A "Letters to the Editor" Feature That Mocks Free Speech

Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that the austere newspaper Granma would open a section that would become its most read and commented on feature. Under the title, "Letters to the Editor," every Friday letters sent by readers come to light, addressing the economic and organizational aspects of our society. At first, word spread that the official organ of the Cuban Communist party would sound out a test-tube Glasnost which would later be extended to the rest of the press, but the result has been a limited debate, considering it occurs in a media with a strong reactionary tendency, resistant to change.

The temperature of the criticism has been rising, and in this same newspaper which has never printed a color photo, they appear today to focus on different nuances of old problems. There has even been talk of "privatization" and "the end of subsidies," all this accompanied by phrases such as "our stagnant mentality" along with exhortations in the style of "we must be realists." So far, it would seen that the controversy has embedded itself in a publication that has contributed so much, over the decades, to cutting off debate; but let's not let the excitement run away with us. Now in the heading of the "Letters..." they clarify that it includes "opinions with which one may or may not agree." All in a show of tolerance that some of us who are discriminated against for our opinions know very well does not reflect anything in real life.

Setting aside the delight, and separating the words that appear from the facts, one can see the true extent and seriousness of this space for discussion. It jumps out at you that there is clearly a limit in terms of topics, because never in all this time have they touched on hot button issues such as the travel restrictions, the lack of freedom of expression, the penalization of those who think differently, the political prisoners, the demand for direct election of the president, or the need for a press less intertwined with the apparatus of governance. Interestingly, the letters appear only to refer to the diversion of resources, production methods, bureaucratic inefficiency, and the requests of many to implement stronger controls. This could be because the opinions are filtered, or because the readers themselves refrain from writing about certain issues that they know will never see the light of day.

On the other hand, Friday's Granma has created the false impression that criticism is admissible and one can speak with "no holds barred." But it's enough to read it at length to confirm that there is a compulsory reverence required to be admitted into the select group of those who can opine. A phrase must be dropped in relative to "keeping our current system," or a note of exoneration extended to "the historical leaders of the process," and a sentence added that lays the blame for our national disaster outside our territory. Never - don't even dream about it - could one read in these pages of ancient design the doubts my compatriots have about the management of Raul Castro and the dysfunction of the state capitalism - or the family clan - under which we live.

The Cuba of Saturday, Tuesday, Sunday - that which overflows with dissatisfaction and anguish - hardly shows in the "Letters to the Editor." The organ of the only party permitted would never disseminate that to those they don't consider - even remotely - the vanguard of the nation. To do so would be as if Saturn, having devoured his children, started in on his own heart.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.