Radio/TV Marti’s director on ways of disseminating information to Cubans
Cuba has one of the world’s most restrictive media environments; it habitually ranks in the bottom ten on the Freedom of the Press Index as one of the ten worst countries in the world for journalists and bloggers. The U.S. government’s Miami-based Radio and TV Martí broadcasters works tirelessly to get around Havana’s censorship, and come up with novel ways to disseminate information on the island. Carlos Garcia-Perez, who runs the operation, attended this week’s Forum 2000 conference in Prague and on a visit to Radio Prague’s studios he spoke to our editor-in-chief Miroslav Krupička, who chaired one of the Forum 2000 panels on the role of the radio in inspiring democratic changes. Mr. Garcia Perez began by sharing his impressions of this year’s Forum 2000.
You actively participated in the panel on radio and democracy. What would be your reflections on democracy? Were there any inspirations for you?
“Absolutely. Some of the Cuban activists were there and participated. That’s the primary reason why we exist. To listen to our target audience, to talk about how the change would benefit them- and that’s humbling. Because we can’t do research in Cuba, that’s the best kind of research that we can have. I actually found myself a lot of the time taking notes (laughs). It was educational for me, and it was also inspirational for me. That’s exactly the sort of thing we try to broadcast on radio Martí.”
Let’s talk about radio and TV Martí for a short while. It was interesting listening to you about the methods you use to disseminate your message over to Cuba. Could you briefly name and describe your methods?
How does it work? You send it to Cuba and people put it in their computers and what happens then?
“You basically download information that’s in the flash drive. You load it up with information- it could be programs, or, for example, the one that you are holding now for the audience is called Piramideo, which is a social text network that we have created for Cubans on the island. So basically it’s group messaging. You register your cell phone on piramideo through the website and you can put as many Cuban cell phone numbers of your friends as you wish and for the price of one text we send a text message to all the people in your group. But the way you do it is that you download it to your computer, you break it off from the business card, you put it into your computer and download the information, and that’s it.”
Is this form of communication through cell phones and internet detectable from the Cuban authorities?
You mean a new device or channel how to get to Cuba?
“We were thinking of new ways of how to deliver the radio and TV Marti content to Cuba, which has become more relevant than ever, because we have always had volunteer independent journalists on the island collaborating for Martí. But now we have paid journalists, so these are professional journalists. And I’m not taking anything away from the independent journalists that have collaborated with Martí; they continue to be- and will continue to be- an important source of information for Martí. But we are also creating the profession of journalism on the island. There are a lot of organisations training journalists on the island, but once they are trained, they don’t have a job. So we’re proving employment on the island.”
From time to time your organisation comes under criticism that you are not as efficient as you could be that you don’t cover the whole of the Cuba population and so on. Is there any way to measure the audience, how would you reply to that? Is the audience rather declining or growing?
Of course we are criticised, because the Cuban government doesn’t like us very much. If it was a commercial operation in a free country, we would, of course, be spending less money. But we are fighting now to create the free flow of information and to be able to educate the people in Cuba against the will of the government, so it’s just a moral obligation.”
And finally, do you see any progress in Cuba in terms of the government liberalising ways of life?
“Well, I think what you and I witnessed in these past two days with having Cuban activists here is very telling. There’s certainly liberalisation going on on the island. The reasons for it…we could be here for three hours. But the bottom line in my mind is the following: There’s a civil society growing on the island that is very strong, that the fundamentals of it are very strong, that they’re civil, respectful among each other and with the people that do not agree with their thoughts. And I truly believe, and I have more hope especially after what I’ve seen here, that the train has left the station a long time ago and the activists and people in Cuba have lost their fear and they are demanding changes from the government, and the government has no option other than to do that, because they’re going to lose control.”