Rebellion in Havana’s Classrooms and Newsrooms: Two Eras of Frustrated Transition in Cuban Journalism, 1985-1990 and 2016-2021

On October 26, 1987, a group of University of Havana journalism students was summoned to appear at an auditorium within the Revolutionary Palace, normally reserved for meetings of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, for an unprecedented tête-à-tête with Fidel Castro. The 12-hour conclave was billed among participants as an “open and sincere debate among revolutionaries,” with the purpose of addressing the students’ growing concerns over the island’s increasingly inoperable política informativa (media policy) and the proper role of the Cuban press in the rapidly changing geo-political context of the late-1980s. The spread of the twin policies of perestroika (political reform) and glasnost (transparency) in the Soviet Union was in turn emboldening a new generation of Cuban journalists to question their limited roles and freedoms as media professionals.

However, the meeting quickly turned into a showdown between two distinct visions of the role of “revolutionary” journalism: an independent, critical-minded vocation that serves the public by providing citizens with access to credible information vs. a politically committed defense of the conquests of the Revolution carried out by “ideological soldiers” and “conscious revolutionaries” faithful above all to “a sole leader, our Comandante Fidel.” This second vision is that of Carlos Aldana, the principal convener of the meeting, then head of Cuba’s censorious Department of Revolutionary Orientation, and the man entrusted to lead the purges against students and professors at the University following what Castro considered an embarrassing debacle.[1]

Indeed, the now exiled Cuban writer Amir Valle, who was just starting his fourth year as a journalism student at the University in 1987 and was himself an outspoken protagonist in the meeting with Castro, has categorized the historic exchange as a student-led October Revolution of sorts: “the largest act of rebellion of Cuban journalists against the propagandistic Castroite establishment” during the Revolutionary period.[2]

This essay uses that dramatic episode as both a frame and a springboard to explore more deeply the professional trajectories of Cuban journalism students as they have passed from the theories and techniques of their chosen profession, as taught at the University of Havana’s School of Journalism (renamed the School of Communication in 1993), to the actual practice of journalism in a country where virtually all legal means of mass media (the press, radio, and television) are official mouthpieces of Party, state, or para-state entities. Given the long and storied history of the press under the Revolution, I narrowly focus my essay on a key era of “frustrated transition” within the Cuban media: the so-called “years of living dangerously” (1985-1990).[3]

My focus on this particular quinquenio dinámico (dynamic five-year period) is divided into three parts: a brief description of the political and cultural context of the 1980s, a biographical sketch that traces the professional trajectory of the journalist and one-time University of Havana journalism professor Wilfredo Cancio Isla (b. 1960), and a deeper analysis of the unprecedented “showdown” between University of Havana journalism students and Fidel Castro introduced above. I conclude my essay by jumping forward a quarter century to highlight the ongoing struggles facing Cuban journalists of today, comparing them with those of the 1985-1990 period. While today’s journalists and journalism students struggle against many of the same past obstacles inherent in a system that explicitly subordinates the interests of the press to those of the Party and “Revolution,” they also practice their profession in a radically changed technological environment where the practical monopoly of the official media has largely disappeared—thanks to expanding Internet access—while its legal monopoly remains intact.

“The Years We Lived Dangerously,” 1985-1990

In her recollection of the years she served as President of the FEU (Federación Estudiantil Universitaria) at the University of Havana, Cuban journalist and writer Lidia Señarís Cejas refers to the 1980s as a “very complicated” decade. She was putting it mildly.

Caricature alluding to Fidel Castro’s joke towards Lidia Señarís Cejas at the V UPEC Congress in 1986.

On one side were the playwrights who insisted on staging works with increasingly critical content and the members of the Arte Calle collective who put on a series of cutting-edge exhibitions. These developments were two of the most notable examples of the diversification of the Cuban cultural scene during the early 1980s,[4] a phenomenon that also included the appearance of new cultural magazines at all levels, the celebration of music, film, and cultural festivals across the island, and an increase in the amount and kind of books published “allowing for an explosion of creativity and national recognition of figures […] now considered key to Cuban culture”.[5] Also fueling this groundswell was the gradual “rescue,” “reinsertion,” and “rehabilitation” of many members of Cuba’s intelligentsia who had been effectively erased, punished, or silenced during the repressive “gray” years of the 1970s.

