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Cuba and the Problem of Information

Cuba and the Problem of Information
July 30, 2013
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES — In a previous article, I referred to the insurmountable
obstacles Cuba’s leadership faces as it attempts to “modernize” a
totalitarian and inefficient system of government, a system that will
now give way to a Third-World capitalist economy that is to benefit the
handful of people at the top – government officials and their
descendants included.

To do this, they must move a series of pieces that have acted as pillars
of the island’s leadership, or, at least, that have proven the
inevitable result of their form of government.

These include generalized corruption in a world where salaries aren’t
enough to make ends meet, the political cynicism that was required to
assume forced affiliations and the double standards and oaths of loyalty
(including participation in massive parades) taken while awaiting a visa
that allows one to begin a new life – or, at least, enjoy part of it –
in the stomping grounds of Cuba’s “historical enemy.”

In short: a whole series of functional practices that betray widespread,
fragmented, short-term and tenacious forms of popular resistance.

The recently-concluded congress of the Cuban Journalists Association
(UPEC) is an example of this. All analysts – even those prone to
excessive praise – concur that, in essence, it is more of the same,
pretty much exactly the same, to paraphrase the proverbial drunkard in a
popular Cuban joke, what we saw at the last congress held in 2008.

Rousing speeches calling for a more spirited and critical press, which
must, at the same time, continue to act as a loyal bastion of a
revolution that expired fifty years ago and of a socialist system that
never came into existence.

The exaltation of the press as a loyal instrument of the Communist Party
– an auxiliary mechanism employed by the post-revolutionary elite to
perpetuate its unquestionable power – and at the service of the
“people”, a floating signifier which is filled with different meanings
at different times, in dependence of the interests at stake.

And, as has become customary in the course of these last five decades,
the journalistic critique of a series of issues that include buses that
do not make the required stops, unfulfilled train schedules, badly-fried
croquettes, the theft of flour at State bakeries, drunkards who urinate
in the street and the various weak points of that immense sophism known
as the “port-transportation-domestic economy chain.”

I believe, however, that something has changed and that it is worthy of
our attention. A more urgent problem hides behind this whole issue of
the press: that of the circulation of information in a system that must
invariably be more open.

For, even though Cuban leaders – old and not so old, military or
civilian – have not considered democracy as an option, they can
certainly understand (at least those who still retain some capacity to
understand what goes on around them) that a more open and inevitably
more permissive economic system entails the emergence of other,
autonomous agents, and that these agents require information in order to
operate.

In an authoritarian system with increasing doses of market freedoms, a
system which, at the same time, begins to put aside its commitments to
ensure the widespread wellbeing of the population, information cannot be
handled as it was administered under the former system of centralized
planning. If the new social agents require information to make
decisions, this information must somehow be made available to them.

Within this new context, as a speaker at the congress pointed out when
referring to what he euphemistically called “the press’ external
regulations”, the journalistic message becomes more formal and less
credible, “(…) something which complicates the work of the press and
also undermines the credibility of the State, the government, the
authorities and the revolution itself.”

This is what Vice-President Diaz-Canel was talking about when he
referred to the matter on several occasions, invoking another factor of
crucial important: the inevitable arrival of the Internet, through which
independent blogs cease to be the exclusive domain of foreign analysts,
the fact that a new, transnational society has other sources of
information beyond the seas.

Be it because he is younger, or more educated, or both, Cuba’s
second-in-command has managed to understand that he aspires to govern a
world beyond the extremely short term envisaged, from their infertile
old age, by the contemporaries of the Party strongman, Jose Ramon
Machado Ventura.

At any rate, with the exception of a passing reference to an obscure
commission that will work to re-formulate journalistic policies, nothing
in Vice-President Diaz-Canel’s concluding remarks at the congress
suggests a new direction. His address, like the more critical statements
made during the congress, doesn’t even remotely touch on the delicate
and controversial issue of freedom of the press.

This was the case because Cuba’s gerontocracy knows that any independent
handling of information is ultimately subversive in a system which
continues to insist – ever more ludicrously and inefficiently – on
administering society in a totalitarian fashion.

The system and its administrators are caught between the need to
establish a freer flow of information (so that the market economy will
function) and restricting this process to certain limits, so that the
current system of socio-political domination will continue to function.

In the threshold between these two imperatives, a sector is now
demanding a minimum of credibility, precisely what the system’s
exhausted organic intellectuals continue to demand.

Some readers will likely remind me that the Chinese and Vietnamese have
managed to solve this problem without moving the pillars of
authoritarian political control considerably. This is true, at least for
the time being. But the Chinese and the Vietnamese have had two things
in their favor which Cuba does not have.

The first thing is an economic dynamic which facilitates their insertion
into the market at a pace quicker than that in which social discontent
can grow in their countries and this creates more hope than it does
frustration. The second factor is that both countries are driven by an
ancestral culture in which obedience to authority is a next to
inalienable principle.

Neither of these two factors is present in Cuba. What we do have on the
island is very little time to re-assemble everything that has been torn
asunder over the last fifty years, to address the problem of restricted
information, which makes the world described by the press, as one
speaker at the congress said, less and less believable.

(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by
Cubaencuentro.com.

Source: “Cuba and the problem the government faces on information
policy” – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=97164

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