Journalism in Cuba is a topic that fascinates me because of the hardships in getting the story published and out to Cuban readers. Here in America, anything posted online is available for the world to see. So much so, that this freedom is making it more difficult to decipher what is factual and what isn’t. In Cuba, journalists do not have this luxury, making the process of writing a good story more of an art form. My fellow students and I got the amazing opportunity to interview official and non-official journalists while in Havana. It was interesting to discuss the various points of view of those who work in-junction with Cuban government and those that work independently.
“A nation’s culture resides in the heart and in the soul of its people.”
This quote hangs in the office of Havana based magazine, OnCuba, as a reminder of the magazine’s roots. OnCuba is the first Cuba-focused monthly and quarterly bilingual magazine publication with national distribution in the U.S. To have the ability to do this, the magazine had to become officially recognized as legitimate journalism by Cuban government standards. This is a big deal for OnCuba, considering the difficult legalities required to achieve this status. Therefore, it amazes me that OnCuba is published in hard copy (something very expensive to do) and electronic format via their website and physically, through el paquete (the package). The package refers to the USB you can get delivered to your door in Cuba, carrying all sorts of digital files. Some files are stolen American music, movies, and video clips, while others are books, articles, photos and magazines like OnCuba. It is the best substitute for the Internet that the average Cuban can get access to. For magazines like OnCuba, it is an inexpensive way to gain Cuban readership. The package is technically illegal in Cuba, but government officials seem to overlook it in order to stay out of the dark.
What I found interesting about OnCuba is their added ability but lack of freedom being nationally recognized as Cuban journalism. The magazine has full access to the Internet and even uses social media platforms like Facebook in their office to stay in the loop. They are also able to distribute their magazines internationally, like in American Barnes and Noble stores. However, OnCuba must be careful to only write about “the excellent, the exquisite, and the exemplary of Cuba,” as it states on their website. Cuban government holds the reins tightly on journalists in order to keep a positive light shining on itself. A magazine staff member told us how they wrote a sad story about a Cuban dying of a disease but was ordered to retract the article in order to keep an uplifting face of current conditions under Castro government. Nevertheless, OnCuba gives a great inside look of Cuba’s cultural and economic events and their people.
El Toque (The Touch) differs from OnCuba because of their prefered narrative-like form of storytelling. El Toque, consisting of a team of young, forward thinking Cubans, aims to spread light on areas of conflict where debate is needed through the personal accounts of Cuban individuals. This way, they make a space for open conversation in order to understand the phenomena. They want to motivate change in their society and encourage different perspectives, something communism frowns upon. This platform has a more “do now, ask for forgiveness later” type of mentality, which is required to have their voices heard in a society that tends to keep those voices quiet.
El Toque is not legitimately recognized by the Cuban government, and therefore lacks the same abilities that OnCuba has. For example, in Cuba, El Toque’s online website is often blocked or censored, and is only able to publish online outside of Cuba because they are supported by RNW Media, a publisher in the Netherlands. Despite the government’s strict hold on OnCuba, El Toque still wants legitimate status. One of the writers of the platform, who also happens to be a lawyer, explained that in Cuba, regulations and laws have an opposite effect as they do in America. In the U.S., the government creates laws and regulations in order to prevent something. However, communism already assumes everything illegal until made legal. In Cuba, they want government regulation in order for it to become legal. So until then, El Toque is limited to sharing their stories throughout Cuba via the package.
Now we understand both sides of the coin when it comes to journalism in Cuba. Both types of reporting vary greatly from each other and it is these differences that are needed to get people thinking for themselves. What can America learn from the hardships of reporting in Cuba? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Read more about the Cuban mediasphere here.