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Cuban newspaper deletes online column critical of regime

Posted on Monday, 10.19.09
Cuban newspaper deletes online column critical of regime
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
jtamayo@ElNuevoHerald.com

A Cuban newspaper has deleted an online column harshly attacking the
government's tight controls on information and arguing that a
well-informed citizenry is required for a “more full and democratic
socialism.''

José Alejandro Rodríguez's column was posted Friday on Juventud
Rebelde's online page. It was removed Saturday — and did not appear in
the print edition — but not before it was republished on a Spanish
. The Miami Herald's Cuban Colada first reported the removal.

Titled “Against the demons of sequestered information,'' the column was
a surprisingly public complaint by a journalist who writes regularly for
the government-run paper. Rodríguez did not reply to an El Nuevo Herald
e-mail seeking his comment on the column's disappearence.

“Information is the duty of a journalist and the right of a citizen, of
that . . . person who has backed the revolution and who today like never
before needs to know the ground that he walks on . . . amid multiple
complexities,'' Rodríguez wrote.

That description of information as a public right is common in the West
but not in Cuba, where the government has long owned all the mass media
and tightly controlled the information that can be published.

After Raúl Castro replaced brother Fidel at the head of the government,
Juventud Rebelde, traditionally aimed at a younger audience than the
Granma newspaper, has published several stories on the system's
shortcomings, including the massive black market, official corruption
and lousy service at government-owned shops.

Rodríguez argued that Cubans have a special need for information at a
time when Raúl Castro's government is asking them to debate the profound
changes needed in a communist system that can no longer deliver
cradle-to-grave benefits.

“Never before has there been such a need for information [to allow a
citizen] to interact with and participate in society as an active person
and not a `baby bird' — a phrase very much in vogue these days — that
waits to receive the exact amount of information from above,'' he wrote.

The reference to “baby bird'' appeared to be an especially daring
reference to Communications Minister Ramiro Valdés, a hardliner who last
month declared Cubans must produce more and stop acting like “baby
birds'' who must be fed by their parents.

“It is true that information is a double-edged weapon, because it
reveals the lights as well as the dark holes,'' Rodríguez wrote. “But
information is public property, and we cannot replace it with the . . .
permitted information, with the virtual information, with the
information-propaganda or with the convenient information . . . however
you want to call it,'' he wrote. “Information is information.''

“The problem . . . is that information does not escape the excessive
centralization of our economy and of society in general, something that
has nothing to do with a . . . genetic part of socialism, as some
believe,'' he wrote. “Rather, it obstructs [socialism's] democratic
potentials.''

Rodríguez noted that much of the important information made public in
Cuba is unveiled on Mesa Redonda (“Round Table''), an evening
television news and talk show that essentially sets the tone for all
official political and social discussions on the island.

The use of Mesa Redonda “as the stage for supreme information is an
assault on the necessary versatility and variety that distinguish good
journalism,'' he wrote. “ `Round Table-ization' is a major contribution
to the bureaucratization of journalism.''

Rodríguez also complained that it took Granma a week to confirm reports
in the foreign news media — “divisive and tendentious in certain
cases'' — that the government would do away with workplace cafeterias
in order to cut back on expenses.

A reporter goes to the Ministry of the Economy to ask if the cafeteria
report is true, he wrote. The minister sends him to a deputy minister,
who tells him she must check with the minister and after a while replies
that the issue is indeed under study but that no publicity is wanted
“for now.''

“A week later a story on the subject appears in Granma and the reporter
feels he's been fooled,'' Rodríguez wrote. “Could it be that in Granma
the information achieves a supreme majesty?''

Cuban newspaper deletes online column critical of regime – Cuba –
MiamiHerald.com (19 October 2009)
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/cuba/story/1290474.html

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