On the other side were the momentous and breathtaking (especially for Cubans) political and economic changes developing in the Soviet Union as reflected in the Spanish-language editions of Soviet magazines like Sputnik and Novedades de Moscú that flooded Cuba at the time (and which were eventually banned outright by Cuba’s cultural commissars).[6] Indeed, Cuban media scholar Juan Orlando Pérez notes that, Cuban authorities banned [such] magazines in 1989, at the peak of glasnost, when many […] were openly questioning the fundaments of the Communist regimes. [This ban] was preceded by a cautious professional and academic critique of both the theoretical fundaments and the historical performance of [the Soviet] model of journalism. That happened at a time of great debates about the role of journalism in socialism and particularly in the conditions of the Cuban Revolution. [This was] part of a general political reaction against the effects of the uncritical adoption of the Soviet model of socialism. [And] this reaction against [that form of] journalism happened after at least twenty years of intensive exposure of Cuban journalists to [it].[7]

Caught in the middle during this “very complicated” decade were student leaders like Señarís who shared her fellow students’ growing frustrations over the sorry state of Cuban journalism but who were also expected to enforce a certain ideological orthodoxy among their peers. This building pressure would explode in a momentous episode fundamental to understanding the frustrated development of Cuban journalism during this period: the “October revolution” of University of Havana journalism students in 1987.[8]

Wilfredo Cancio Isla: “Nothing Journalistic Is Alien to Me”

In addition to the contradictory dynamics developing within the Cuban press during the 1980s described above, Pérez notes that an ideological tension had always existed between the pre-revolutionary practice of liberal journalism and the official embrace of the Soviet interpretation of Lenin’s definition of the press as an instrument of the Party for propaganda, ideological struggle, and the organization and education of the masses. If in the sixties, Cuban journalists swore fidelity to the Revolution and accepted restrictions imposed upon their work in the name of the Fatherland’s salvation, the young journalists I interviewed seem reluctant to do the same.[9]

Indeed, Pérez considers the 47 interviewees he consulted in the research for his doctoral thesis—all of whom earned degrees in journalism from the University of Havana during the 1990s—to be the ideological heirs of the brief opening in the Cuban media in 1985-1990 and the transformation of the curriculum of the School of Journalism during that time.

There is perhaps no better single source to describe those years at the University than Pérez’s one-time journalism professor, Wilfredo Cancio Isla. In addition to his various professional roles,[10] he also earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Havana himself in 1982, where he remained for the next 12 years (1983-1994) teaching and working with a team of fellow faculty members to strengthen the School of Journalism’s admissions standards and redesign its curriculum. Cancio remembers his five years as a journalism student in Havana (1977-1982) as a time of growing frustration due to the heavy ideological content of his classes combined with marked deficiencies in professional and cultural formation. “It was an orthopedic and dogmatic program of study inherited from the University of Lomonosov,” he recalls, “and we were only able to get through it thanks to the talented teaching of some of our professors.”

At the time, notes Cancio, “the Journalism major had a curriculum that would have delighted George Orwell”.[11] Not only were many of his classes totally useless, but the distribution of hours was also completely disproportionate to the practical needs of future journalists, presenting them with a dilemma upon graduation.[12] Moreover, Russian was the only foreign language offered to majors. Although Cancio’s intention upon graduation (at the top of his class) never was to become a journalism professor himself, when he did so in 1983 after completing a year of military service, he was determined to make changes to this ossified curriculum. “I suddenly found myself a professor to many of my erstwhile classmates,” he recalls. “It was a gigantic challenge for which I was not prepared and from which I tried to escape several times during my first years as a member of the University faculty. Today, I think it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

Looking back at his time as a professor more than a quarter-century later, Cancio is most gratified by three accomplishments. First, he was able work as a journalist while also teaching journalism at the University. He recalls that this “double function” was mutually enriching since “the exercise of journalism substantially nurtured my work as a teacher: on one hand, there was the training, research, and academic rigor that being a professor imposed on me,” he argues, “while on the other hand, my practice of journalism legitimized my teaching role.” Additionally, the fact that he did journalism “without having to be part of or tied to the staff of a specific publication, afforded [him] a flexibility with which to operate” not normally enjoyed by the full-time journalists working at those same outlets.

