‘It is very futile’ to criticize Cuba

Photo: Russian News Agency (RIA)

This week, the state has revoked the license of three major private newspapers, two radio stations and two news agencies, as well as several other outlets. These are hardly the first efforts to silence dissenters in Cuba.

And yet journalists and their family members remain determined to maintain their work in spite of the measures being taken by authorities to stop them.

Juan Palmero remains committed to publishing in Cuba. At a time when authorities have banned his newspaper El Pais, and seized assets belonging to his television channel and wire service CMI, he has had to create new means of distribution for his news, culture and sports press.

But in spite of these obstacles, a documentary about the Cuban dissident filmed by a foreign network for which Cuban authorities have barred access has sparked tensions within the national press. The film in question, which was screened at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, was censored by the media watchdog of the country’s public works ministry, prompting calls for Palmero’s resignation.

Palmero has called the strike of the two top editors and 13 reporters who have turned down salaries in favour of service on his network, Palmo, “a battle for survival.”

Unlike Palmero, much of the mainstream media in Cuba operates outside government control and remains somewhat permeable to criticism. But tighter controls have led to a decrease in a few areas, such as journalistic impartiality in the new year.

Distribution to the public is the key to survival in a country where even in rural villages there are running water and electricity, but there are no presses, required computerised servers and capable printing presses.

“We are not islands or islands of affluence. We have to learn how to live,” says the director of the Aportuerul de Espejoa arts centre of Havana, Marisela Diaz – herself a dissident who has refused to ask for publication and stands by the decision of colleagues to protest against their boss.

Do you think it’s futile to criticise the regime in Cuba?

Yes, it is very futile. The regime employs such an intelligence network and a state of mind where people accept that without criticizing it they will be seen as evil.

Are there more or less freedom of expression in recent years?

The freedom of expression is still very limited in Cuba, but there are more avenues for journalists to criticize the authorities and the government, which is even more than before. We are living in the beginning of the end of the dictatorship and there will be new lives for new generations here.

What are the challenges posed by Cuban youth today?

Our generation is not a generation for discontent because we did not grow up feeling comfortable, as we would in many other countries where the dream of one-party rule is a reality.

Instead, we have benefited from a different mentality. For us it was better to be a farmer than a doctor and to educate ourselves. We did not have the luxury of students going to university, travelling the world, living off European-style living and fantasies of communism and making money. Our education is homemade, with our small houses on a terrace with a balcony and our neighbours; we studied hard and we also carried the responsibilities and pressures of our parents.

Do you get time to write or read in between appointments?

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