Cuba adopts the Russian narrative on the war in Ukraine

When Brent Renaud was killed while covering the impact of the war in Ukraine, state media in Cuba described the American photojournalist as a CIA agent.

Public news site Cubadebate cited Iranian media as the source of the story, which it aired on March 13. But he did not specify the name of the Iranian media.

Renaud, an award-winning photojournalist, was in Ukraine on assignment for TIME Studios, working on a documentary about refugees when he was killed. Fact checkers have refuted the claim that he was a CIA agent.

Independent analysts say efforts to link the journalist to US intelligence illustrate how Havana has embraced the Russian version of events over Ukraine.

State-aligned media also seek to discredit Western reporting of the invasion.

Across Latin America, the Russian version of events was promoted via social media and via RT en Español, the Spanish version of Russian state television.

VOA spoke to independent journalists and analysts in Cuba to assess why the communist government reproduced the Russian reports, thousands of miles from the front line.

The International Press Center, the Cuban government media center in Havana and the Cuban Embassy in Madrid did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Minimized conflict

Juan Manuel Moreno Borrego, who works for independent media outlet Comunitario Amanecer Habanero, said Cuban state media downplayed the conflict in Ukraine, which grabbed headlines around the world.

“Reports in the official media in Cuba on what is happening in Ukraine are minimal and superficial,” he told VOA in a phone interview from his home on the Caribbean island.

“There is no mention that there was an invasion. Instead, it’s called a ‘special military operation’. Of course, there is no mention of the genocide taking place in Ukraine .”

The terms reflect official guidelines Moscow has issued to Russian media personnel, who can face up to 15 years in prison for failing to cover the war on Kremlin terms.

The United Nations on Thursday voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council for war-related atrocities and human rights violations.

Despite limited coverage in state media, Moreno believes almost all Cubans know about the war.

“I’m sure that 90% of the Cuban population knows the reality of what is happening thanks to access to social media,” he said.

Moreno said RT has a significant presence in Cuba as it broadcasts in Spanish and is widely seen.

“But independent journalists here are doing their best to inform the Cuban people of the reality of what is happening in Ukraine,” he said.

Withholding at the UN

Alberto Corzo, director of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP), a nongovernmental group that has created a network of independent journalists, noted that Cuba abstained in a recent vote by United Nations on the war in Ukraine.

“In my opinion, Cuba’s abstention shows the conduct of traitors because it shows [the Cuban government’s] afraid to define his posture and which side he is on,” he told VOA.

“From the beginning, the Cuban government declared that the only reliable source of information [about Ukraine] is Russia Today in Spanish, alleging that CNN and other media serve the West. State media justify Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” he said.

RT en Espanol, which reaches all of Latin America, portrays the United States as a greater threat to world peace than Moscow. “Never forget who the real threat to the world is,” read an RT headline in February, The Associated Press reported this week.

Although many of the claims reported on RT en Espanol have been debunked, researchers say its Spanish language content about Ukraine is the third most shared site on Twitter.

Ana Leon, a journalist who writes for the independent news site CubaNet under a pseudonym for her safety, believes Cuba is repeating the Russian version of the war in Ukraine because it cannot afford to fall out with someone close to it. ally on which it depends financially.

“From the beginning, the official media in Cuba aligned themselves with the Russian version of events. They talked about the special military operation to protect the people,” she said.

Contrary to revolutionary principles

“Russia’s actions are contrary to all the principles defended by the Cuban revolution, such as the right of the people to determine their own future; however, Cuba denied Russia’s brutality. [in the state media] talk about the 2014 democratic election [in Ukraine] like a coup d’etat.”

Pro-European Petro Poroshenko won the 2014 Ukrainian presidential election on a platform that included a promise to end the war in the eastern regions. He was beaten in 2019 by current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Leon said that when Russia eased a debt deal, it ensured Cuban loyalty in its coverage of the Ukrainian conflict.

“Two days before the invasion of Ukraine, on February 22, Russia changed Cuba’s $2.3 billion debt deal to relieve economic pressure on the communist government,” Leon said.

Russia agreed to postpone debt payment until 2027.

The loans, granted to Cuba between 2006 and 2019, helped finance investments in power generation, metals and transport infrastructure, Reuters news agency reported.

Russia’s decision to ease the terms of the loan came as Havana struggled to cope with a deepening social and economic crisis, which led to food shortages and a lack of medicine and sparked protests. generalized.

Since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Havana and Moscow have maintained strong military and economic ties.

This alliance faded after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, but Russia continued to provide humanitarian aid and loans.

Normando Hernández, director general of ICLEP in Miami, said the Cuban government has fed its citizens an alternative reality to events in Ukraine.

“Cuban state media is toeing the Russian line on Ukraine exactly. They refer to the invasion of Ukraine as a special military operation and there is no mention of civilian massacres,” he said. he told VOA in a phone interview.

“They are trying to prevent the Cuban people from knowing what is really going on in this war, which was started by [Russian President] Vladimir Poutine.”

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