within the revolution, everything; 
against the revolution, nothing.”

“Cuba is a country where for years there was nothing but extremes,” Mr. 
Cárdenas Lema said. “But we’ve managed to achieve a more nuanced reality.”

Some dismiss the changes as window-dressing or a tactic to co-opt 
internal dissent.

Arturo López Levy, a former intelligence analyst with the Cuban 
government who lectures at the University of Denver, says the push for a 
more critical official news media is partly an attempt to control a 
debate that is already happening in social media and elsewhere.

“Faced with the challenge of a more open environment, the government 
would prefer to channel complaints and debates through its own 
mechanisms,” he said.

Mr. López Levy likened the task of pushing for change from within in 
Cuba to the punishment of Sisyphus, rolling a stone up a hill only to 
watch it roll to the bottom.

“But sometimes,” he acknowledged, “the stone comes to rest in a 
different position.”






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