Second, he was able to play a part in the creation of a non-ideological admissions process that substantially raised the quality of the School’s journalism students while simultaneously participating in the transformation of the School’s curriculum, via the adoption of the so-called “Plan C,” which officially took effect in 1990, creating a generational legacy of modern, broadly informed, intellectually rigorous, and theoretically grounded journalism graduates—a legacy exemplified by Pérez himself. On the first point, Cancio recalls that between 1985 and 1992, “we had in our hands the ability to admit students of exceptional talent based on their real potential for the profession, without overvaluing their political-ideological postures and their high school grades, which don’t always indicate the pertinent knowledge and abilities.” In terms of the transformation of the journalism curriculum, Cancio saw it as an opportunity to radically change the direction of the major away from useless classes, redirecting it toward more cutting-edge subjects and never before taught courses like “Theories of Communication,” “Communication and Society,” “Investigative Journalism,” “New Technologies of Communication,” and, in later years, “Online Journalism,” so that students would have more curricular alternatives and broader intellectual and cultural stimulation. Additionally, class lectures covered previously taboo topics fundamental to liberal, investigative journalism such as Watergate and the American “New Journalism” movement.

This radical curricular approach and institutional independence provoked many political conflicts for the journalism faculty. For example, the Central Committee’s Ideological Department (also known as the DOR and headed by the aforementioned Carlos Aldana until 1992) attempted to pack the admissions committee with trustworthy journalists who in turn tried to politically condition the selection of students. Cancio notes that the selection criteria preferred by the Party’s leadership even aimed to limit the admission of so-called “flojitos,” a homophobic reference to gay applicants. However, Cancio considers the successful winning of many of these academic battles by his faculty peers and him his third major accomplishment. “I am proud of the students I helped educate,” he noted in our interview. “It was a key time of deep transformations and challenges for Cuban journalism.”

I’d like to think that my contribution as a journalism professor in Cuba was not in vain and that we were able to make advances […] that left a mark on my students who are now spread across the world. I [still] receive messages from dozens of students, from Cuba or in the diaspora, and their gratitude for the efforts—and dreams—we shared in the classrooms is a great satisfaction to me.[13]

The “October Revolution” of University of Havana Journalism Students, 1987

For writer Amir Valle, 1987 constituted a transcendental “before and after year” in his relationship to the Cuban Revolution.[14] Though born in Guantánamo in 1967 and raised in a family deeply committed to “el proceso revolucionario,”[15] like many other young Cuban journalists and especially students at the University of Havana’s recently inaugurated School of Journalism (1984), the then 20-year-old Valle found himself increasingly frustrated by the long list of unanswered questions he and his classmates were asking themselves about the deep contradictions and many silences of the Cuban press. Since most of their own professors, University administrators, and fellow student leaders had no answers for them, given that the government’s media policy was well beyond their control, the students drew up a detailed list of questions in consultation with students in each of the five annual cohorts at the School of Journalism and sent them up the chain of command with the hope that they would be addressed by government and Party officials at the highest level. However, the sincerity of the questionnaire the students produced turned out to be a boomerang of sorts for the School. “The political leadership felt offended,” recalls Cancio, “and they sounded the alarm over the ‘serious ideological problems’ that afflicted these future journalists”.

In fact, the earnestness with which the students posed their questions constituted a direct, if perhaps unintentional, challenge to the “omnipotence of the Cuban political leadership”,[16] given that they raised criticisms that went to the core of the reigning and increasingly inoperable política informativa: the Cuban press’s practiced triumphalism, its almost total lack of internal criticism, the simplistic good vs. evil international news reporting, the celebratory coverage of so-called “internationalist wars,” the absence of freedom of public information, the rigid criteria for the approval of articles, the looming global crisis of the socialist system, the nebulous meaning of Cuba’s so-called “rectification of errors” policy and its application in the media, and what students saw as the alarming cult of personality that the press had built up around Fidel Castro.

