Human Rights in Cuba

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Here Comes the Packet, Knock, Knock / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma
Posted on January 6, 2015

Research shows that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba
are television, visiting with friends and listening to music
14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 5 January 2015 — A Cuban television
special this Sunday entitled “They Call Me Cuba” addressed issues of
“cultural consumption in the 21st century,” with special emphasis on the
well-known weekly packet of audio-visual material that is distributed
illegally throughout the country. Some specialists answered questions
ranging from musical tastes to the need to impose cultural policy on the
private and sectors.

The results of an investigation carried out by the Juan Marinello Center
have revealed that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba
are “television, spending time with friends and listening to music.”
Pedro Emilio Moras, a researcher for that entity, said that, “The main
way for the Cuban population to participate in culture is as the public,
as the beneficiary of offerings, actions organized by cultural
institutions.” Although he also asserted that, “We recognize that the
houses where we live (…) are ideal scenarios for the cultural
development of people, even our reality is the space par excellence.”

Just inside the homes, out of the control of the cultural supervisors
and far from the censorship scissors, the packet has life. The numbers
of audience members lost by official television is never made public,
but, in view of the worry that its officials demonstrate, the phenomenon
of the packet-ization of Cuban society must be reaching significant levels.

They Call Me Cuba emphasized that the country “is enjoying a moment of
transformation not only economically but also socially. The
establishments that belong to the non-state sector have taken their own
initiative when it comes to animating their environment.” According to
the report, there then arises “the question of how these entities are
welcomed or not into the country’s cultural policy.”

It has not only to do with the time – ever greater – that people invest
in consuming material of their choosing to the detriment of what’s shown
on state television, but the social impact that the private spaces have
on the formation of taste and musical and audio-visual distribution. In
order to decrease that influence theater critic and researcher Jaime
Gomez Triana urged that “the Government’s cultural policy be not only a
policy for the Ministry of Culture’s institutions but that it be a
cultural policy that regulates the way in which these offering are
produced in other spaces.”

In interviews conducted on the street, several people referred to their
experiences as consumers of the packet. The favorable opinions mentioned
that an advantage of this kind of cultural consumption is that it gives
better information about what is happening “in the international arena.”
Reported among the factors leading to the increased alternative
distribution of audio-visual content was the deterioration of the movie
houses that domestically offer a poor substitute for public spaces.
The view that this compendium of audio-visual content is only “soap
operas and reality shows” was challenged by several survey respondents
who mentioned the didactic and instructive character of some materials
like documentaries made by The Discovery Channel, as well as courses in
make-up, gastronomy and handicrafts that are also included in the
so-called combo.

Fernando Rojas, Vice Minister of Culture, in an interview, criticized
those who concoct and distribute the packet as being “people who act
strictly on their own and have a network that distributes that material
that is updated periodically and that is made at the margins of the
institutions and regulations for self-employed work.” In the judgment of
Rojas, “the packet is made to feed the illusion that people are choosing
(…) in reality, in a certain sense, and I stress in a certain sense,
that idea about choosing is an illusion.”

In spite of the dread that the cultural institutions demonstrate before
the advance of these forms of self-directed consumption, Rojas thinks
that “people who talk so much about the topic of the packet, the famous
packet, the aforementioned packet, give it greater importance than I
believe it really has.” For the Vice Minister, “to the extent to which
we move forward to a greater penetration of the , and we are
going to move forward, we are certainly going to move forward ever more,
people are going to choose directly on the web and not have to depend on
an intermediary. The packet is going to have a limited life in my judgment.”

Fabio Fernandez, content and programming director for the Cuban
Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT), explained that among the great
attractions of the packet is that “people can watch and listen to what
they deem appropriate at the moment when they deem it appropriate.” The
fact that “there is no direct relationship between the broadcast
schedule times and the time a person decides to watch something” makes
many choose this option that does not tie them to the screen on a
determined broadcast schedule. To recover the viewers that national
television has lost, the official bets on “offering ever more high
quality products.”

Nevertheless, the formula for improving the official programming bill
faces the difficulty of few resources for legally acquiring foreign
content or advancing national production. Cuban television has
underperformed in terms of quality, dynamism and thematic updates. An
industry that was a pioneer in Latin America and the world has been
suffering the fact that series and soap operas produced in Mexico,
Colombia and Brazil captivate the public. The problem is rooted in
issues that range from undercutting wages of actors and technical
personnel to censorship that for decades caused bland, complacent
scripts closer to sketches for a morning assembly than to
material to captivate and entertain.

Roberto Smith, president of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art
and Industry (ICAIC) said that it should be “based on the legitimacy of
personal taste (…) some like one thing and others like another and that
is their personal right, to prefer something and reject the other.” But
later he remarked “that taste is educated, and that is a
process that must begin from earliest infancy. Right now we are
developing (…) the possibility of offering different alternatives of
audio-visual education from infancy for youth and for adults.”

Faced with the evidence that the demonization of the packet has only
increased its attraction, Rojas confessed that “the path before any
phenomenon (…) that is not desirable, in the sense that it is not a
carrier of solid human values, of convictions and humanist, supportive,
socialist feelings; the reaction before something that does not seem to
us to fit in that formative educational effort, the reaction cannot be
to prohibit it. The reaction has to be to compete.”

But the packet has come first to that competition with the advantage of
being customizable, free from censorship, adjustable to all tastes and
considered by the majority of Cubans as something outside of state control.

Translated by MLK

Source: Here Comes the Packet, Knock, Knock / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma |
Translating Cuba –

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