Live from Havana, It's Mesa Redonda!

Thanks to one show, an unprecedented amount of foreign news is airing in Cuba -- but it ain't Nightline yet

Taking advantage of a pause, Arleen Rodriguez commented that MR had aired other distasteful things from the enemy camp, even the home video (initially obtained by Univision) of Elian on a bed looking into a camera and telling his dad to join him in Miami. She called it an act of "torture" against the boy and "the worst thing that I can remember that has been done in the history of journalism."

7:30 p.m. Rogelio Polanco, the 35-year-old director of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebellious Youth), just finished his turn on the set. Alonso had tapped him to recap the demonstrations that erupted in Pakistan condemning the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan. Polanco also read from a Washington Post article about Osama bin Laden's financial support of the Taliban and clarified the meaning of the Arabic word jihad, which basically means "struggle," and not necessarily a violent one. "The region continues to be very explosive," he observed.

The Mesa Redonda set, where international capitalist news bureau meets Cuban politburo
The Mesa Redonda set, where international capitalist news bureau meets Cuban politburo

The set microphones went off, and now, an hour into the program, the audience began to chat loudly, ignoring a CNN en Español report on the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees that had fled to Iran, Turkmenistan, and other nations. But everyone obediently shut up when the director yelled, "Ten seconds!" just before Alonso returned to the air. Time now for Rodriguez to delineate reaction in the Middle East and other parts of the world, again making uncanny use of foreign news accounts. Among other things she cited an article from an Arab newspaper published in New York City in which militants called British Prime Minister Tony Blair "a legitimate military target." She also informed that the government of the Dominican Republic backed the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan. And Spain's Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez had come out with a statement criticizing Fidel Castro for supporting ETA, the terroristic Basque separatist organization. That was followed by an ABC backgrounder on war coverage by a television station in Qatar featuring footage of sheiks at the controls.

7:50 p.m. Almost an hour and a half into the show, audience members glanced increasingly at their watches. Television journalist Reinaldo Taladrid expounded on the situation in the United States. He relayed reports on anthrax scares, emphasizing that if guilty, the accused faced several years in jail. "This is a reflection of the panic that the United States is experiencing," he ascertained. "But it's not just the North American public. The panic has spread to Germany. This is total hysteria." He added a blurb about a proposal in Congress to protect water supplies from terrorist poisoning. "They are inventing a threat," he surmised. A CNN report on the mood in New York City was the last hegemonic blast from the empire's media establishment.

Cut to video of one of the Twin Towers collapsing. The music bed is Lennon's once again. This time it's the song "Imagine."

Although MR is allowing unprecedented quantities of U.S. news reports from the United States into Cuba's collective consciousness, that doesn't mean it is letting in our hallowed concepts of balance and fairness. Surely there must be enough people in Cuba who support of the U.S. military campaign to find Osama bin Laden to justify inviting someone with that opinion on Mesa Redonda, right?


Barredo again offered the rationale that the minority is too small. "I think that an absolute, overwhelming majority in the country," Barredo proclaimed, "is against the war and against terrorism. It would be very difficult for you to find a segment of the population that is in favor of either of the two things."

Alonso estimated that according to the popular opinion surveys, 95 to 99 percent of those on the island oppose the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. "Imagine, that with the little time that I have that I would dedicate myself to go out in the city of Havana ... and find the guy [who opposes the war] to come to the show to express his opinion. He is such a minority that he wouldn't represent anybody.

"The concepts of freedom of expression are different. This is the expression of the majority. That's what we are defending on the Mesa," he exclaimed. "Clearly our position is in the editorial line of the Mesa. We are talking about the war, but we're not defending the war. We're against the war. And we're not with the Taliban or bin Laden. But we are for the Afghanis that are being killed."

At this juncture Arleen Rodriguez attempted to make a case for excluding opposing viewpoints from other Cuban media. One justification was "verbal terrorism" by foreign stations outside Cuba, including Radio Martí, the U.S. government station that beams programming at the island. "During my program on Radio Rebelde, which is on from five to nine in the morning, a lot of people call, insulted, at seven or eight in the morning," said Rodriguez. "They say, ďHey, Radio Martí is on your frequency. They are attacking you.' They enter aggressively. We are talking about stations that enter with discrepant, different messages, asking people to assassinate Fidel Castro or to plant bombs."

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