CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Diddier Santos presents two films on Cuban media and culture

February 4th, 2014

On January 30-31, 2014, the CIPR welcomed Cuban filmmaker Diddier Santos Moleiro for the screening of his two documentaries – Artículo 53 and Ni Rojo, Ni Verde, ¡Azul! Mr. Santos is an independent filmmaker and producer at Matraka Productions (Cuba) and is currently in the United States promoting Artículo 53 to bring the film to a wider audience and encourage awareness of the state of independent journalism in contemporary Cuba.

Artículo 53 is a documentary filmed in Cuba and edited in the United States. The film gives an overview of the state of media and journalism in current-day Cuba, highlighting the obstacles faced by independent journalists in the country. The documentary features interviews with both state officials and independent media activists in the country.

The film starts with a historic overview of Cuban journalism dating back to 18th century, demonstrating that journalists have always had a crucial role in the fight for Cuban national independence and democracy. After the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the media has been solely controlled by the state’s news company, Agencia Cubana de Noticias (ACM), as the Cuban constitution prohibits the establishment of private media channels.

Cuban citizens interviewed in the film noted that the state news service is biased and repetitive, and many critical social topics, such as crime, prostitution and emigration, do not receive sufficient coverage. In order to support the political legitimacy of the governing communist party, state media constantly reinforce the notion of a threat of invasion from the United States. That makes many of the young generations in Cuba reject official state media and look for alternative sources of information.

According to the film, independent journalists in Cuba are cut off from state funding and must finance themselves with the help of international sources. Yoani Sánchez, an independent journalist and blogger interviewed in the film, noted that independent journalists have already managed to exert pressure on the authorities, to some degree, which is a crucial step towards establishing a more socially critical media. In addition, the new social media channels, like Facebook and Twitter, have given Cubans new avenues of expression. However, the coverage of social media is still relatively low in Cuba, since less than 20% of the population has access to Internet.

The second documentary, Ni Rojo, Ni Verde, ¡Azul! narrates the history of the creation and eventual government takeover of the alternative music festival Rotilla in Cuba. The festival was organized by Matraka Productions, an independent electronic music and hip-hop production company, in 1998. Rotilla started out as a small beach festival, but participation eventually grew and reached close to 20,000 in 2011. Rotilla, directly influenced by Exit Festival in Serbia, provided a unique space for Cuban electronic and hip-hop artists to perform and exchange their music and ideas.

The film argues that Rotilla was organized autonomously from the state and the official media outlets that govern Cuban culture. The main goal was to provide a space for alternative music groups, and no commercial bands were allowed to participate. More than 400 artists participated in the festival over the years, including groups from Brazil and Spain.

According to the film, the organization of the festival was taken over by the Cuban Ministry of Culture in 2011, despite the fact that organizers had official permission to hold the festival. The authorities accused Matraka Productions of having received U.S. funding for the organization of the festival, an accusation that the film claims had no backing. Despite protests, Matraka Productions was excluded from the organization of the festival. Rotilla festival was renamed Verano de Jibacoa, which caused a decline in the interest of the public and led to a cancellation of the festival the following year.

In his presentation following the film, Mr. Santos described the difficulties faced by alternative musicians in Cuba. According to Mr. Santos, independent artists are often accused of having connections with the CIA and are closely watched by the Cuban secret services. Mr. Santos did not seem hopeful about the possibility of restoring the tradition of alternative music festivals in Cuba in the near future.

-Mart Trasberg

To listen to the podcast of Artículo 53, click here.
To listen to the podcast of Ni Rojo, Ni Verde, ¡Azul!, click here.