Cuba – the communist party and the media
Cuba – the communist party and the media
People are beginning to be free to talk about their ideas. Politics is beginning to be freer. But the Communist Party still controls everything. Vanessa Baird writes about the problems of Cuban politics.
This new sculpture is in Havana's historic Plaza Vieja. © Vanessa Baird
I’m waiting to see the editor of the magazine, Espacio Laical. They give me some copies of the magazine to read.
The first magazine has a photo of Cuba’s two official newspapers – Granma (named after the boat used by Castro and his revolutionaries) and Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth). The two newspapers have the same story: ‘Fidel sends Evo Morales a letter on the Day of the Sea.’
This is an example of the media in Cuba.
Espacio Laical is writing about a difficult subject – press freedom and media diversity in Cuba which has only one party. Espacio Laical organized some discussions with intellectuals, journalists, academics, and different experts. The meetings were called “Casa Cuba”. One of their ideas is a big problem for the Cuban leaders – the idea of a democracy with more than one party.
Raúl Castro said very clearly that moving away from one party is not part of the changes he wants to make. The Communist Party thinks it is the defender of the revolution and the only party to protect Cuba from the US.
So how is it possible for Espacio Laical to write about the idea?
The editor is Roberto Veiga. He is a friendly man in his late forties. He explains how the magazine is produced with the help of the Catholic Church but it is independent. And it started with Christian ideas. Then they decided to help society better and write about different ideas and opinions. This was when Raúl Castro became President and asked for ideas and opinions to help change Cuba.
The magazine wanted people to talk about ideas, to disagree, and also to agree.
Casa Cuba was then a place for new and different ideas and politics. ‘We have anarchists, Marxists, socialists, Christians, republicans, taking part. People with different views, different positions.’ He says that they have shown that people who think differently, can talk and work together. They did not agree about everything, for example, the idea of a democracy with more than one party.
Veiga says he agrees with the idea. ‘But there were some who did not agree. We have enough problems with one party, they argued, why have more?’
And do members of the government listen? I ask.
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘They listen and they read. But some people are not interested…’
There is a cine-café In the Vedado area of Havana, It is called Fresa y Chocolate named after the gay Cuban film. This is a meeting place for film fans and intellectuals. It is also where the magazine Temas holds monthly public meetings Ultimo Jueves (Last Thursday).
People are coming to a meeting about trade unions. In Cuba they are linked to the government. There is no law against strike action, but there is no law permitting it. So there are no strikes.
Rafael Hernández is the editor of Temas, He leads the meeting. He takes his role seriously. On each chair is a piece of paper with the house rules. The speakers can talk for five minutes. Questions or ideas from the audience last no more than three minutes. And there is an alarm clock. They are there to talk seriously about ideas. It is not to argue. Not to tell stories, not to give political speeches.
The young man in the photograph starts to speak angrily and says, ‘The unions do not serve the workers.’
'The unions do not serve the workers', says a speaker at a Last Thursday meeting. Vanessa Baird
After the meeting the young man tells me that the link between unions and government must stop for unions to do their job well.
Later I talk to Hernández. ‘I don’t know of anything that we cannot talk about,’ he says. We are free to say what we want to. We have had meetings about gender, race, media, freedom of expression, different political views. We have not discussed the idea of a democracy with more than one party, but we have discussed subjects linked with the question of democracy. We have talked about how one party can be democratic enough to represent many different ideas.
Has anyone said that you cannot talk about a particular question?, I ask. No, he answers. There is pressure sometimes and resistance, of course. Some people in the government do not like what we are doing or they think it is not important to talk about ideas. But it doesn’t matter. You organize a meeting and give people the chance to say what they want or they will talk about their ideas in some other way, and some other place.
He says that the Communist Party is usually helpful. If I want to have someone from the government to speak, they will send me someone.
But there are the house rules. In Temas magazine too, people can talk about difficult ideas but in a certain way. Sometimes protesters have come to the Last Thursday meetings, he says, but not for a long time. ‘Perhaps they prefer to talk to foreign journalists who won’t disagree with them,’ he says, looking at me closely. Perhaps they don’t want to talk to Cubans who may disagree with therm. Perhaps they don’t like to talk for only three minutes like everyone else.’
The interesting case of Yoani Sánchez
One of those protesters is the famous blogger, Yoani Sánchez. She put on a blond wig and got into a Last Thursday meeting when her friends were stopped.