In his own recounting of the episode, Valle recalls that Carlos Aldana himself decided he would personally respond to the questions in an audience with the concerned journalism students at the University of Havana. However, just before the meeting was to take place, the venue was changed and all 276 students were led to an auditorium within the Revolutionary Palace. Once seated, the curtain was raised revealing a group of student and government leaders on the dais with Aldana presiding. As President of the FEU, Señarís began the meeting by reiterating that the purpose of the gathering—from the students’ perspective—was to establish a “dialogue with those who could clarify our doubts.” However, Aldana could only respond to the students’ initial questions with what Valle remembers as “clichés, half-truths, empty talk, and an evident disparagement of our arguments”.[17] Castro himself was not originally slated to participate in the meeting but was actually following the proceedings remotely via closed-circuit TV and decided to join the event and take control of its direction when he noted the unapologetic boldness of the students as they interrogated his representative, Aldana. Indeed, Cancio recalls that while the meeting was initially “prepared with a dirty sense of punishment from the highest spheres,” the students’ bravery “turned it into an explosion of sincerity, abandon, and questioning” that neither Aldana nor Castro had expected.

However, while the gathering included a surprise appearance and interminable speech by the nation’s “maximum leader,” not a word of what transpired there was ever reported in the island’s official press, despite the fact that the directors of every national media outlet (along with the entire journalism faculty of the University of Havana) were in attendance, as required. Quite predictably, while the students had requested that the proceedings of the “open debate” be shared widely afterward for the benefit of working journalists and other journalism students across the island, the meeting was closed to the public and attendance was strictly by invitation only. No official “proceedings” of the meeting were ever published in Cuba even though the Council of State did record the event and circulate an edited video among Party militants as a way “to alert them about certain ideological deviations among the young and thus justify another wave of purges and reaffirmations [of revolutionary commitment] at Cuban universities” immediately following the event.[18]

Such deliberate methods of information (and damage) control were deemed necessary, given the boldness and temerity exhibited by many of the students present who bravely stood to pose each of their 96 carefully and collectively prepared questions publicly, touching on every conceivable aspect of Cuba’s propagandistic media system. The students’ systematic airing of their list of vital but heretofore taboo topics—under the naïve conviction that they could spark an opening in the country’s media system—culminated in the gathering’s most tense and memorable moment. While attempting to deliver his own query, a student leader named Alexis Triana loudly demanded that Castro stop interrupting him “like a father who refuses to hear what his children have to say.” According to Cancio, these impertinent words “knocked the dictator out of his place in a manner that those of us present never dreamed we would witness.” Though he agreed to let the student finish, Castro slammed his fist on the table and threatened to walk out of the gathering if he were not then allowed to add certain points that he deemed necessary. Later, Aldana labelled Triana’s words “an unpardonable lack of respect for the Comandante,”[19] using them and other supposedly insubordinate comments from the journalism students to justify the wide-ranging settling of scores that he orchestrated following the event.

Looking back on these events years later, Cancio likened them to an expression later coined by Cuban writer Antonio José Ponte, “tirar de las lenguas para cortarlas mejor” (stick out your tongues so they can be more easily cut off), capturing the classic political strategy of encouraging dissonant opinions so as to later identify and repress them.[20]

In the case of Cuban journalism-cum-propaganda, the architects of Cuba’s lineal “política informativa” saw such questioning from journalism students as a direct threat to its executive model of communication whereby “information is only welcome (and accepted) if it contributes to the interests of implementing political decisions” already made.[21] Thus, these students—who would soon be entrusted with becoming the island’s leading “ideological soldiers”—had shown themselves to be “ideologically untrustworthy,” lacking in the necessary “patriotic responsibility” expected of the “new men” (and women) born under and formed within a supposedly revolutionary society and educational system.[22]

