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    The Thousand Faces of “Journalism”

    The Thousand Faces of “Journalism” / Miriam Celaya

    Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 March 2017 – An opinion piece
    published in recent days by El Nuevo Herald gives me a disturbing
    feeling of déjà vu. It is not the subject – overflowing with a number of
    articles by different authors – but its focal point, which presents as
    adequate a number of superficial and highly subjective assessments to
    validate conclusions that in no way reflect the reality it alleges to

    With other hues and nuances, it has the same effect in me as the
    experience of participating as a guest at a meeting of journalists,
    politicians and academics – primarily Americans – held October, 2014 at
    Columbia University, just two months before the announcement of the
    restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United
    States, where the wish to support rapprochement and to substantiate the
    need to eliminate the embargo was essentially based on colossal lies.

    For example, I heard how the “Raúl changes” that were taking place in
    Cuba favored the Cuban people and a process of openness, and I learned
    of the incredible hardships that Cubans had to endure as a result of the
    direct (and exclusive) responsibility of the embargo, of the fabulous
    access to education and health services (which were, in addition to
    being easily accessible, wonderful) enjoyed by Cubans, and even the zeal
    of the authorities to protect the environment.

    To illustrate this last point, an American academic presented the
    extraordinary conservation state of the Jardines de la Reina
    archipelago and its adjacent waters, including the coralline formations,
    as an achievement of the Revolutionary Government. She just forgot to
    point out that this natural paradise has never been within reach of the
    common Cuban, but is a private preserve of the ruling caste and wealthy
    tourists, a fact that explains its favorable degree of conservation.

    The Cuba that many American speakers described on that occasion was so
    foreign to a Cuban resident on the Island, as I was, that I wondered at
    times if we were all really speaking about the same country.

    In my view, the question was as contradictory as it was dangerous.
    Contradictory, because there is certainly sufficient foundation, based
    on realities, to consider the (conditional) suspension of the embargo or
    to show partiality for dialogue between governments after half a century
    of sterile confrontations, without the need to resort to such gross
    falsehoods, especially – and I say this without xenophobic animosity or
    without a smack of nationalism – when they are brandished by foreigners
    who don’t even have a ludicrous idea of the reality the Cuban common
    population lives under or what its aspirations are. Dangerous, because
    the enormous power of the press to move public opinion for or against a
    proposal is well known, and to misrepresent or distort a reality unknown
    to that public, can have dire consequences.

    But it seems that such an irresponsible attitude threatens to become a
    common practice, at least in the case of Cuba. This is what happens when
    overly enthusiastic professionals confuse two concepts as different as
    “information” and “opinion” in the same theoretical body.

    It is also the case of the article referred to above, that its essence
    is the answer to a question that is asked and answered by the author,
    using the faint topic of the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s
    historic visit to Cuba and some conjectures about the continuity of the
    relations between both governments with the new occupant of the White House.

    “What repercussions have the normalization of relations between the
    United States and Cuba had on the Cuban people?” the writer of the
    article asks, and she immediately answers herself by assuming several
    suppositions, not totally exempt from logic, but regrettably inaccurate.

    “Greater openness to Cuba has undoubtedly meant greater interaction with
    the Cuban people through the exchange of information from the thousands
    of Americans who now visit the island”, she says. And this is partially
    true, but this “exchange of information” about a society as complex and
    mimetic, and as long closed off as Cuba’s, is full of mirages and
    subjectivities, so it ends up being a biased and exotic vision of a
    reality that no casual foreign visitor can manage to grasp.

    A diffuse assertion of the article is one that reassures: “Tourism
    represents the main economic source for the country, and at the same
    time it leverages other sectors related to textiles, construction and
    transportation.” Let’s see: It may be that tourism has gained an
    economic preponderance for Cuba, but that it has boosted the textile,
    construction and transportation sectors is, at the most, a mere
    objective, fundamentally dependent on foreign capital investment, which
    has just not materialized.