She is 39 years old and writes lively and funny blogs about the problems of daily life in Havana. Her blogs are now in 18 languages and she has won many international prizes. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Her blog is called, Generación Y. She says it is for people like her who were born in Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s, when there were schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration.
Sánchez’s voice is fresh and strong. She does not like the politicians who control the country. including the Castros. Like many people of her generation, she writes on the internet and not in newspapers and magazines. She does not go to meetings with their rules.
But blogging is not easy in Cuba. Cuba has some of the most restrictive internet policies in the world. The government blocks websites, limits bandwidth, and makes the internet very expensive. An hour in one of the state cyber cafés costs a week’s average salary.
Yoani Sánchez, Cuba's most internationally famous blogger. She disagrees with the government. re-publica/Creative Commons
Before May 2014 it was illegal for Cubans to use the internet from their home computers. Bloggers in Cuba usually have to email their blogs to a website in another country. They often use email accounts set up by friends abroad.
Many blogging sites are blocked in Cuba. So Cubans need to ask their friends abroad to email them.
One of the reasons why the Cuban government blocks websites is that the US uses the internet and social media to get Cubans to protest like with the Arab Spring, and to try to change the government. In April 2014 this year Washington said that yes, a US agency (USAID) started a messaging service like Twitter called ZunZuneo. It would give news, sport and entertainment to thousands of users in Cuba. When the service reached a certain number of users, it would send political anti-Castro messages to try to get people to want change.
Sánchez says she is just an ordinary Cuban living in Cuba writing about the truth. But Wikileaks talk about her visits to the US Interests Section in Havana. Then there is the small matter of money. Salim Lamrani is a French academic and Cuban international affairs expert. He says international prizes have earned her over $320,000. This is the same as 1,488 years of the minimum salary in Cuba.
There are reports that Sánchez has a monthly salary of $10,000, paid by SIP IAPA (a group of Latin American big media businesses) and the Spanish daily El Pais. This is good money for someone writing about the problems of daily life in communist Cuba.
In May 2014 Sánchez started a new online newspaper, 14ymedi. She wants to give Cubans another way to find information on the island.
Another Cuba is possible
In fact there is an online newspaper doing what Sánchez says she wants to do. Havanatimes.org is now in its sixth year and it says it is offering ‘open-minded writing from Cuba’. It is a Spanish-English online daily. It is edited in Nicaragua and hosted in Germany. Its writers are Cubans living in Cuba and in countries such as Venezuela or Mexico.
Armando Chaguaceda is 33 years old. He is one of Havanatimes.org’s regular writers. He explains how and why he got involved:
In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people thought Cuba would not continue. This was the situation when people of my age grew up. We had suffered but we had dreams. Now in Cuba after twenty years we have our defence of justice and an anti-capitalist country. We also fight against bureaucracy that tries to stop people’s ideas and plans.
Writing for Havanatimes.org I have found a meeting place between old and new friends and a place to discuss ideas from people who believe that “another, better Cuba is possible”.
As I said goodbye to Roberto Veiga, the editor of Espacio Laical, we talked about the internet. He said we must stop blocking it, everyone must be free to use it for Cuba to be part of the world.
Soon after this, news came that Veiga and his friend Lenier Gonzalez had lost their jobs at the magazine. This was after a disagreement with people in the church who wanted the magazine to change from political and economic questions to science and culture.
Veiga now has another plan. He and Gonzalez are starting a new online discussion website called Cuba Posible. He told Reuters: In Cuba there will come a time when there is more than one party. Our plan is to help this in a peaceful way.
As one door closes, another opens. Peacefully, perhaps.
Cuba's political system
President Raúl Castro said he will leave politics as President in 2018. He has named 54-year-old vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canel as the new President. The political system has been changed so that senior politicians only have two five-year terms.
Communist party leaders: Raúl Castro is third from left and the new President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, is second from right. cubadebate.cu
Most things are the same. The Communist Party of Cuba is the only legal party. The government’s Council of Ministers is the highest executive body. The National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) with 614 elected members, meets twice a year. 97 per cent of its deputies are in the Communist Party.
Local politics is more democratic and deputies are directly elected. Some including Veiga and Hernández, would like the democratic practices at lower levels to be repeated at higher levels so that leaders are elected and not appointed.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2014/10/01/political-party-cuba/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).