Cuba: protests over the dismissal of Alma Mater’s editor reveal deep rejection of bureaucratic censorship

The following pair of articles, written at the end of April, discuss the dismissal of the editor of Cuban magazine Alma Mater. What were the reasons for it? And what have been the consequences?


Cuba: what do the reactions to the dismissal of the editor of Alma Mater mean?

Jorge Martin 28 April 2022

The dismissal of Armando Franco as editor of the Cuban magazine Alma Mater on 26 April caused a huge stir at all levels. By the end yesterday, there were two public statements that I consider quite important and significant.

First, the statement by Ronquillo Bello, president of the Cuban Union of Journalists (UPEC), and deputy editorial director of Juventud Rebelde. It begins as follows: “We are saddened, like so many colleagues and followers of Alma Mater, by the decision taken regarding Armandito and the publication.” He then lists off all the virtues of Alma Mater, the awards it has received, etc.

The statement does not openly say it is against the decision, but does show “sadness” towards it. But perhaps the core of the statement is this: “Searches can lead to errors and these need to be aired, as Raúl Castro always advises, whose ideas have just condensed and presented themselves in a tremendous text, looking us in the eyes and speaking to us sincerely. This is the new press model defended by the UPEC, with the resolute and public support of the Communist Party, which has just expressed itself in the Plenary that ended this Wednesday.”

In my opinion this is a response to those who desire, fear or hope that the dismissal of the editor of Alma Mater will mark the beginning of a new Quinquenio Gris (Five Grey Years) of Stalinist repression [as there were in 1971-75]. The president of the UPEC is clearly opposed, but he also says that this position has “the support of the Party”.

To reinforce this point, Ronquillo's note is illustrated with a picture of a tweet by Enrique Villuendas Callejas, an official of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), and responsible for the media's tweet posted yesterday evening. The tweet says the following:

“I met with Armando Franco Senén, a young and talented journalist, who has a lot to contribute. I listened to his concerns about the @AlmaMater_Rev, and I confirmed the @PartidoPCC's willingness to address them."

Villuendas' tweet was later retweeted by the official PCC account that added this comment:

“#Cuba @DiazCanelB called today to articulate emotions, intelligence, with actions that revolutionise our performance, without losing the enthusiasm and revolutionary optimism, without allowing the softening of the spirit, aware that we need efforts and commitment. Coherence.”

Although it is more difficult to understand the meaning of the comment issued by the PCC, Villuendas' message is clear: Armando Franco is talented, he has complaints and we will listen to them. We'll see where that leads.

Gerardo, one of the Five Heroes, who is now the National Coordinator of the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) and a member of the CC of the Party and of the Council of State, already spoke in the early hours of 28 April. His tweet says:

“For a good soldier, the trench in which he fights is not as important as knowing clearly why and against whom he fights. I can assure you that Armandito and his team of valuable young people have never had doubts about it. That's all I know, and that's all I think. #Cuba #AlmaMater”

And the tweet is illustrated with a pìcture of himself with the editorial board of Alma Mater.

The important thing here is that a very prominent figure of the revolution comes out publicly to defend the revolutionary morality and credentials not only of Armando Franco but of the team of Alma Mater, just when he has been dismissed from his post for political reasons.

How should we interpret all of this?

First of all, I have no doubt that the dismissal of the editor of Alma Mater was motivated by political censorship of the critical editorial line of the magazine. For months it had been attacked in a strident way on social media and probably to the relevant authorities also. Finally, that campaign ended with the decision of the Communist Youth (UJC) to dismiss him from his post.

But it is not as simple as that. The Cuban revolution is going through a very delicate time, which has generated many internal debates. It faces an acute economic crisis, the causes of which are multiple: the imperialist blockade above all; the pandemic and its economic impact on world trade, prices and tourism; but also the bureaucratic management of the economy, and the negative impact of the measures of the Ordenamiento and others of opening up to the “market”.

