Статья 'Специфика медийного освещения антиправительственных протестов на Кубе (2021)' - журнал 'Litera' - NotaBene.ru
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Specifics of media coverage of anti-government protests in Cuba (2021)

Rastorgueva Natalia

ORCID: 0000-0002-7540-0848

PhD in Philology

Senior Lecturer at the Chair of Theory and History of Journalism, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia named after Patrice Lumumba

117198, Russia, Moscow, Miklukho-Maklaya str., 10/2

Panina Yana

Master's student, Chair of Theory and History of Journalism "Peoples' Friendship University of Russia named after Patrice Lumumba".

117198, Russia, Moscow, Miklukho-Maklaya str., 10/2

Orekhova Elizaveta

Master's student, Chair of Theory and History of Journalism "Peoples' Friendship University of Russia named after Patrice Lumumba".

117198, Russia, Moscow, Miklukho-Maklaya str., 10/2










Abstract: The article is devoted to revealing the features of coverage of the Anti-Government demonstrations in Cuban information space in July 2021. They began due to the social and economic crisis. According to the Cuban government, the crisis was caused by sanctions from the USA. On the other hand, the opposition considers that it is the consequence of the communist dictatorship reigning in the country. The authors of the article set themselves the goal of investigating media interpretations of the events as in the traditional media controlled by the state, and in the specific social and communication environment of the Internet space. Having analyzed the publications of the largest Cuban mass media, such as the newspaper «Granma» and portal «Cubadabate», as well as the materials of social networks, the authors have come to the conclusion that the massive spread of the Internet in 2018 marked the beginning of gradual changes in the media landscape of the country: social media have become an alternative source of information that has influenced the Cuban social and political life. They have served as social organizers not only online but also offline when having the popularity and taking a new platform for the promotion of anti-government ideas. One of the examples of its phenomenon were the protests on July 11, 2021, which have become a new challenge to the political leadership of a country that has been fighting the US economic blockade for decades.


state media, citizen journalism, online media, Cuba, Cuban media, media, social networks, political communication, protests, Twitter

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

On July 11, 2021, mass protests broke out in Cuba related to public dissatisfaction with government policy. The demonstrations began early in the morning in the municipality of San Antonio de los Banos, near Havana. After learning about what was happening from a live broadcast on Facebook Live, residents of other cities also began to go outside. A few hours later, the protests spread to the east of the country. One of the main reasons for them was the socio-economic crisis that broke out in the country due to problems in the health care system, food distribution and power outages, which caused discontent among citizens. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2020, the Cuban economy showed a decline of 10.9% (while GDP per capita showed an annual decline of 10.8%). Although the economic downturn began in the second half of 2019, the situation worsened significantly in 2020 due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the tightening of the economic and trade blockade and the strengthening of internal imbalances in the national economy [1].

The current President Miguel Diaz-Canel took prompt measures to solve this problem: the Internet was blocked for a while in some parts of the Island of Freedom, the head of state through newspapers, radio and television called on Cuban citizens to come out to retaliatory protests in defense of the revolution and the ideas of socialism. Since journalism in Cuba is state-owned, such actions made it possible to quickly solve the problem.

In this regard, it should be noted that in the conditions of strict censorship, these protest actions were a specific way of communicating part of the population of the country with the state authorities. There are no official opposition media in the country, all media are state-owned, influencing "the formation of public preferences, playing the role of coordinator and organizer of information flows" [2]. The process of political communication is implemented by the government not only with the help of the media, but also with the help of various public associations or personal influence on the audience [3,4]. It is widely known, for example, that Fidel Castro had an excellent oratorical gift and, while still serving as Chairman of the State Council of Cuba, in 2007, began dictating articles that were published in the column "Reflections of the Commander-in-Chief" in the newspaper "Granma", and after February 24, 2008, the National Assembly of People's Power elected This post by Raul Castro, the cycle was renamed "Reflections of Comrade Fidel Castro". Now on the website of the Online version of the newspaper there are sections "Speeches of Diaz-Canel" ("Discursos de D?az-Canel"), "Speeches of Raul" ("Discursos de Ra?l"), in which the top officials of the state often appeal to the idea of national sovereignty and urge to fight against American imperialism.

