What the foreign papers are saying.
March 28 1998 3:30 AM

Here in Havana, and indeed in the whole of Cuba, there is only one daily newspaper, and it normally consists of eight thin pages, except when Fidel Castro makes a speech, at which time the country's paper shortage is momentarily overlooked. From Tuesday to Saturday, the publication is called Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, named for that overcrowded boat in which Castro crossed to Cuba from Mexico in 1956. Sunday it is called Rebelde ("Rebel Youth") and run by the Union of Young Communists. Monday it is called Trabajadores ("Workers") and run by the Communist trade union movement. Rebelde is said to have a rather lighter touch than Granma and Trabajadores to be even grimmer, but the editorial lines of all three are identical, handed down by Castro himself. For a brief period, these papers were printed on recycled sugar cane, but this gave them the texture and color of a stiff brown paper bag and was abandoned in favor of recycled paper. Last Saturday, Granma announced on its front page that Cuba's "National Festival for the Recycling of Primary Materials" would be shown live on television from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.


Granma is one of the few traditional Communist Party newspapers left in the world, imbued with irrepressible optimism about the prospects for the sugar harvest and for the Cuban economy in general as the country limps along in the economic misery that it calls, on Castro's insistence, "The Special Period in Peacetime." Among several cheerful sugar stories in the last few days was one accentuating the positive aspect of recent flooding in the countryside. While this would set back the sugar harvest, Granma said, it would also make sugar cane easier to plant.

Favorite topics of the paper are, of course, the shortcomings of capitalism in general and the United States in particular, with much attention paid to racism in the United States, violence and drugs in U.S. schools, and corruption in the U.S. government. This week's anti-American stories included a full-pager Wednesday headlined "Once Again Cuba Doesn't Lie," about a belated CIA admission in the Los Angeles Times that Thomas Willard Ray, shot down over Cuba in an American fighter bomber in 1961, was on a covert CIA mission. Castro kept Ray's body deep-frozen for 18 years before allowing it to be sent home for burial. Tuesday, under the headline "It's the CIA Again," Granma reprinted from an Ecuadorian newspaper an article accusing the CIA of murder, torture, state terrorism, and other crimes.

Since the airing on Cuban television of an American documentary on the threat to the world of a wandering asteroid, Granma has been obsessed with the asteroid danger, which it accuses the United States of understating. This week it supported Russian scientists' predictions of "apocalyptic collisions" in the years 2004, 2006, and 2010 against NASA's reassuring one that the world should survive until at least 2028.

Granma regularly makes favorable comparisons between Cuba's human rights record and the United States'. U.S. policy has been determined by wrong American ideas about political democracy, it maintains. Last Saturday, its main front page headline read: "The First Human Right Is the Right to Live as a Human Being. Cuba Will Continue Fighting, Resisting, and Winning for as Long as Necessary." (Since then, Granma's front page has led, for three days in a row, with the activities in Havana of the visiting prime minister of St. Kitts, Denzil Douglas.)


An ancient alleged example of U.S. contempt for human rights was the dispersal in 1961 of three identical Long Island, New York, triplets to see how they would grow up separately. This story was published in Granma this week under the headline "Monstrous Experiment." The lifting by the United States of some of its anti-Cuba restrictions was reported briefly by Granma on an inside page and was the subject of no editorial comment either then or subsequently.

Granma boasted on last Saturday's front page that the Web site of its international edition--this is published weekly in French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese--has been visited by 1 million people in 60 days, a surge of interest it attributed to the pope's recent visit to Cuba and the return of Che Guevara's bones from Bolivia. But the paper also deplored the "cultural domination" of the Internet by the United States and Europe.

Granma specializes in historical anniversaries, finding one to celebrate almost every day, even if sometimes on a date that is fairly distant from the real one. In the past few days, it has published long articles on 1) the death in 1957 of a member of the Cuban underground; 2) a speech made 120 years ago by Cuban revolutionary Antonio Maceo; 3) a decade-old Cuban victory in Angola; and 4) the 95th birthday of the late Julio Mella, the founder of the Cuban Communist Party.

It has a weekly medical advice column, of which the last two subjects have been pancreatitis and optical neuritis, and an occasional books column that, this week, discussed a book titled The Immortal Body, an anthology of erotic letters, in a review that began, "Sexuality, sensuality, passion, and pleasure have always been the main preoccupation of young Cuban writers."

The newspaper publishes just one letter a week from a reader, always with an editorial riposte at the bottom. This week's was from a woman and had to do with the desperate attempts that she and her fiance made to find somewhere to eat in Havana on the evening of Valentine's Day. They tried more than a half-dozen restaurants and pizza parlors and found them variously full, out of food, closed for lack of water for washing up, and charging one-eighth of a month's salary for a single pizza. But they persevered, she said, "firm and optimistic" in their search, until they were finally allowed by a packed restaurant to eat their dinner off the floor. They were lucky enough, she said, to find a bus quickly and be back home in time to watch the Saturday night movie.

The comment at the bottom of this letter said the newspaper had decided to omit the names of the restaurants concerned, "because they wouldn't be known by respectable people outside the neighborhood," and made no comment on the facilities they lacked. Instead it congratulated the couple on the courage and optimism that had enabled them in the end to triumph: "You got home in time to see the film, so it really wasn't such a bad day."