All this undermines the legitimacy of the Cuban leadership. The counterrevolutionary elements, paid for by Washington, take advantage of these difficulties to sharpen the contradictions, to try to generate a mass movement against the revolution. This is what we saw with the San Isidro Movement, the 11J protests and the protests that flopped on 15N. These elements exist, and they handle a lot of money. But we cannot close our eyes to the fact that the terrain is now more favourable and fertile to their activities. The 11J protests did not happen 10 or 15 years ago, but now.

Faced with this situation, a broad debate has opened up within the rank and file of the revolution. Some look on with fear at the process of changes in the economy that will lead to the restoration of capitalism. We saw that during the debate on Constitutional reform. References to communism that had been removed from the initial draft reappeared in the final text after numerous protests.

Another sector, which we could call Stalinist, wants to deal with the discussion by the old method of accusing everyone who makes any criticism of being a counterrevolutionary, centrist, social democrat, etc., and using administrative methods of censorship and repression. It is true that some of the critics are social democrats and therefore counterrevolutionaries. I personally know many cases of comrades who begin with criticism of the bureaucracy and end up openly in the camp of counterrevolution in Cuba and internationally. But that doesn't mean that all critics are counterrevolutionaries.

There is a sector that clearly states that in order to defend the revolution it is necessary to make a series of changes; they criticise bureaucracy and even speak of workers' democracy. They cannot be accused of being counterrevolutionaries in any way, but they are also the object of verbal fury and reprisals in some cases by the bureaucracy and the Stalinists.

This sector can be found, for example, in the collectives that promoted the Tángana de Trillo at the end of 2020 and that were then more or less the same who launched the Red Scarves movement in November 2021.

What has been the Cuban leadership's response to this sector? I would say that in general, President Díaz-Canel, especially after 11J, has tried to show an image of openness, of listening, of going down to the grassroots. When the Red Scarves organised their sit-in, he showed up to be with them, giving them public backing.

After the Red Scarves sit-in we had the La Comuna event in February of this year, which ended with a joint statement of collaboration between the official organisations (UJC, FEU university students federation, FEEM secondary students federation, etc.) and the organisations that have tried to promote the organisation and debate of the revolutionary youth outside them (many of which had started the Red Scarves).

That can be interpreted in many ways, of course, including as an attempt by official organisations to co-opt their critics. In any case, what did not happen was the crushing of these critics by the bureaucracy.

However, later, during the celebration of the women’s day on 8M, in Havana, some questioned whether the Red Scarves had permission for their public activity.

In short, what we can see are contradictory signals. Armando Franco's dismissal points in one direction. The meeting of La Comuna in the opposite.

It should also be noted that Villuendas' response came at the end of the day, after, and I would say at least partially as a consequence, of the protests that the decision to dismiss the editor of Alma Mater had provoked throughout the day.

In my opinion, this reveals deep divisions within the bureaucracy and the official structures, with different groups each pushing in one direction.

These differences on the question of political form are also repeated in the field of economic policy. Some openly advocate measures leading to the restoration of capitalism, some of which are already being implemented. Others, without opposing the need for such measures, want to put red lines, clear limits on how far one can go, for example maintaining a monopoly on foreign trade. Finally, others raise the need for workers' democracy.

In these debates, crucial for the future of the Cuban Revolution, the International Marxist Tendency has, for years, taken a clear position:

  • Against the blockade and imperialist aggression;
  • Unconditional defence of the Cuban revolution and its conquests, which are based on the state ownership of the means of production;
  • For proletarian internationalism as the only way to break the isolation of the revolution;
  • Against capitalist restoration, wherever it comes from, against the “Chinese or Vietnamese way”;
  • Against the siren calls of the Social Democracy, which is just another side of the counter-revolution;
  • Against measures that increase social inequalities;
  • Against the privileges of bureaucracy;
  • For the free discussion of the ideas of all those who defend the revolution, including access to the state's media;
  • Against arbitrariness, impositions and bureaucratic repression that undermine the revolution – for workers' democracy and workers' control.

Cuba: protests over the dismissal of Alma Mater’s editor reveal deep rejection of bureaucratic censorship

Jorge Martin 29 April 2022

For the moment, the saga of the dismissal of the editor of Alma Mater Magazine Armando Franco Senén by the national bureau of the Union of Young Communists of Cuba – UJC has ended.

