Monday, May 31, 2010

Reflexiones de Fidel

Ever since leaving power, Fidel Castro has been occasionally - but pretty regularly - drafting lengthy essays which are faithfully published in Granma, the official state newspaper, under the title Reflexiones de Fidel (Reflections of Fidel).

CNN and other American media sometimes report breathlessly on these statements - for, indeed, they often pontificate on US policies or practices (he thought Obama was a lovely young man during the election campaign, for what it's worth) - which they always vaguely refer to as being "published in state media". It always amuses me because it sounds so mysterious and "here we are reporting from behind the mysterious Cuban curtain for you", when if they wanted to, they could actually provide their readers a direct link to the document in Granma online - in English, yet.

Anyway, when in Cuba we watch the local tv channels as much as possible and always watch the evening news, a fascinating window into the way the state communicates and propagandizes to the people.

This time we had the slightly surreal experience of watching the young anchor read the latest Reflection - in its entirety - for a good seven to ten minutes of the broadcast. It was about five printed pages long. But everyone must take the time to listen to the very, very important reflections of the Commandante.

Over the anchor's shoulder played a rotating montage of stirring photos, including the Cuban flag and an image of the Commandante himself, presumably writing one of his Reflections or something equally ponderous.

One can only imagine what it is like to be a journalist in a country like this.

We happened to be there for the island-wide municipal elections and were treated to tv coverage of that, too. Incredibly, each polling station (they showed footage from stations around the country) were manned by two Cuban youth - a girl and a boy - in their little José Martí Pioneer Organization uniforms who saluted - adorably saluted - each voter after he or she put the ballot in the box.

The voter turnout was 96%, unsurprising in a country where voting isn't mandatory-mandatory, but is mandatory.

We were also there for May Day. May Day ain't big here but you know, very big with the socialists.

And how do you get turnouts like this for the demonstrations of support for the workers?

Like this.

I'm guessing that's mandatory, too.

All of Cuba has the sense right now of being right on the cusp of... something. Something is going to change. People just aren't sure what, and how, and exactly when.

They seem more optimistic than anxious, though.

Let's keep fingers crossed.


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Blogger Mike Peterson said...

As the Soviet Union was poised to disband, a group of timber executives traveled to the US to learn about free market economies, and, as the local business reporter, I got to spend several days with them. Very nice people, but they didn't understand how the market works. In one conversation, I was asked if my paper reported on the speeches of then-rising-star Boris Yeltsin, and I had to explain that the number of pages we had to work with was governed by the amount of advertising and that we covered very little international news.

Coming from an economy where newspapers were given as much paper as it took to print whatever the news was judged to be -- including full-length speeches of whoever was in charge -- and the nightly newscast would go overtime if the chairman's remarks did -- they couldn't grasp the notion of having to limit coverage. More to the point, they couldn't really get their heads around the idea that editors would exercise independent judgment on that.

This early conversation helped prepare me for several days of finding out how far apart our respective economic systems had left us.

7:50 a.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Fascinating story. Amazing how a country can be near-destitute, but there is unlimited funds and resources for promoting the party line...

One thing we noticed about the nightly news was that there were absolutely none - zero - of what would qualify as local news broadcasts with local news stories (traffic accidents, fires, municipal politics, etc.). All messaging - all - comes from Havana. If you want to know what happened today in the streets or the town square or at the local Party meeting - use the ever-vibrating local grapevine.

My word verification word for this comment is "colletev". One more c and we'd have a very weird coincidence.

8:33 p.m.  

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