The struggle for independent/alternative media in Cuba

Freedom of press is so easily taken for granted in the US, yet fought so hard for in Cuba. Cuba being a communist country, naturally doesn’t allow free or independent press. Any media outside of state run television and the state newspaper, “Granma”, are unregulated, and there for illegal. This poses a numerous amount of problems for those living in the country, however the people, as with many other unregulated businesses and jobs, have found their ways around the government to get themselves, and what the rest of the country, need or want. Getting information and stories out to the masses besides that of the government’s choosing is a crucial necessity for helping evoke a want for change, and we were lucky enough to speak to two major independent media platforms who were putting in the effort to do just that.

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El Toque, a group of journalists running an online “alternative” platform set on delivering stories and news to Cubans that cant be found in the state (government) run newspaper, “Granma”. While interviewing the group, we learned that independent media like theirs is actually illegal because it is not regulated. Because of this, like many technically illegal businesses, they do their work out of a house using the server from the public wifi park near by. However, the group acknowledges the issues with this and  spread their work, along with many other Cuban platforms, through something called “El Paquete”, or The Package, though the threat from the government doesn’t linger far from their minds, “The government can do whatever it wants.. but some spaces the government doesn’t have the tools to control yet… the logic of our legal system is you only can do what the government allows and the rest is forbidden, our logic is backwards…if it is not regulated, its forbidden..it is one of our worst problems, everyday we could be blocked because the government can do whatever it wants..(However) being a black market (El Paquete), it cannot be controlled”. El Paquete being USBs sold to Cubans by a group of people on a timely basis that contains not only independent Cuban media, platforms, and projects, but also TV shows, music, magazines, movies, and much more content that are usually banned access to, including content from the US. While first describing their platform, one member of the group heartwarming ended the introduction with,   “We talk about good and bad things with honesty”, as compared to the state run newspaper.

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On Cuba, an alternative media dedicated not only to its readers inside Cuba, but interestingly enough, those Cubans who have left the country. While interviewing one of the staff members for the media platform, she explained to us the importance of having a variety of information and stories being released to the public through On Cuba, as well as the importance for those stories to reach or be of relevance not only to those in Cuba, but their families abroad, “…you cannot predict a future of the country without taking into account these people (the family members abroad) that are still influencing what happens inside the country. So we want to talk not only about politics or official stuff, we also want to talk about people themselves, about their stories”. On Cuba also makes a strong effort to stay as neutral as possible, or to include stories and points of view from multiple sides, though this too can prove troublesome when stereotyping and misconceptions come into play from one side or the other; “When you talk about Cuba in the press you will find very polarized positions; theirs media content talking about the perfection of Cuba, and theirs a lot on the other hand talking about ‘the disaster of Cuba’. We are neither of these extremes, though this is also an issue because the two sides still punish (us). One side understands you are not with them, so they think you are on the other side”. A large part of why these people are doing what they’re doing, trying to avoid government intervention and starting the independent and alternative media platforms, is because they feel the people just arent getting what actually matters or is truly important and relevant through state run media, “In Cuban media the stories talk more about statistics and not about people; more about data and not about people’s stories. I hardly find in the media what I feel in the streets, or what I understand people to be feeling… I understand that we need, as a country, to move the debate and talk about these stories because they’re important”.

 

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“Imagine, OF all the people”? Fidel Castro’s, and the “real story”, behind John Lennon park

Beatlemania having swept over the world in the sixties is far from an over exaggeration, as we all know. But to find out that in 1964 Fidel Castro declared a nationwide ban of the Beatles’ music really puts into perspective the influence and reach music can have.

Castro saw the”fab four” as a symbol of the “vulgar consumerism” he resented and thought of the British band as “a tool of capitalist America”. Regardless of the ban, their music still made its way to Cuba’s youth underground, and two years late in 1966, the ban was lifted, although it still took some time for Cuba to allow all its people to embrace the rock and roll craze. In 1971 the Beatles show was aired for the first time over Cuban airwaves, but tension still remained towards the new culture of the 60s and 70s.

However, on December 8th of 2000, the 20 year anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination, a statue was unveiled on a park bench at 17th and 6th street in Havana park, also known as “John Lennon Park”. Somewhere in those 30+ years, John Lennon grew on even communist rebel Fidel Castro. Whether this actually stands as symbol of musical freedom in the new era of the Fidel rule is still up to debate among Cuban musicians, for Havana park didn’t get its British nickname along with the unveiling of the statue. This story actually begins months prior with a group of Cuban musicians.

john lennon park

Jorge Dalton recalls his participation in the original tribute to the icon in an article of the Havana Times. A group of Cuban musicians and other artists had the idea to pay tribute to the band and “right the injustice that the banning of the Liverpool Four in Cuba during the 60s and 70s had meant”. With the support of the National Committee of the Young Communists League, Cuban Radio and Television Institute, and various other members of the community, the group of artists planned to pay tribute on the roof top of the  Habana Libre Hotel at the same time as a film festival as an ode to the Beatles rooftop concert in England in 1969.

Everything was planned out and seemed to have the green light, until the actual day came. The National Committee of the Young Communists League withdrew their support and deemed the concert “inappropriate” and the Communist Party Leadership, relayed through the National Committee of the Young Communists League, said the concert was not to be authorized.

Although the group of artists attempting the concert greatly dwindled in size and lost the support of the  Cuban Radio and Television Institute, who were going to supply broadcast and audio equipment, the few remaining musicians persevered and decided to try Havana Park next.

News spread about the reattempt at the concert and the park was packed with people before they even started setting up. Rushed, unrehearsed, and improvised, the band began the tribute. Jorge recalls “pulling electricity  directly from streetlamps and people’s houses”, and even nearby police couldn’t help but join in, “The park was also surrounded by a long cordon of police officers, who ended up singing Yesterday, A Hard Day’s Night, Come Together and Let It Be along with us”. The tribute ended with Hey Jude after one musician, Carlos Varela, “took the microphone and proposed baptizing the park with the name of John Lennon”.

When Fidel presented the statue of Lennon at the park only months later, party leaders and members of the Cuban Radio and Television Institute who had tried to stop the concert prior were even present at the unveiling.

cuba concert

sources