Half-journalism (at most)

Days before government officials announced their intentions to release fifty-two of the island’s political prisoners, Granma, Cuba’s largest newspaper, which is subtitled “Official Organ of the Cuban Communist Party” ran an article describing the deteriorating health of Guillermo Fariñas, a human rights activist and political prisoner who had been on hunger strike since the death of fellow hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo on February 23, 2010.

Thirteen days after he began, Fariñas was hospitalized and given intravenous nutrients for 126 days, until he ended his strike when the prisoners’ release was announced. The article, which ran before Fariñas ended the strike, described every detail of the his condition and the efforts of his physicians to keep him alive. But it made no mention of why Fariñas was refusing to eat or drink, who he was, or the fact that he had been incarcerated for counterrevolutionary behavior—he was introduced only as a man who was engaging in a “voluntary fast.”

This was a classic example of the paradigmatic “half-news” of the Cuban media. Yoani Sánchez tweeted that the article was a calculated move by the government, intending to absolve itself of any wrongdoing if Fariñas should die. This may be true, but I can’t help wondering about the article’s author. What must it have been like to visit this man in the hospital, surrounded by outspoken dissidents, only to let this part of the story fall away in print? And what did Cuban readers think of the article? I know that for both writer and reader, the absence of this critical fact may not have been so strange.

Granma is filled with such pieces of “half-news” every day—they are typically long, meticulous descriptions of either successful public programs or “imperialistic” foreign policy initiatives by other governments. And they are often very boring. My guess is that some Cubans skimmed the article without giving it much thought. But I’m sure that at least a few asked themselves what possessed Guillermo Fariñas to stop eating on February 23. I wish I could know what they decided to believe.

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