As already noted, the population of Cuba has only recently been able to freely access the Internet. The US-imposed embargo has greatly slowed down the development of information and communication technologies in the country. Despite the fact that the first Internet connection was established in Cuba in 1996, initially, according to Decree No. 209/96 "On access of the Republic of Cuba to global networks" adopted in the same year, only "legal entities and institutions of the greatest importance for the life and development of the country" could get access to it, and also tourists. At the same time, it helped to protect the country from information attacks by anti-government forces capable of striking a blow to the socialist system. The situation changed after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez allocated funds for laying a fiber-optic cable along the bottom of the Caribbean Sea from Venezuela. It was put into operation in 2014, and since 2018, residents of the country have gained access to the mobile Internet using third-generation mobile communication technology (3G).

The digital information space has acquired great social significance, which has influenced the development of civic practices and values [5]. The Internet has become the main platform for the dissemination of anti-government ideas in the country, which are replicated by opposition media, often created with the support of foreign capital and aimed at the Cuban audience: Radio y Televisi?n Mart? (Radio y Televisi?n Mart? – "Radio and Television Marti"), Diario de Cuba ("Diario de Cuba" - "Cuban newspaper"), "Cubanet" (Cubanet), ADN Cuba" (ADN Cuba). Swedish political scientists Janina Velp and Albert Hirschman believe that the specifics of the July protests were that there was no leader or organization behind them, but the interaction of social network users with a sense of solidarity led to mobilization. It was it that became the most important incentive for the dissemination of information [6].  Thus, the information spread on the Internet has become a catalyst for the creation of a horizontal activist culture, which, according to the figurative definition of the Canadian sociologist Naomi Klein, acts as a "cloud of mosquitoes" [7], without needing an organizational structure. The Cuban government, however, does not support this position, blaming the United States for what happened.

The day after the protests, Cuban Television (TVC) showed a speech by Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez. He noted that the protests were fueled by the White House, and called on Cubans to defend their right to sovereignty, to come out to pro-government demonstrations of all those who honor the achievements of the Cuban revolution. The Head of State also stressed that the actions of the dissenters were extremely barbaric: they broke into shops, robbed them, threw stones at the police, thereby trying to undermine the socialist system and create a split between the people and the party (El gobernante cubano, Miguel D?az-Canel, habla en televisi?n tras las protestas hist?ricas. [Electronic resource] // YouTube, 2021. URL : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr14SgTpxVY (date of address: 05.11.2023). During his reign, Fidel Castro said in his speeches and articles that the United States was trying to intensify unrest in Cuba: "Cuba's behavior and actions in response to the provocations of the empire will be absolutely peaceful, but we will strike with all the strength of our fighting spirit and will be ready to shed every drop of blood in the face of any military aggression from the brutal empire that threatens us" (Castro Ruz F. Convoncan a Marcha multitudinaria en Cuba contra el trerrorismo este martes [Electronic resource] // Cubadebate. 2006. URL: http://www.cubadebate.cu/especiales/2006/01/23/convoncan-marcha-multitudinaria-cuba-trerrorismo / (accessed: 07.11.2023).

In his speech, Miguel Diaz-Canel also noted that some recordings of the events were edited, the Cubadebate portal also wrote about this: "Videos that were mounted with well-edited and superimposed sound immediately appeared on the networks" (Las herencias republicanas de los dem?cratas y las “espont?neas” demostraciones [Electronic resource] // Cubadebate. 2021. URL: http://www.cubadebate.cu/opinion/2021/08/04/las-herencias-republicanas-de-los-democratas-y-las-espontaneas-demostraciones / (accessed: 15.11.2023).

The site published a lot of materials exposing the policy of the US government and its role in the July protests. Thus, the author of the article "American media biased coverage of Cuban and Colombian protests" dated January 15, 2022, referring to a study conducted by Michael Wolfe and Jessica Femenias from Stanford University, argues that major American media largely influence how North American and international audiences and politicians perceive the actions of the Cuban government. The authors of the study analyzed the coverage of protests in Cuba from July 11 to August 20, 2021. According to the results obtained, 13 articles were published in the New York Times during this period, in 12 (92%) of which the Cuban government was named the main or sole culprit of the incident, while the consequences of the US embargo, which aggravated the difficult socio-economic situation of the country, were not mentioned at all. The Washington Post publications turned out to be more neutral – out of 36 articles, 27 (75%) blamed only (or mostly) the Cuban government for the riots, and 6 (16%) mentioned the embargo (Medios de prensa estadounidenses brindan cobertura sesgada de protestas cubanas y colombianas [Electronic resource] // Cubadebate. 2022. URL: http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2022/01/15/medios-de-prensa-estadounidenses-brindan-cobertura-sesgada-de-protestas-cubanas-y-colombianas / (accessed: 05.11.2023).

