By Yusimi Rodriguez (Photos: Caridad)
HAVANA TIMES — I’m becoming mono-thematic. Every time I write, it’s to criticize the lack of press freedom and access to information that we Cubans are subjected to. When it seems that I’m finally going to talk about something else, I take a detour and end up talking about those same issues.
I attribute that fact to having received articles from Havana Times, with news and essays written by my colleagues, as well as my occasional opportunities to surf the Internet.
Every time I read about an event that I know in advance won’t appear in print or on the radio or television here, I think most about my fellow citizens who don’t have access to the Internet or e-mail, those who only have our official media as a source of (mis)information.
I feel almost obligated to share as much as possible about what I read on the Internet or see in videos that never appear on television – even at the risk of not being believed, being labeled a “counterrevolutionary in the service of the enemy,” or feeling like I’m spinning my wheels.
For those who have blindly believed the official line — for years — it’s almost impossible for them to accept that there’s another version of events…another side of the truth.
I should explain that I don’t take the writers on the Internet as prophets of absolute truth – not even my own colleagues. But I want to at least have the opportunity to assess information for myself and not have others do it for me.
This is why it seems natural to want the same opportunity for the rest of the Cuban people.
Underground access to information
A few weekends ago I was over at the house of a couple who I frequently visit. I was eager to see their surprised faces when I told them about the man who lifted up a sign that read “Down with Communism” during the Pope’s visit.
For you, readers with Internet access, that’s old news. And to my surprise they also knew about it, despite the official media having reported nothing on the incident.
Sometimes I forget the capacity of my fellow citizens to slip through the eye of a needle, learning what they’re not supposed to know.
Let’s be fair. In Cuba, most people don’t have Internet access or email, and the national press, television and radio only broadcast what they’re allowed to by the government.
But since the magical invention called flash memory and us now having vendors and renters of movies on DVDs, people have a greater range of information sources.
You can ask anyone for the documentary about the Ochoa case, which shows what we saw and what we didn’t see on television in the late 1980s.
Some people managed to see that questioning of parliament’s president Ricardo Alarcon by the student Eliecer Avila at UCI university, and they’ve have already seen the young man’s interview on Estado de Sats.
The interview with the former bodyguard of Fidel Castro was played on lots of computers and DVD players, and the interview of the son of Ramiro Valdes is old news.
The government says that the top secret material about former foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque and vice president Carlos Lage is not suitable for ordinary Cubans, only to party members and heads of neighborhoods CDRs, but this was leaked and many people have been able to see it on DVD.
People here surprise you. You can go over to someone’s house where nobody has email or Internet — people who you imagine are uninformed, living on the fringe of reality — and suddenly they’ll surprise you saying: “Did you hear about the people who are suing the parliament?” or “Have you heard of the prisoner who was on hunger strike and died” (before this was revealed in the media).
Until the underwater fiber optic cable that was layed from Venezuela to here begins to function — if it ever does — Cubans will find ways to access more information using flash memories, antennas, illegal connections to the Internet, and even reports from the US Interests Section – despite everything.
Information is money. There are currently people who work downloading information from the Internet, in one way or another, and sell the updated files.
Even if you don’t have any money to pay for those updates, don’t worry, you’ll find a way to get it somehow, because Cubans like to stay informed. For example, I go over to the homes of friends to bring them the “latest happenings” and leave with new information for myself.
But what do we do with the information?
I would like to say that my friends didn’t do anything except tell me that they already knew about the story of the man and his sign during the Pope’s visit.
I would like to say that when I told them about the doctor who went on a hunger strike, demanding and winning the return of his license to practice medicine, my friends only shrugged their shoulders, though that reaction in itself would be pretty daunting.
But one of my friends, the husband, told me that if that doctor had really won a victory, then he should be regretting it. “Now they’re going to find a way to get rid of him. Either that or they’re going to start hitting on him like the guy in the crowd did who took the sign away from the protester when the Pope came.”
The couple’s son said that the important thing was not the raising of the sign, but how long the man held it, and then the three of them — the parents and the son — broke out laughing.
I laughed too…out of sadness.
What do the majority of Cubans do the information we receive? At most we’ll look at it, make comments, share it, look at it again and be entertained. In other words, it won’t do anything to change things in the country. It won’t do anything to improve our society one bit.
The information that circulates on disks and flash memories is much like pornography: illegal, or “immoral” if you will, but harmless to those in power.
Cubans are uninformed at the official level but are also avid consumers of illegal information.
Does the government know? I bet they do, but I don’t think they’re all that concerned. After visiting my friends a few weekends ago, I was convinced that it’s not enough that we Cubans have access to information (though we can’t stop demanding access to it).
Meanwhile, we know that a doctor went on a hunger strike. We know that a fellow citizen was struck and imprisoned for carrying a sign that read “Down with Communism.” We know that he was taken to jail and that his rights were violated. We know that rights are violated every day.
Yet we do absolutely nothing.
This is just what our unvanquished government counts on. I was going to write that they count on “our passivity,” but I changed my mind. It’s really our lack of awareness and lack of responsibility that they rely on.