It is no surprise that Cuba is ranked as one of the most censored countries of the world. According to Freedom House, “Cuba has the most restrictive laws on freedom and expression in Latin America.” There is no such thing as private media outlets, private newspapers, private radio stations—unless they are illegal. On top of that, the few news sources that do exist are owned by the Communist Party of Cuba and are heavily censored: Cuba’s real problems never surface and the Castros are never criticized. The island is invariably portrayed as a dreamy paradise.
For many, this might not be news, but it still might be difficult to picture. So here is a deeper look into Cuba’s media.
Cuba has three national newspapers: two dailies, the Communist Party owned Granma and Juventud Rebelde, founded by Fidel himself and owned by the Young Communist League, as well as a weekly called Trabajadores that was founded by the Workers Central Union of Cuba. There are also 16 provincial newspapers. The national newspapers are everything you’d expect from communist party mouthpieces: they spread the ideals of the Revolution and attack imperialism—in other words, the United States. Most Cubans clearly see Granma for what it is, but think of Juventud Rebelde as a more trustworthy and accurate news source. While Juventud Rebelde has some articles involving more trendy topics such as music, both newspapers contain essentially the same stories. The only difference: the articles have different titles and are worded slightly differently. It doesn’t matter what day you open the paper, you will always find articles condemning the embargo, reporting on Cuba forming an alliance with another communist or socialist country, or covering anti-imperialist debates.
Cuban television is much the same. There are three national TV networks, Cuba Vision, Tele Rebelde, and Multivision, as well as two educational channels. The latter broadcast documentaries on topics ranging from the history of Cuba and the accomplishments of the Revolution to the lives of current Cuban political figures and artists. The three main networks host a variety of shows, from singing and dancing competitions to soap operas and soccer games. However, the most interesting program is Cuba Vision’s daily 8:00 p.m. news feature: it is a full on reportage of communist propaganda. Every day, the news consists of basically the same thing: Cuban awards given out, Cuba’s ties with Russia, Cuba’s ties with China, Cuba’s ties with North Korea, Cuba’s ties with Venezuela, and something bad that happened in the US.
In Cuba, Manuel, our trustworthy taxi driver, told me that journalists in Cuba only lie. “The worst thing about this country is that it is based on lies. It’s a country of lies. In other countries lying is shunned, but here, it is constantly used. That is the news in Cuba.” Manuel, of course, has inside information. He later told me that he knew this because his wife worked for the Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
The sad reality is that Cuba’s media never says a word about Cuba’s actual situation, Cuban dissidents, or even the real state of the world. The media in Cuba is just another tool the Communist Party uses to keep its citizens in a dreamlike state, making them believe that the real problems are not on the island but outside of it.
However, there is a bright side to this story: many Cubans are starting to see the state news for what it is. Nowadays most rooftops sport illegal TV antennas that pick up international news channels. Increasingly, people are getting the news through services like the monthly news and movie package El Paquete.
Manuel confessed to me that he had a satellite antenna. He explained how he gets DirectTV by sharing the service with a couple of neighbors from the block. “Of course, if we get caught we could face jail time,” he said. “We do this because this is happiness for Cubans.” He explained that watching illegal media is a way of taking back control: “They [the Party] can’t control me physically or mentally. They control the economy and the information, but I try to control these myself. That is why I have illegal TV channels.” For Manuel and many Cubans like him, breaking the communist regime’s information monopoly is a powerful form of dissent.