    In fact, the notable increase in tourist accommodations and restaurants,
    bars and cafes in the private sector is the result not of the tourist
    boom itself but of the inadequacy of the hotel and gastronomic
    infrastructure of the State. If the author of the article has had
    privileged access to sources and information that support such
    statements, she does not make it clear.

    But if the colleague at El Nuevo Herald came away with a relevant
    discovery during her trip to Havana –job related? for pleasure? – it is
    that many young people “believe in the socialist model.” Which leads us
    directly to the question, where did these young people learn what a
    “socialist model” is? Because, in fact, the only thing that Cubans born
    during the last decade of the last century have experienced in Cuba is
    the consolidation of a State capitalism, led by the same regime with
    kleptomaniacal tendencies that hijacked the power and the Nation almost
    60 years ago.

    About the young people she says that “many are self-employed and
    generate enough resources to live well.” There are currently more than
    500 thousand people In Cuba with their own businesses, about 5% of the
    population, according to ECLAC” [U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin
    America and the Caribbean]. This is another slip, almost childish. The
    source that originally reports the figure of half a million
    self-employed workers belongs to the very official National Office of
    Statistics and Information (ONEI), a Cuban Government institution, and
    not to ECLAC. This number has remained unchanged for at least the last
    two years, as if the enormous migration abroad and the numerous returns
    of licenses on the part of the entrepreneurs who fail in their efforts
    or who are stifled by the system’s own circumstances, among other
    factors, did not make a dent.

    But even assuming as true the immutable number of “self-employed” that
    the authorities refer to, on what does the writer base her assumptions
    that the self-employed generate sufficient recourses to live well? Could
    it be that she ignores that that half a million Cubans includes
    individuals who fill cigarette lighters, sharpen scissors, recycle trash
    (“the garbage divers”), are owners of shit-hole kiosks, repair household
    appliances, are roving shaved-ice, peanut, trinket and other knickknack
    vendors, and work at dozens of low-income occupations that barely
    produce enough to support themselves and their families? Doesn’t the
    journalist know about the additional losses most of them suffer from
    harassment by inspectors and the police, the arbitrary tax burdens and
    the legal defenselessness? What, in the end, are the standards of
    prosperity and well-being that allow her to assert that these Cubans
    “live well”?

    I would not doubt the good intentions of the author of this unfortunate
    article, except that empathy should not be confused with journalism. The
    veracity of the sampling and the seriousness of the data used is an
    essential feature of journalistic ethics, even for an opinion column, as
    in this case. We were never told what data or samples were used as a
    basis for the article, the number of interviewees, their occupations,
    ages, social backgrounds and other details that would have lent at least
    some value to her work.

    And to top it off, the trite issue of Cuba’s supposedly high educational
    levels could not be left out. She says: “While it is true that education
    in Cuba is one of the best in the continent, the level of education is
    not proportional to income, much less a good quality of life.”
    Obviously, she couldn’t be bothered going into the subject of education
    in Cuba in depth, and she is not aware of our strong pedagogical
    tradition of the past, destroyed by decades of demagoguery and
    indoctrination. She also does not seem to know the poor quality of
    teaching, the corruption that prevails in the teaching centers and the
    deterioration of pedagogy. We are not aware of what comparative patterns
    allow her to repeat the mantra of the official discourse with its myth
    about the superior education of Cubans, but her references might
    presumably have been Haiti, the Amazonian forest communities or villages
    in the Patagonian solitudes. If so, I’ll accept that Cubans have some
    advantage, at least in terms of education levels.

    There are still other controversial points in the text, but the most
    relevant ones are sufficient to calculate the confusion the narration of
    a reality that is clearly unknown can cause to an unaware reader. It is
    obvious that the writer was not up to the task, or is simply not aware
    of the responsibility that comes from a simplistic observation. And she
    still pretends to have discovered not one, but two different Cubas.
    Perhaps there are even many more Cubas, but, my dear colleague: you were
    definitely never in any of them.

    Translated by Norma Whiting

    Source: The Thousand Faces of “Journalism” / Miriam Celaya – Translating
    Cuba –