An online 4 minute video excerpt posted by international media taken from a 2 hour meeting between the president of the National Assembly and students from the Computer Science University (UCI [ES]) has brought forth contrasting reactions and debates regarding free speech in Cuba and the direction of the Cuban Revolution.
About a month ago, the BBC was handed an anonymous recording of a meeting between the UCI students and Ricardo Alarcón and they showed a 4 minute video which later spread through YouTube [ES] showing a few students asking Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, president of the National Assembly (ANPP) of Cuba, about the reasons why there is a peso convertible, when workers in the fields earn their salary in national currency, with is worth 1/25th of the former, among other questions. The president´s answer was also shown on the BBC's edited video [ES]. Some of the first impressions garnered from this video were that these debates are something new in Cuba, sure signs that things are changing now that Fidel Castro has stepped down, as reported in The Cuban Triangle and the Havana Journal.
Cuban bloggers answered back with the full and unedited videos, some of them attempting to show that this meeting between students and government was an example of free speech that is not uncommon, and a way in which students which hold political positions inside the university could pose questions to Mr. Alarcón so that other students could hear the answers from a better source.
In Mexico, Cuba and other things [ES], the author believes these students belong to an elite: because they are studying computer sciences they have access to the internet that other students probably don´t have, making them more critical of the system. The author of Cuba, the truth comes out into the light[ES], believes the opposite: because these students study completely free of cost in the top university of their country, regardless of their humble origins, they probably support the revolution and ask questions because they can get answers. She writes:
Yo no quiero convencerlos de nada solo quiero que analicen, si es verdad lo que dicen los medios de prensa que dicen que los jóvenes cubanos cuestionaron el gobierno y ellos no manipularon la información, Por qué no ponen el video completo del intercambio y si solo lo que les conviene?
I don´t wish to convince you of anything, I just want you to analyze, if it is true what the media and press is saying that these Cuban youth were actively questioning the government and they don´t manipulate information, Why don´t they show the complete video of the exchange and only show what suits them?
In Yohandry´s Blog [ES], which he has on the Spanish El País platform, he states that it was the coming February 24th parliamentary elections which spurred this “anti Cuban” campaign. He also posts the complete 11 part video so that viewers can make their own minds, and thanks bloggers and the youth groups for getting together and helping get the full length videos out into the open. Below is the 1st part of the conversation, you can see the other 10 videos on Yohandry´s blog [ES].
In Pascual Serrano . net [ES], the Spanish journalist of the same name analyzes the meaning behind the videos: he states that the media portrays it as a case of mutiny against the Cuban government due to its inefficiencies, and he thinks otherwise. For Mr Serrano the video demonstrates that the government creates spaces where all citizens can ask any question to the ones in power, and those questions will get answered. He even mentions a previous event that she took part in that followed the same dynamic. He also scoffs at the thought that freedom of speech and the right to ask questions to the government is anathema in Cuba: in turn, he uses the example of the student who asked an uncomfortable question to John Kerry and was tasered and pulled outside of the room [Video link EN]. On a follow up post [ES], Pascual Serrano mentions that the international media was reporting that the student who spoke against Mr. Alarcón was detained, and that this was proven absolutely false by the same student, who was interviewed by a reporter in the same university and who, along with others, explained that they have been able to move freely and that the news of Eliécer Ávila´s arrest was completely false.
The two part video of the interview made by Cuban journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde was uploaded by cubadebate [ES]:The comments on any of these posts and videos show how divided the population is: ones cry out that in the same way the information was manipulated by the BBC, perhaps the students were prompted to answer as they did during the interview. Others counter that the complete unedited videos are the best example of what really goes on in Cuba. Even Ricardo Alarcón Himself has commented on what he calls media manipulation of transparent political processes, as posted on Lapolillacubana´s Weblog [ES]:
Pensé en Mills cuando el domingo 24 de febrero al concluir la sesión del Parlamento cubano una periodista europea me expresó su sorpresa pues, según ella, las decisiones que acabábamos de tomar no correspondían con lo que se suponía debía ocurrir. No entendía que “un desconocido” como Machado Ventura pudiera ser elegido Primer Vicepresidente del Consejo de Estado y del Consejo de Ministros y tampoco comprendía que yo hubiese sido reelecto Presidente de la Asamblea contradiciendo ciertas especulaciones mediáticas. Con la mayor dulzura posible le respondí que los medios pueden manipular la realidad pero no son capaces de crearla.
I thought of Mills [C. Wright Mills [EN]] when as we wrapped up the Sunday February 24th parliament session a European journalist expressed her surprise, since according to her, the decisions that had just been made didn´t match with what was supposed to happen. She didn´t understand how an “unknown” like Machado Ventura could be elected First Vicepresident of the State Council and Ministry Council and she didn´t understand either how I had been reelected as President of the Assembly, in contradiction with certain media speculations. With the greatest sweetness possible I answered that media can manipulate the reality, but it isn´t capable of creating it.