However, what an arrogant and enraged Castro and his ideological enforcer Aldana feared as unacceptable irreverence and insubordination from what Castro later referred to as a group of “little turds” (mojonetes), Cancio himself understood to be a powerful example of “the critical effervescence and ideological shifts that were developing within the Cuban society of the 1980s”.[23] However, these shifts—coupled with the naïve conviction among many students that internal reform of (or even transition within) Cuba’s media apparatus was possible—were ultimately frustrated, leaving a generation of journalists deceived. “It was the cry of a generation of young people,” Cancio noted later, “who wanted to storm the sky and ended up marked by frustration, censorship, and diaspora.” Cancio still vividly recalls the various students who approached him during a break in the meeting with Castro. “Unable to find the words to understand the profound deception they felt, that was the day when [they] ceased to believe forever” (2020). Perhaps inadvertently, continues Cancio, “they had given us a slap that would wake us up from the transformative dream of Cuban socialism”.[24]

“Revolutionary” Cuban Journalism, “un callejón sin salida

In 2017, Jesús Arencibia—a columnist for Juventud Rebelde (2007-2018) and a professor of Journalism at the University of Havana (2006-2018), where he earned his Bachelor’s (2006) and Master’s (2012) degrees in Journalism and Communication Sciences, respectively—published a daring and revelatory article entitled, “Cuban Journalism: A Dead-End Street?”. In it, he provides a thoroughgoing review of the then current state of Cuban journalism. Its first paragraph begins:

Cuban journalism must change. As an urgency of life, it must change. It is almost a truism, repeated ad nauseam all across the island. […] Nevertheless, the corresponding transformations in the Public Communication System have not yet appeared. [25]

Arencibia goes on to note that his critical observation is far from new nor is it limited to political dissidents or even to the crop of independent journalists who were just then re-emerging across the island. As we have seen above in my chronicle of the battles over Cuba’s política informativa during the 1980s, such critical analysis and full-throated calls for change could also be found in “the speeches of officials, gatherings of intellectuals, at professional journalistic events,” and most importantly, “in conversations on street corners” —not to mention among University of Havana journalism students themselves (Ibid.).

In Arencibia’s article—and in an abbreviated version that he simultaneously published on the website of the pioneering independent Cuban think tank Cuba Posible (“Periodismo Cubano: edición contra cierre”)—he comprehensively enumerates many of the harmful and indeed structural “syndromes” that have long plagued Cuban journalism, paving the way for it to wind up trapped on this “dead-end street.” These include a divorce between Cuban reality and what is found in the pages of the official press, a plague of uniformity—even unanimity—of content, and the studied practice of “self-censorship” and the use of the “mystery syndrome” to avoid the public airing of unfavorable information always justified with the tired use of such “paralyzing phrases” as “no es el momento apropiado,” “no podemos dar armas al enemigo,” and “vivimos bajo una plaza sitiada”.[26]

Then there is the lack of any legal framework or protection for the practice of journalism, the dominance of the PCC over the media as the supposed “maximum expression of the critical conscience of society”, and the diehard legacy of the Soviet model of the media that sees the press as an “appendage of the Party bureaucracy, subject to a vertical system of political and ideological control, in which it fulfills above all a function of agitation and reiteration”.[27] Arencibia also notes that almost none of the above syndromes are unique to journalism but afflict many other areas of national life and arise from the island’s political system. Therefore, the necessary changes he calls for in Cuba’s media system also require “shifts in the super-structure and structure of Cuban society and in the political leadership of the country”.

Arencibia’s admission quoted above that the necessary transformations, solutions, and “salidas” (exits) out of the “dead-end street” faced by Cuban journalism and Cuba’s reigning política informativa “have not yet appeared” is especially stark given that his list of “syndromes” afflicting the profession is quite similar to the equally urgent list of questions raised by University of Havana journalism students in their historic 1987 meeting with Fidel Castro thirty years earlier. This fact teaches us the lesson once and for all that there is no exit from the dead-end that “Cuban journalism” finds itself in because that journalism is legally limited to the official media or what some still insist on calling “revolutionary journalism.”[28] In other words, the only way out of this dead-end is through dismantling, root and branch, a política informativa that has as its central pillar the subordination of the press to the Party, accompanied by the legalization of the practice of independent journalism on the island. As Elaine Díaz and her team of independent journalists at Periodismo de Barrio so eloquently put it in a 2016 editorial:

Between the press and the Party there does not exist, nor can there exist, a relationship based on conditions of equality. The Party expects submission from the press. […] In order to recuperate the credibility of journalism in society, it is indispensable that it recover its independence. It is not a matter of becoming the enemy [of the Party] but one of becoming independent of it.

