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Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

New Face of Cuba’s Official Online Newspaper

March 31, 2014 | Print Print |

Isbel Díaz Torres

The new cover of Granma newspaper online.

HAVANA TIMES — On March 13, a new version of Cuba’s Granma newspaper website went online. The most attractive feature of the new, more dynamic page design is the possibility of posting comments on published articles.

Till now, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party had a website with a static and visually awful platform, far behind other Cuban government pages, such as Cubadebate, Cubasi and newspaper sites such as Trabajadores and Juventud Rebelde.

The digital version of the weekly Granma Internacional, which came online in August of 1996, was the first Cuban Internet press site. The online edition of the newspaper (which has now been fused with Granma International) became available as a digital publication in July of 1997.

According to Granma, the new staff of designers sought to make the site “modern, respond to the demands of new information and communication technologies and any platform used to convey news, in order to inform the public quickly and truthfully, sharing news content in such a way that users aren’t mere passive receivers of information, but also the main sources of such content.”

The current Internet platform of Cuba’s official newspaper relies on a “dynamic framework” that employs a modern “content manager”. This allows for updating from different places, regardless of circumstances. Tablet and smartphone versions of the site have also been released.

The new website also affords a range of editorial solutions that “allows decision-makers to act, not only expediently, but also intelligently. This holds for the editing of a given text and for the way it is presented to the user, with emphasis on the classification of the materials to be uploaded.”

In addition to improved design, better content organization, responsive design, performance, increased cache and the availability of 2.0 applications, a portion of the published news can be read in English, French, German, Italian and Portuguese.

The Face and the Body Aren’t Always the Same

Granma’s new young staff introduced itself to readers through an article titled “, nuestra nueva cara en la red” (“ Our New Face on the Internet”).

On this occasion, Granma journalists didn’t quote Marx, Lenin or Fidel Castro. Rather, in keeping with the new times, they turned to the East and invoked Mahatma Gandhi, in a phrase that reads: “We would do many things if we believed that fewer things were impossible.”

As though that weren’t enough, the communist staff of Granma shared a phrase written by Confucius in 551 AD: “whoever aspires to constant happiness and wisdom must adjust to frequent changes.”

Fortunately, the information acknowledges the fact that “these new tools facilitate the management of the site but do not of themselves write, investigate or express opinions. These, it said, require the professionalism and commitment of a higher form of journalism,” in keeping with the appeals made by President Raul Castro.

The impact Cuba’s recently appointed First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel working towards a change in the methods of the national press, is fairly obvious.

That said, the newspaper continues to be prepared at Poligrafico Granma (“Granma Publishing House”), where all the country’s national newspapers, including those read in Havana, Mayabeque and Artemisa, are published.

Nor has Granma changed its fundamental objective, which isn’t to inform the public (as one would expect of a newspaper), but to “promote, through its articles and comments, the work of the revolution and its principles, the achievements reached by our people and the integrity and cohesion of our people around the Party and Fidel,” as the page “About Us” announces.

The building where Granma and all of Cuba’s national newspapers are publishede. Photo: Jimmy Roque Martinez

Another indication that the “body” hasn’t changed is that the initiative to modernize Granma will be extended to Juventud Rebelde, through the same team of designers, commented Diaz-Canel in a recent interview.

I must acknowledge that slightly fresher articles written by young people can now be found in the newspaper’s Opinions column. These, however, aren’t published in the privileged spaces, which are still reserved for the familiar praise for the current state of things on the island.

The Communist Party Now Accepts Comments

After two weeks online, it is clear that the editors of Granma are willing to publish comments expressing criteria opposed to those of the article and even opinions that are fairly critical of the government’s general policies.

An article that announced the appointment a new chair of the National Association of Small Farmers, for instance, showed several comments criticizing the PCC’s meddling in an autonomous farmers’ organization and the Party’s tendency to appoint leaders who had no direct experience in the field.

Flattering comments continue to be the immense majority for the time being, though a group of cybernauts seems to have discovered this new possibility and timidly begin to post their criticisms.

Generally speaking, Internet users supportive of Granma have acknowledged that the change was necessary and appear to be pleased by the opportunity to share their comments.

In addition, Granma designers have implemented a number of changes suggested by readers and replied to a number of comments, giving signs of a willingness to converse with the public (at least on matters that aren’t explicitly political).

Cuba’s extremely limited Internet access could be the reason these new spaces have been opened, in one of the few sites that didn’t allow for public participation until recently.

It is worth pointing out that several users who use Cuba’s national health network connection (Infomed) left comments expressing their dissatisfaction with the slowness of the connection and the amount of time it took to open the different news pages.

That dissenting opinions are still treated with a measure of apprehension is revealed by the fact that, once articles are published on the main page, only a selection of the comments made are left – the majority are positive and a small number of them (usually the worst arguments) are negative.