The American participation in organizing the riots was also mentioned in the article "The Bay of Tweets: documents indicate that the United States is involved in organizing protests in Cuba" (MacLeod A. The Bay of Tweets: Documentos apuntan a la mano de Estados Unidos en protestas en Cuba [Electronic resource] // Cubadebate. 2021.  URL: http://www.cubadebate.cu/especiales/2021/07/17/the-bay-of-tweets-documentos-apuntan-a-la-mano-de-estados-unidos-en-protestas-en-cuba/( date of application: 05.11.2023). According to the author, Alan McLeod, the US National Endowment for Democracy and the US Agency for International Development are funding anti-government projects in Cuba. In particular, back in 2010, the US Agency for International Development initiated the launch of an application called ZunZuneo (ZunZuneo (the Cuban equivalent of Twitter). The number of its users reached 40 thousand at the peak of its development. The idea was to create a service that would gradually introduce the ideas of regime change into Cuban society and contribute to inciting protests. Alan McLeod came to the conclusion that the American media made every effort to exaggerate the scale of anti-government actions in Cuba and greatly downplay the number of participants in pro-government counter-demonstrations. They published numerous materials about police abuse of authority against protesters, including illegal detentions during protests (including teenagers), and the American model of democracy was presented as the only way to save Cuba. The Guardian, Fox News, Financial Times, NBC and Yahoo! used images of government defenders to illustrate anti-government protests, ignoring the fact that large red and black banners with the inscription "July 26" ("July 26") were visible against the background of the "dissatisfied".The July 26 Movement" is the name of Fidel Castro's political organization that overthrew the government of F. Batista in Cuba).

Social networks played an important role in organizing protests in Cuba. Back in 2017, Miguel Diaz-Canel, who at that time held the post of First Deputy Chairman of the State Council of Cuba, noticed that an extremely important discussion was taking place on social networks aimed at destroying the ideological foundations of the Cuban Revolution. "Systematic work on ideological subversion is carried out in these social networks" (Padinger G. Qu? papel han jugado la tecnolog?a y las redes sociales en la crisis en Cuba? [Electronic resource] // CNN. 2021. URL: https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2021/07/14/rol-tecnologia-redes-sociales-crisis-cuba-orix / (date of request: 10.11.2023).

Publications accompanied by the hashtag #SOSCuba were actively distributed on Twitter. On July 12, 2021, social media analyst Julian Macias Tovar wrote on his Twitter account: "What is happening in Cuba? I have analyzed over two million tweets using the hashtag #SOSCuba. It all started with requests for humanitarian aid due to deaths from covid involving artists (spread through thousands of newly created accounts and bots) and ended with protests on the streets." After conducting his own investigation, Julian Macias Tovar noted that the number of similar publications with this hashtag was growing rapidly due to their distribution using fake accounts from the States: in the period from July 5-8, there were 5 000 – 6 000 , on July 9, there were approximately 100,000, on July 10, the number of tweets increased to 500,000. There were calls from Miami (USA) and other places for the population to take to the streets en masse (Analista Juli?n Mac?as explica campa?a en redes contra Cuba [Electronic resource] // Telesur. 2021. URL: https://www.telesurtv.net/news/julian-macias-analisis-campana-redes-sociales-cuba-20210714-0036.html (accessed: 05.11.2023).

It is worth noting that the Cuban authorities have taken effective measures to resolve the problem of protests by blocking the Internet on Liberty Island for a while. As a result, the anti-government actions almost ended on July 12. On that day, the newspaper Granma published an article entitled "Photo reportage: Calm in Cuba speaks of the failure of the skirmish," which told about the strength and invincibility of the party and the failure of an attempt to disrupt the country's state order. The material is illustrated with videos and photographs of the quiet streets of the major cities of the Island of Freedom. This measure has become a kind of government response implemented in the media space.

