In the editorial offices of Cuba’s only truly national newspaper, Granma, the Cold War is seemingly in the air. Weeks before the start of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the Cuban regime was already making clear its support for Moscow with silences and half-truths. And since the beginning of the war, Havana’s propaganda machine has been disseminating fake news or misleading information to support the Kremlin’s version of events.
“Cuba and Russia, two peoples closer, defending peace,” Granma published on its front page a day prior to the Russian invasion, on February 23, 2022. There was no mention of the conflict.
Since the beginning of the invasion, the main Cuban newspaper as well as TV and radio broadcasters have focused on presenting the Russian attacks as a “special military operation,” which Russia was forced to carry out due to the advance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and “neo-Nazi” groups toward its borders.
“In Cuba, they don’t do journalism. In Cuba, what they do is propaganda. Therefore, the issue of disinformation is much more present than it could be in another type of press where there are biases due to access to information,” said José Raúl Gallego, a Cuban journalist exiled in Mexico. “In addition, the Cuban media are being guided by the information generated by Russian state media such as RT and Sputnik.”
Among the lies the official press spread about the invasion of Ukraine are that Brent Renaud, the American journalist murdered in Ukraine, was a CIA agent; that the bombing of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was carried out by Kiev; or that the massacre in Bucha, where dozens of civilian bodies were found in mass graves after the Russian withdrawal, was perpetrated by Ukraine.
“The Cuban press refuses to recognize the concept of invasion,” Reinaldo Escobar, editor of the independent daily 14ymedio, said via YouTube from Havana. “They only mention the disagreement between Ukraine and Russia and have alluded to Russia’s arguments about demilitarization and the ‘denazification’ of a country where the president himself is of Jewish descent.”
While the war progresses and the number of deaths and material damage take up headlines around the world, the official Cuban press prefers to speak of “Russophobia” and about “a Western disinformation campaign.”
“The alleged bombings are not really war actions but images, excerpts from video games,” Carlos Ernesto Rodríguez, Cuban Foreign Ministry director of Communications, acknowledged however on March 9 via YouTube.
Oleksandr Kalinchuk, chargé d’Affaires at the Ukrainian Embassy in Cuba, said that Havana’s position is “unacceptable” and demanded that Cuba rectify its support for Moscow and give him the opportunity to explain on national television Kiev’s reasons for defending itself against Russian aggression.
The Miguel Díaz-Canel regime didn’t allowed this. In response, Díaz-Canel said that Russia had the right to defend itself against NATO and blamed the United States for provoking the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
The U.S. Embassy in Havana has taken note of the regime’s propaganda. “The content on Cuban state-run platforms comes from the Russian government supporting them to create and amplify disinformation. By publishing these stories without fact-checking, they become mouthpieces for the Putin regime,” the U.S. Embassy said via Twitter. “Cuban state media repeat these lies, create false sources to justify their falsehoods and deliberately mislead the Cuban people.”
For Juan Antonio Blanco, a Cuban political scientist based in Miami, Cuba’s support for Russia is a shot in the foot for sectors that sought understanding with Washington. “Cuba has shown which side it is on in this geopolitical battle, and once again it has sided with the enemies of the United States, showing the deep anti-Americanism of that dictatorship,” he said.