Regardless, we should pay attention to these shy steps and what they could mean for the future: a move towards an acceptable model of free press for the island, or a mere disguise used to conceal the censorship mechanism we know so well.

What's your opinion?

  • emagicmtman

    Thanks for the “heads up” on this, Isbel. Just went over to the GRANMA INTERNACIONAL site, and it does look much more interesting. Until now, whenever I had insomnia late at night, I would go to the GRANMA site and, almost immediately, zzzzzzzz, I’d have to log off before I fell asleep at my keyboard. As Chairman Mao used to say: “Let a hundred flowers bloom! Let a hundred schools of thought contend!” Hope this effort turns out better than Chairman Mao’s did!

    • Griffin

      Of course, Mao only said that to find out who the trouble makers were so he could have them rounded up in the next purge.

      Allowing comments is good, but that process can be easily manipulated. When Cuba actually allows a fully independent newspaper to publish, then we can talk about freedom of the press in Cuba.

      • Mike Guddoy

        By fully independent newspaper – do you mean fully private?

        • Griffin

          I mean not owned and controlled by the Cuban Communist Party. A newspaper which is free of censorship and is able to publish whatever they want, engage in policy debate, report on corruption, criticize the Cuban government and senior officials.

          You know, “journalism”.

          • Mike Guddoy

            I think you mean the newspapers are owned and controlled by corporate organisations, which fund the main political parties, thus ensuring that real power and wealth remain in the hands of the oligarchy. These newspapers. the ”free press”, that is, do not publish whatever they want since they have no wish to jeopardize the interest of the proprietors. In Cuba, policies, social issues and corruption are debated constantly at all levels including shop floor, workers collectives ,women and student organisations. The masses participate in political debate and in the formulation of government policies. While in the capitalist countries it is the millionaire representatives who debate on our behalf. I know ”journalism” very well.

          • Griffin

            Oh, come off it. What a sloppy attempt at erecting a strawman so you can try to knock it about with your shop-worn propaganda slogans.

            I meant what I said: an independent news source free to write whatever they want without censorship from the government and the party. With the internet it is now possible for anybody to post their comments and opinions. But in Cuba one risks jail for criticizing the government.

          • John Goodrich

            The self censorship exercised by the U.S. corporate media outlets begins with every entry- level reporting job .
            Each reporter in his/her rise to the top gets to know precisely what he/she can say and not offend the watching public.
            Offend them and they change the station, don’t watch YOUR commercials , complain, boycott….in other words ….COST THE OUTLET A TON OF MONEY .
            There is NO conspiracy.
            It’s really quite simple
            It is the power of money shaping what can be said so as to maximize profits and for NO OTHER REASON are we deprived of the truth from the corporate media. in such a smothering and effective manner.
            Cuba has censorship in part because it is being threatened by the United States which seeks to overthrow the revolution .
            In the U.S. it is the dictatorship of money that censors any and every politically controversial news story.

        • emagicmtman

          As the late, great, H.L. Mencken used to say: “In America we have freedom of the press–if you own a press!”

    • Informed Consnet

      You are the poster child for the useful idiot; blind as you are to the truth which conflict with your views

      Karl Shaw, in his book ‘Power Mad: A Book of Deranged Dictators’ (which I would recommend for anyone interested in a fuller picture of Mao’s various atrocities) estimates that Mao was responsible for between 14-20 million deaths, “from starvation during the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and tens of thousands killed and millions of lives ruined during the ‘Cultural Revolution’”.

      The hundred flowers quote, so glowingly referred to by you, was the very thing Mao used to identify those people he feared most – broadly speaking, anyone with an education – so that he might brutally pursue them.

      For Mao intellectuals were a threat, and the hundred flowers speech a means of targeting them and ending their influence on society

      I would welcome a debate on this. I am actually quite curious as to your thoughts

      • Griffin

        “Mao: the Unknown Story” by Jiang & Halliday is a very thorough examination of Mao’s rise to power and his numerous atrocities. The authors cite documents from the Russian archives, interviews from former top Chinese officials who were lucky enough to escape China, and even officially published minutes from the Chinese Communist Party congress, including the one where Mao explained to those assembled that the Great Leap Forward was working out just fine, “Killing does a lot of good. We need a policy of more killing.”

        Mao was a monster. The continuing worship of his cult by members of the American Left is sickening and all the evidence anybody needs that the Left must never, ever get their hands on power anywhere.