Immediately after the protests, the hashtags #CubaSoberana (sovereign Cuba), #CubaUnida (united Cuba) and #CubaNoEst?Sola (Cuba is not alone) became popular on social networks, which were published in their accounts under posts with words of support for Cuba by leaders of various organizations and political movements in Latin America.

On July 13, 2021, Granma published an article by Brazilian politician Frey Betto, "Cuba is resisting!", in which the author emphasized the role of the United States in organizing unrest on the territory of the Island of Freedom and stated that he considers Cuba to be even more democratic than many others. According to Frey Betto, "The White House did not accept the loss of Cuba because of its ambitions" (Betto F. ?Cuba Resiste! [Electronic resource] // Granma. 2021. URL: https://www.granma.cu/pensar-en-qr/2021-07-13/cuba-resiste-13-07-2021-17-07-22 (accessed: 05.11.2023).

Publications on the topic of the July protests were posted on the Granma website in the following months. So, as a result of the search, according to the keywords, "protests" ("protestas") and "demonstrations" ("manifestaciones"), for the period from 07/11/2021 to 04/25/2022, 25 articles on the July events were found in Granma. Of these, 14 materials are devoted to US imperialism, explanations of the goals of the revolution and socialism, as well as support for the Cuban government by foreign governments, international organizations and communist parties from other countries. 7 articles provided evidence of US funding of anti-government movements: for example, it was told about an Operational group created in February 2018 on the Internet at the direction of the President of the United States Donald Trump aimed at undermining the foundations of socialist society in the country (Los sucesos del 11 de julio fueron gestados, organizados y financiados desde EE. UU. [Electronic resource] // Granma. 2021. URL: https://www.granma.cu/mundo/2021-07-24/los-sucesos-del-11-de-julio-fueron-gestados-organizados-y-financiados-desde-ee-uu-24-07-2021-00-07-34 (date of address: 06.11.2023), described meetings of American diplomatic figures with counter-revolutionary leaders, to whom they provide logistical and financial support (as in the case of rapper Yotuel) (?Influencer o agente pol?tico de EE. UU.? [Electronic resource] // Granma. 2021. URL: https://www.granma.cu/cultura/2021-08-15/influencer-o-agente-politico-15-08-2021-20-08-03 (accessed: 06.11.2023). 4 articles taught to recognize fakes about protests on the web, exposing some of them. Many publications were accompanied by video reports from the state Canal Caribe.

Thus, it can be said that the government's campaign to cover the protests was primarily aimed at creating a positive image of both the country and its president. The main thesis (about assigning responsibility for what happened to the United States), which is found in all the materials, can be expressed in the words of the Argentine sociologist Atilio Baron: "What Washington is doing is called genocide, because the blockade, almost unanimously condemned by the international community, causes enormous suffering to the population" (Se trata de un guion bien elaborado y puesto en pr?ctica antes [Electronic resource] // Granma. 2021. URL: https://www.granma.cu/cultura/2021-07-16/se-trata-de-un-guion-bien-elaborado-y-puesto-en-practica-antes-16-07-2021-00-07-42 (accessed: 06.11.2023). It is also important to note that the official Cuban media, unlike independent ones, published fewer publications about the July events. In 2022, there were several materials, but the protests there were already mentioned in passing and presented as an attempt to undermine the state system of Cuba.

Otherwise, the protest movements were covered in the "anti-government" media. There, the July events were interpreted as a struggle for freedom and democracy. On July 11, the day of anti-government actions on Liberty Island, Radio and Television Marti published more than 15 materials, accompanied by numerous photos and videos from the scene, as well as comments from eyewitnesses. This amount for only 1 day is more than half of the articles in the newspaper "Granma" in the period from July 11, 2021 to January 1, 2022. The authorities in these materials are opposed to the people, the rulers are characterized as "people from a fictional world", hardened bureaucrats, and the protesters as "people from reality", those who forget about fear, show anger, protest, self-organize, who demonstrate human feelings and emotions (Cifra r?cord de muertes en Cuba por la pandemic [Electronic resource] // Mart?. 2021. URL: https://www.radiotelevisionmarti.com/a/cifra-r%C3%A9cord-de-muertes-en-cuba-por-la-pandemia/299124.html (date of application: 14.11.2023). Journalists see a way out in the American path of democracy, which, according to the analyzed publications, is a "lifeline" for the Island of Freedom. Opposition media still continue to release materials on the events of July 11, criticizing the Cuban government and telling about the non-observance of the rights of citizens to peaceful demonstrations.

