One evening in Havana about three years ago I had dinner with Carlos Franqui, probably the leading Cuban journalist, to whom I was complaining rather vehemently about the low quality of the Cuban press. It was, I asserted, dull, sycophantic, and seemingly much more concerned with disseminating the official government viewpoint than with informing the Cuban public about the realities of their own society and the events and trends at work in the outside world. Never, I said, is there published the faintest criticism, constructive or otherwise, of government programs, and rarely is there printed any other viewpoint than the official line on any subject. Cuba aspires to become a “revolutionary democracy,” with full and direct participation of the masses, I said, but how can there be any true democracy in a society whose press does not even furnish the people the essential information needed to reach decisions on matters of vital concern to themselves? In fact, the Cuban press is so mediocre that even Fidel can’t stand it; I had personally witnessed how every morning, at breakfast, he read the AP and UPI wire service reports first (and carefully) before skimming idly through Granma.
Franqui, a gaunt, taciturn man, heard me out knowingly. A veteran of both the 26th of July underground and the guerrilla campaign in the Sierra Maestra, he had been for many years one of Fidel Castro’s closest advisers. He had founded the clandestine newspaper Revolución, the organ of Castro’s movement, in part as an antidote to the controlled press of Batista. Upon Castro’s triumph, he had moved Revolución to Havana and transformed it into a lively, uninhibited daily paper noted for its wide news coverage and editorial diversity. But in 1961, for complex ideological reasons, Franqui fell out with Fidel and was ousted from the editorship of his newspaper, which soon after lapsed into the state of journalistic mediocrity of which I had been complaining. Though he was never again to hold a position of responsibility in the government, Franqui had remained loyal to Castro, or, as the Cubans say, “with” the Revolution.
Now, having grown impatient, Carlos Franqui interrupted me. He suddenly leaned forward, waving a fork, and said:
In Cuba there is only one newspaper. It appears irregularly, from time to time. It is Fidel, when he speaks to the people.
The accuracy of Carlos Franqui’s observation needs no more verification than the fact that nearly every one of Castro’s speeches (which run from two to four hours in duration) is printed verbatim in the Cuban press the following day and transmitted continuously on Cuban radio and television. In every sense of the phrase, Castro makes the news—almost all of it—in Cuba.
On July 26, 1970, in commemoration of the seventeenth anniversary of Fidel Castro’s attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba. the event which launched the Cuban revolution, there appeared the latest edition of “Cuba’s only newspaper.” The banner headline read, “WE HAVE FAILED!” In one…
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