This brings us to a final point made by Arencibia about the then-recent emergence of “alternative voices and spaces,” which according to him, “are serving—with their daring initiative—as catalysts for the necessary change” in Cuban journalism. Indeed, while the government’s official media apparatus continues to enjoy a legal information monopoly, these new voices and independent media outlets (many of which were founded by recent journalism graduates from the University of Havana) have effectively brought its practical information monopoly to an end. This unprecedented development has appeared thanks first to their own talent, bravery, and commitment to their profession and second to the ever-deeper penetration of new information and communication technologies on the island. Thus, the irruption of independent journalism into Cuba’s ossified media context—thanks to these journalists’ strategic use of digital media platforms that are increasingly within the reach of potential Cuban audiences but largely beyond the control of state censors—means a fundamental rupture of the government’s information monopoly, the appearance of alternative visions of reality, and a fracture in what Cancio calls the “monotonous story of biased and manipulated information”.

At the same time, the increase in the repression of the independent press and the forced exile of many of its leading practitioners between 2019 and 2022 indicate that the Cuban government aims to make this newest effort at remaking Cuban journalism and ensuring its independence a frustrated one as well.


[1] See Amir Valle: La estrategia del verdugo. Breve panorama de la censura cultural en Cuba, Puente a la Vista, Miami, 2020, p. 55. Aldana himself would eventually fall into disfavor in 1992, when he was relieved of his duties and imprisoned on charges of corruption.

[2] Ibidem, p. 167. I would argue that a similarly significant watershed moment of “rebellion” for Cuban journalism took place in June 2016 when a group of nine young Cuban journalists at Villa Clara’s provincial Party newspaper Vanguardia read aloud a letter of protest defending their right to publish in the independent digital media (DDC, 2016). See Nora Gámez Torres: “Cuban government steps up campaign against independent Media,” The Miami Herald, September 29, 2016; Javier Simoni Delgado: “Periodistas oficiales protestan contra la censura oficial de Cuba,” El Nuevo Herald, July 2, 2016; Pablo Argüelles Acosta: “Más media. Un debate en torno a los medios de comunicación y el periodismo en Cuba,” Espacio Laical, 3-4, 2016, pp. 129-138; and Ted Henken: “Interview with Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez: ‘Contar Cuba tal como es’,” Hypermedia Magazine, June 23, 2021 for more on this so-called “Santa Clara Letter” and its aftermath.

[3] Wilfredo Cancio Isla: “Los años en que vivimos peligrosamente: Desafíos del modelo comunicativo cubano y jóvenes periodistas cubanos (1985-1995).” Presentation delivered as part of The First Cuban Research Institute Conference on Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, Florida International University, Miami, October 9-11, 1997, unpublished. I am grateful to Professor Cancio Isla for having provided me with the text of his talk.

[4] By the end of the decade, other artistic movements had emerged, each one representing a challenge to Cuba’s established “revolutionary” cultural policy. In addition to Arte Calle, these groups include Castillo de la Fuerza, Naranja Dulce, Credo, Memorias de la guerra, Albur, Diáspora(s), and Paideia. While diverse, their common aim was to open up “a space of promotion for the abundant and varied creations of the island’s artistic vanguard in all its manifestations” and did so independently of the established cultural institutions like the Ministry of Culture, the UNEAC, and the Asociación Hermanos Saíz (AHS). See Amir Valle, pp. 160-161.

[5] Ibidem, pp. 155-156.

[6] By 1985, there were an estimated 13 million copies of foreign newspapers and magazines (the vast majority of which were of Soviet and Eastern European origin) circulating in Cuba.

[7] Juan Orlando Pérez: “The Son of the Scribe: The professional ideology of the young Cuban journalists,” PhD diss., University of Westminster, United Kingdom, 2005, pp. 114-115.

[8] Amir Valle, p. 154.

[9] Juan Orlando Pérez, p. 98.

