Cuba

Granma deputy editor warns of protests in Cuba if blackouts return

Thousands of residents of Havana, Cuba, stand and watch in front of the Hotel Deauville in Havana on Aug. 5, 1994. The hotel was looted when thousands were drawn to the waterfront by rumours that a ferryboat had been hijacked to the U.S. Angry over the riots, President Fidel Castro on Friday threatened to let Cubans leave without restriction for the first time since the 1980 Mariel refugee exodus, in which120,000 people fled to the United States within a few months, causing near panic among U.S. officials.
Thousands of residents of Havana, Cuba, stand and watch in front of the Hotel Deauville in Havana on Aug. 5, 1994. The hotel was looted when thousands were drawn to the waterfront by rumours that a ferryboat had been hijacked to the U.S. Angry over the riots, President Fidel Castro on Friday threatened to let Cubans leave without restriction for the first time since the 1980 Mariel refugee exodus, in which120,000 people fled to the United States within a few months, causing near panic among U.S. officials. Associated Press

The deputy director of Cuba’s official Granma newspaper has warned that street protests like those that erupted in Havana the summer of 1994 are possible if reports hinting at electricity blackouts this summer are true.

“A perfect storm is brewing … this phenomenon of a cut in fuel, a cut in energy,” Karina Marrón told a meeting of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC). “People, this country can’t withstand another ’93, another ’94 … we don’t want to see protests on the streets.”

Hundreds of Havana residents erupted in unprecedented street protests in the summer of 1994, amid daily electricity blackouts sparked by the end of Soviet subsidies and the collapse of the Cuban economy. The outburst, known as the Maleconazo, was followed by the Balsero exodus, when 35,000 Cubans left aboard homemade rafts.

Several Cuban government ministries have been ordered to reduce electricity consumption in state enterprises and shops by up to 50 percent, according to a Reuters news agency report Friday quoting diplomatic and other sources in Havana. The cutbacks appear linked to the chaos in Venezuela, Cuba’s main oil supplier.

Even more surprising were Marrón’s sharp criticisms of Cuban leader Raúl Castro during the UPEC meeting Tuesday.

The deputy editor of Granma, official voice of the ruling Cuban Communist Party (PCC), said that if street protests do break out, “there is no Fidel to go to the Malecon” — a reference to Fidel Castro’s swift appearance at the 1994 protests to disband them.

“Up until now there’s been been no leader in this country who stands in front of the people to explain why things are happening today with this situation,” Marrón added.

She also warned that “2018 is near, and we’re betting everything on that date and (yet) everything is being done to make sure that storm reaches that date in the worst possible circumstances for this country.”

Raúl Castro has promised to surrender the presidency of Cuba in 2018. The official news media reported that Miguel Díaz-Canel, a possible Castro successor, attended the UPEC meeting where Marrón spoke out.

“This is no time to doubt, no time to hesitate, no time to give our strengths, our ideas to something that doesn’t work and which often causes our youths … to leave our newsrooms,” Marrón also said in her comments, largely focused on the lack of motivation among young journalists to work for the island’s official media. The government controls all of Cuba’s printed newspapers, radio and television outlets.

A transcript of Marrón’s comments was posted Thursday evening by Radio Holguín journalist José Ramírez Pantoja on his blog. By Friday morning it had been erased, but other blogs had reposted the text. Several official media reports on the UPEC meeting, including Marrón’s own report on Granma, make no reference to her criticisms.

The UPEC meeting, called to discuss key documents on Cuba’s future approved during the VII Congress of the PCC earlier this year, also heard Rosa Myriam Elizalde, director of the official Cubadebate portal, suggest that control of the media be restricted to “the hands of the people” – eliminating any possible opening for private media.

Her suggestion reflected the current tensions among Cuban journalists because of the rise of independent digital media such as 14ymedio or Periodismo de Barrio or the Miami-based OnCuba, which offer better salaries and more editorial freedoms.

Official blogs have lashed out at the non-government media, and recent orders from the PCC Central Committee were designed to prevent journalists in some of the island’s best-known official media from freelancing for foreign news outlets for extra money.

“In that group now collaborating with foreign outlets there are young people who are doing it for different reasons — because they think they are going to find their professional fulfillment abroad, and it hurts us that they don’t see that on our side, that they don’t try to change things on our side.” Marrón declared.

Young journalists also look abroad “for economic reasons … but it’s never one single motive,” said Marrón, adding that “the spirit of consumerism” and “shortages of material goods” together push recent graduates to seek better work options.

She also criticized the “generation of disconnected youths, whom we simply did not reach in earlier stages of their lives and now we can’t pretend that they don’t like clothes, high heels, shoes, accessing the Internet or having … money in their pockets.” She acknowledged, however, “that some freelance [for independent or foreign media] just to pay their rent.”

Marrón, who is a member of UPEC’s national committee, also complained the organization has no “power to make decisions” and will grow weaker “talking about the same problems from Congress to Congress.

Nora Gámez Torres: @ngameztorres

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