Let's remember that on 26 April, the news of his dismissal ("release from office") came about due to a note that the editorial team of Alma Mater published on the social media accounts of the magazine.

The decision was widely seen as a political censorship of the magazine's editorial line, which had accommodated critical voices and tried to report and analyse last year's 11J protests and counter-protests.

alvarez Image Facebookthe case of the dismissal of the editor of Alma Mater reveals a brewing conflict underneath the surface between different currents within the revolution / Image: Aylin Alvarez, Facebook

The dismissal provoked a strong counter-reaction from within the Cuban revolution, particularly among young people, and also among journalists at all levels. Such was the intensity of the rejection that already at the end of the 27th, the ideological department of the PCC met with Armando and sent the message that the problem was being solved.

The next day, UJC secretary Aylin Álvarez clarified that Armando's dismissal “has nothing to do with an expulsion or sanction,” and explained it as part of a “natural process of renewal” in which he had been “proposed to be integrated into another communication project.”

This explanation didn't really explain anything. First, why had the AM team felt obliged to publish the dismissal note, if it was only a process of “natural renewal"? Why 24 hours of silence on the part of the leaders of the UJC and the Ideological Department, when social media denounced the dismissal as censorship? Finally, if it is true that Armandito was changed to another position, why is it not said what the position is?

This “explanation” did not really satisfy anyone nor did it manage to silence the protests and communiqués in defence of Armando's revolutionary integrity (including that of the president of UPEC and very significantly that of Gerardo Norberto, national coordinator of the CDRs).

Meanwhile, the Stalinist dinosaurs who call themselves manigüeros [a reference to those who fought in the manigua jungle] continued to attack Alma Mater and its editorial board accusing them of “tendencies towards banality, ideological anything goes, vulgarity, fussing and, above all, an attitude of arrogance of those who exercise constant criticism”. At least it must be said that the comrades of La Manigua are honest and do not beat around the bush, they express their opinions head-on. For them the dismissal of Armando was necessary for political reasons.

Finally, there was a meeting between the secretary of the UJC and the head of the Ideological Department of the Party, Rogelio Polanco, with the dismissed Armando Franco. The result was Aylin Alvarez's note in which she acknowledged “the inadequacy of some actions towards him and the Alma Mater collective” and promised “responsibilities would be depurated”. In addition, “recognition was given to the work and results achieved by the Alma Mater collective”. There was still no mention of the mysterious post to which he was to be assigned. The note came with a photo of Aylin and Armando both smiling and hugging.

In short, the case of the dismissal of the editor of Alma Mater reveals a brewing conflict underneath the surface between different currents within the revolution (as I explained in yesterday's article). In this case, the sector that we could call Stalinist achieved its objective, removing from office the editor of Alma Mater who had dared to give a voice to critics of the bureaucracy, but the enormous counter-reaction and protest from within the Revolution forced them to meet with Armando Franco and publicly acknowledge his work.

Some have made comparisons in recent days with the Five Grey Years (which began in 1971 and in fact lasted more than five years), of bureaucratic and Stalinist repression in the field of the arts, journalism, literature, Marxism and revolutionary debate in general.

At that time, for example, the Department of Philosophy of the University of Havana (the centre of the struggle against the Soviet manuals of “Marxism-Leninism") was disbanded and its magazine Pensamiento Crítico was shut down. Those affected were banned from publishing, some for decades. Some were sent to occupy obscure positions in remote provinces, others had their work severely curtailed (parametrado).

The memory of the rejection of that period is strong and already provoked the so-called “little war of emails” in 2007, as a rejection of the public rehabilitation of the censor in chief Pavón.

The events of the last days, therefore, reveal the internal struggle of tendencies within the Cuban Revolution, but also the vitality and strength of those who reject bureaucratic methods, and a deep feeling that debate, within the revolution, is necessary and indispensable.

Of course, in the end, Armando remains dismissed and it will be very difficult for him to return to his position as editor. But he didn't leave without a fight. The game ended in a draw.