[10] These were carried out primarily as a theater and film critic in Cuba’s main cultural publications, such as in the magazines Revolución y Cultura, El Caimán Barbudo, and Cine Cubano, and the newspapers Trabajadores and Juventud Rebelde, while he continued to work fulltime as a journalism professor. After going into exile in 1994, Cancio worked at a series of leading Spanish-language print, broadcast, and web-based media outlets in the U.S. including El Nuevo Herald (1998-2010), América-TeVe (2010-2013), Diario Las Américas (2013-2014), Telemundo (2015-2017), Radio and TV Martí (20172018), and since 2019 at CiberCuba.

[11] See Wilfredo Cancio, 1997.

[12] The course of study included “History of the International Communist Movement and National Liberation Movements,” “Contemporary History” (which began with the October Revolution of 1917 and ended with the socialism of the Soviet Union), two semesters of “Propaganda and Agitation,” another two of “History of the Communist and Workers’ Press,” three semesters of “Political Economy of Socialism,” and another three of “Scientific Communism”. (Wilfredo Cancio, 1997.)

[13] The first part of this quote is from my 2021 interview with Cancio, while the second part is from a 2010 interview he did with Diario de Cuba. The text can be consulted online at the blog Baracutey Cubano.

[14] See Amir Valle, 2020, p. 154.

[15] His own father had become a high-ranking official in the rebel army in Cuba’s Oriente province during the armed struggle against the Batista dictatorship. Together with the fact that his father was a childhood acquaintance of the Castro family in the 1930s, this background made Valle and his family close personal friends of many of the Revolution’s historic leaders including Fidel and Raúl Castro.

[16] Wilfredo Cancio Isla, 1997.

[17] Amir Valle, 2020, p. 173.

[18] Wilfredo Cancio Isla, 1997.

[19] Amir Valle, 2020, p. 175.

[20] This episode is similar to Mao’s infamous 1956-1957 “hundred flower campaign” when the Chinese dictator invited “a hundred flowers to bloom and a hundred schools of thought to contend,” only to then eliminate those citizens, particularly writers and intellectuals, he saw as a threat to his rule.

[21] Wilfredo Cancio Isla, 1997.

[22] Idem.

[23] Idem.

[24] Wilfredo Cancio, 2007, 2010; Amir Valle, 2020.

[25] As should be obvious, I have borrowed the title of my own conclusion from Arencibia’s Spanish language article: “Periodismo cubano: ¿un callejón sin salida?” However, whereas the title of his article is posed as a question, mine references “revolutionary” journalism and is framed as a statement. The italics are mine.

[26] In English: “It’s not the right moment,” “we can’t give arms to the enemy,” and “we live under a state of siege.”

[27] Julio García Luis: “En una cuerda fina y tensa”, Juventud Rebelde, October 21, 1990, pp. 8-9. (Quoted in Jesús Arencibia Lorenzo: “Periodismo cubano: edición contra cierre“).

[28] In fact, while many Cuban journalists had hoped that the improved relations with the United States under President Obama between 2014 and 2016 would undercut the power of the “siege” mentality in Cuba, allowing them greater legal space in which to operate, the 2017-2022 period has only seen a reaffirmation and deepening of the legal state monopoly over the media. This was evidenced first in the restrictive language on press freedom in the 2019 Cuban Constitution, then by decree-laws 370 (2019) and 35 (2021), both of which place rigid controls over freedom of expression on the Internet, and finally by the new private sector regulations instituted during 2021 for selfemployed workers and micro-, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MiSMEs), from which the media and publishing professions are explicitly excluded (Freedom House 2021, 2022).

* My title is explicitly meant to conjure up two specific Spanish-language referents in the minds of Cuban journalists. The first is to the 1987 meeting between Havana journalism students and Cuban officials. The second is to the Spanish language title of George Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm: Rebelión en la granja.

** An English version of this text appeared in Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, no. 105, December, 2022.

Ted A. Henken (Pensacola, 1971). Tenured associate professor of sociology at Baruch College, CUNY. His most recent academic works include Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Policy (University of Florida Press, 2021) and Cuba empresarial: emprendedores ante una cambiante política pública (Editorial Hypermedia, 2020). He is currently working on a history of independent journalism in Cuba.


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