Following the lead of other leftist leaders in Latin America, Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel has announced that he will use YouTube, the internet and television to increase his “contact with the people.”
Díaz-Canel told a meeting of the legislative National Assembly that his office will open a YouTube channel and a website. He said he also has proposed a new TV channel to allow government agencies to offer audiences information “about what concerns them and the work of each organization,” the official Granma newspaper reported.
“Those of us who have decision-making powers and are public servants owe coherent and direct information to the people, and then we should all do what Fidel did by himself,” Díaz-Canel said.
The late Fidel Castro used to appear on Cuban television for hours, talking about issues as dissimilar as the return of Elián González to the island in 2000, following a heated international custody battle; the energy industry and hurricane threats. The late Hugo Chávez followed Castro’s lead with his marathon Venezuelan TV program, Aló Presidente, until his death in 2013.
Díaz-Canel, a 58-year-old engineer, who served as vice president was appointed to succeed Raúl Castro as president of the Councils of State and Ministers in April, and has since tried to modernize the government’s communications strategy. He has repeatedly talked about the need for closer contact between government officials and citizens.
Díaz-Canel also has urged all cabinet ministers to appear on a political talk show, Mesa Redonda, at year’s end to talk about their work. The Cuban leader opened a Twitter account in August, and the ministers quickly followed his lead.
The accounts sparked unprecedented Twitter exchanges between government officials and citizens and posed a challenge to the government’s monopoly of the news media, accustomed to obedient coverage of official activities.
The Trabajadores newspaper recently published a news report that Díaz-Canel had posted a Tweet recalling John Lennon and saying “that sharing a dream with the people is a challenge, and the days seem too short when there is so much to do.”
Díaz-Canel, who has said he considers social networks as a field for “ideological combat,” has received an avalanche of criticisms on his Twitter account from people on the island and abroad.
Quoting Fidel Castro, he recently wrote on Twitter in Spanish that “man needs something more than bread. He needs honesty. He needs dignity. He needs respect. He really needs to be treated like a human being. Is there any country that has done more for human rights than Cuba?”
The post coincided with a shortage of bread across the island, drawing hundreds of sharp jabs from his followers.
Díaz-Canel started to post tweets from an iPhone, which is not sold in Cuba, and quickly made 43 references to Fidel Castro, according to a November report by Proyectoinventario.org.
During the National Assembly meetings this week, he praised “electronic government” and urged an embrace of computers and the digital world, but hinted that Cuba would not accept offers by foreign companies to expand the island’s access to the internet.
Communications Minister Jorge Luis Perdomo has admitted that Etecsa, the government’s telecommunications monopoly, depends on foreign investments for 90 percent of the costs of expanding infrastructure on the island.
“The computerization of society is a reality and expresses the will of the government to continue moving forward, without the need for the meddlesome platforms that they want to impose on us,” Díaz-Canel said. “We’re doing it with our own efforts, talent, resources and possibilities.”
Google and the Spanish Telefónica have offered Cuba help expanding access to the internet, but the government has not accepted.
Etecsa recently began offering cellphone access to the Internet on 3G connections, at prices way out of the normal Cubans’ reach. A plan for 4 gigs of data transfer costs about $34 per month — a month’s salary for an average Cuban worker.
A government report published Tuesday claimed that 5 million of the island’s 11 million people access the internet. About 60 percent of them access it from schools and work places, and the figures include those who only navigate Cuba’s “intranet,” which is not connected to the internet.
Government workers and students have been urged to follow Diaz Canel on Twitter using the hashtag #YoSigoAMiPresidente — I follow my president.
But despite Diaz-Canel’s calls for more transparency in government, the National Assembly sessions Tuesday were not televised. Cuban TV instead broadcast a cooking show.