The Internet revolution has spawned the emergence of a large number of citizen journalists online criticizing government policies. The authorities, in turn, are increasingly trying to filter information by blocking opposition blogs and websites and tightening legislation. So, shortly after the protests, on August 17, 2021, Decree-Law No. 35/2021 "On Telecommunications, Information and communication Technologies and the use of radio-electronic spectrum" was adopted, which banned the publication of lies in the media, incitement to violence, cyberterrorism, cyberwarfare, etc., since such actions can undermine the constitutional order of the country and harm the socialist system. In 2022, a new Criminal Code was adopted, which updated the classification of crimes and sanctions for them, and on May 25, 2023 - the "Law on Social Communication in Cuba", which serves to regulate the system of strategic and integrated management of social communication processes in the organizational, media and public spheres both in the real and in the digital spaces.

The media in Cuba are controlled by the State and are an instrument of government propaganda and the creation of the necessary political agenda, as well as the formation of the "right" image of Cuba on the world stage. The sanctions imposed by the United States, under which Cubans have been for more than 60 years, hinder the digitalization and development of media in the country. The Internet, which appeared en masse only in 2018, became an alternative source of information, which had an impact on the socio-political life of Cuba. It was from the Internet that residents of the country learned about the protests, where the protesters spread information and looked for supporters. The intensive use of information and communication technologies contributed to the rapid establishment of connections between people and the strengthening of the "viral" spread of horizontal flows of information about the protests in the early stages.



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The article submitted for consideration "The specifics of media coverage of anti-government protests in Cuba (2021)", proposed for publication in the magazine "Litera", is undoubtedly relevant, due to the importance of considering the features of media texts, as well as studying the specifics of political discourse. As you know, in the context of the development of the information society, the possibilities of mass media are significantly increasing – it is not only a channel of information, but also a tool for influencing a mass audience. It should be noted that there is a relatively small amount of research on this topic in Russian journalism. The article is innovative, one of the first in Russian linguistics devoted to the study of such issues. In the article, the author focuses on covering the events of July 11, 2021, when mass protests broke out in Cuba related to public dissatisfaction with government policy. The article presents a research methodology, the choice of which is quite adequate to the goals and objectives of the work. The author turns, among other things, to various methods to confirm the hypothesis put forward. The main methods were content analysis, logical-semantic analysis, hermeneutical and comparative methods. The practical material of the study is unclear, namely, what is the basis of the study, what is the language corpus selected for the work? This work was done professionally, in compliance with the basic canons of scientific research. The study was carried out in line with modern scientific approaches, the work consists of an introduction containing the formulation of the problem, the main part, traditionally beginning with a review of theoretical sources and scientific directions, a research and final one, which presents the conclusions obtained by the author. It should be noted that the introductory part does not contain information from the history of the study of the issue, the author does not cite the main concepts and scientific directions, which does not allow us to highlight the increment of scientific knowledge made by the author. The conclusions of the article do not fully reflect the conducted research and require clarification. The bibliography of the article contains 7 sources in Russian and foreign languages. References to fundamental works such as monographs, PhD and doctoral dissertations would undoubtedly enrich the reviewed article. It should be noted that the article violates the generally accepted alphabetical order of sources according to GOST. Typos, grammatical and stylistic errors have not been identified. The comments made are not significant and do not detract from the overall positive impression of the reviewed work. The work is innovative, representing the author's vision of solving the issue under consideration and may have a logical continuation in further research. The practical significance of the research lies in the possibility of using its results in the process of teaching university courses in linguistics, media discourse, as well as in the practical training of future journalists. The article will undoubtedly be useful to a wide range of people, philologists, undergraduates and graduate students of specialized universities. The article "The specifics of media coverage of anti-government protests in Cuba (2021)" may be recommended for publication in a scientific journal.
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