Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Noticias Adversas

As I have said before, nothing ever appears in Cuba’s tightly controlled media without a reason. The media in communist Cuba is not and has never been about news as we in the West know it, but about messages. Sometimes the messages are overt : "The whole world embraces Fidel", says a headline on the front page of the latest Granma. Other times, you have to read between the lines. Just as in the old Soviet Union.

So, on Sunday morning, Cuban time, we got “official” pictures of Fidel Castro supposedly celebrating his 80th birthday. The old dictator was photographed sitting up, holding a photocopy of the front page of Granma, the main daily on the island, and speaking on the phone. Castro looked ill but the message was clear: he is well enough to get up and move around a bit.

Less than 24 hours later, we get seven "new" still photographs and some “official” video of Castro being visited by his brother Raul (supposedly in charge of the place), and his pal Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. To the surprise of most observers, this time around, the pictures show Castro bedridden. In reasonably good spirits, apparently, but in bed.

These are extraordinary pictures for someone as image-conscious as Fidel Castro, who is a past master at media manipulation, as successive US journalists should be able to confirm, starting with our old friend Herbert L. Matthews.

What messages are these latest photographs and video meant to convey to Cubans? That despite the earlier, reasonably optimistic photographs provided on Sunday, the prognosis for El Comandante en Jefe is, well, not good. In fact, not good at all, as highlighted in this article in The Miami Herald.

No wonder Cubans are being told to "remain optimistic" but prepare for “cualquier noticia adversa” – that is, Be ready for "bad news".


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