      • emagicmtman

        Whatever the cost, Chairman Mao brought China from a weak and backward power, subject to the imperial diktats and aggressions of the day, to one well on the road to First World status. (Like Tovarich Stalin did during the 1930’s, with great sacrifice, to turn Russia from an agricultural nation into an industrial one, which, by 1941 was ready for the fascist aggression. If he had been negligent in this historically vital task, then our own casualties during W.W. II would have been closer to those of the U.S.S.R., 28,000,000+/- rather than 450,000.) Whatever errors were made by Chairman Mao, the deaths and the disruption of lives resulting were far less than those of both previous and subsequent imperial aggressions and colonial occupations. Typical of apologists for imperialism, you never mention such atrocities as the murder of 3,000,000 Indonesian communists during 1965-66, but are forever harping on those of Chairman Mao and Comrade Stalin. In the end, Chairman Mao remains the reddest, Red Sun in the hearts of the world’s proletariat!

        • Informed Consent

          WOW…you have a rather warped sense of history. Your lauding of Stalin’s ability to “ready” the Soviets for WWII is laughable; you have absolutely no understanding of History!

          It was Stalins paranoia that led to the decimation of the soviet officer core during the “great terror” and allowed little Finland to, for the most part, to fight off the USSR in 1939.

          While the estimates of death tolls vary greatly, the lowest numbers credit Stalin with killing 20 million during the Great Terror alone (but hey, what are a few million deaths as long as it advances communism). Beyond being one of the greatest examples of state-sponsored murder in history, the Great Terror demonstrated Stalin’s obsessive paranoia and willingness to prioritize it over national interests.

          In fact the Red Army’s humiliating defeats at the start of WWII were due to those bloody purges of the officer corps 30’s. It allowed the Wehrmacht to make far better strategic and tactical use of their forces to overwhelm the poorly-led Soviets.

          …So you are correct in at least one thing, whatever else Stalin did, it was indeed at great cost.

          • emagicmtman

            Stalin was just following historical precedent; those early losses were to draw the armies of the Third Reich into the endless Russian steppes, where the trap was sprung at Stalingrad, and their armies ground to a pulp, just like Napoleon’s, a hundred and thirty years before. Seems like you–and Der Fuhrer–are (and were) the real ignoramuses of history!

          • Griffin

            Wrong again. Stalin made his alliance with Hitler because he believed Hitler would go to war with the Western democracies and when they had exhausted each other, the Red Army would conquer Europe.

            When Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and attacked the USSR, Stalin was stunned and hid in his dacha for days without issuing a single order. Those who saw him said he was visibly shaken and catatonic. Stalin actually believed Hitler’s promises.

            The Battle of Stalingrad was not a grand strategic trap set by the Red Army. It was a catastrophe for the Russians and they very nearly lost the war there. The Germans could have prevailed but for Hitler’s disastrous interference in the battle plans which wasted hundreds of thousands of German lives.

            Is that how you teach your courses, you just make up sh*t and say the first thing that comes into your mind?

          • informed Consent

            Yes of course. Perfect sense. He sacrificed 20 million so he could spring his trap!

            ….You gotta be kidding me! I won’t bother to debate WWII history but you do realize that (as with almost everything) it was Hitler meddling that cost him Stalingrad. While at the very doorsteps of the city he diverted his forces south. are of course pulling my leg right?

        • Griffin

          You heard here folks, in his own words:

          The tens of millions of people murdered by Stalin and Mao were worth it and totally justified. Heroes of the proletariat.

          • Informed Consent

            …ya think maybe he was being sarcastic? I simply can’t imagine otherwise.

          • Griffin

            No, I don’t think he was being sarcastic. As a self-avowed Marxist he is deadly serious. I have no doubt if given the chance that goofy old hippy, or that glassy eyed young student in the Che t-shirt at the latest protest march will enthusiastically put us all up against the wall “when the real revolution comes”.

            Believe it. They do.

          • emagicmtman

            As Iosuf Vissarionovich was purported to have said: “Ten millions dead: a statistic. One person dead: a tragedy!”

          • John Goodrich

            The academically rejected books whence you get your “information” are noted for including every death in China to Mao and Maoism regardless of how that person died.
            Can you cite a single accredited university that uses ANY of the books whose statistics you cite in your posts , in teaching any course on history ?
            In that both Mao and Stalin were totalitarians and killers of democracy, I can say that at least all the anarchists I know have nothing but complete dislike for either man and the systems they imposed.
            It served and still serves the purposes of both the Soviets and the U.S. to proclaim that the systems in use in both the USSR and China were communist when nothing could be further from the truth.
            In the U.S it makes socialism and communism poisoned words and led the Chinese and Soviet people into thinking that one day they would have socialism under their Communist Parties which never had any intention of developing socialism which REQUIRES a democratic base to be called socialism.
            Mao had about as good a plan for developing a socialist /communist world as did God when he decided that executing his son in the primitive Middle East would fix things. (look up the derivation of the word “scapegoat)

        • Informed Consent

          ….and Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” alone brought about at least 45 million deaths. People were worked, starved or beaten to death in China during those years

  • Moses Patterson

    There’s a saying, “Its like putting lipstick on a pig”.