Interview with Father Rolando Montes de Oca

By: Xavier Carbonell-SIGNIS Correspondent

Padre, Rolando Montes de Oca
Padre, Rolando Montes de Oca

“The truth has to be a passion of the communicator”



Emphatic in his words and cautious with the impact of social networks, Father Rolando Montes de Oca talks with SIGNIS-Cuba about July 11 and how the communication of those events worked. Fake news, manipulation of the truth, silencing and an increasingly complex imaginary in its diversity are some of the issues to which this priest refers, who endorses the ideas of Pope Francis on journalism: the informative exercise must involve curiosity and love for the truth, so that we anticipate —through the word and its imprint— the dream of the future Cuba. With this dialogue, SIGNIS-Cuba begins a cycle of interviews aimed at reflecting on the present and future of the nation.


Dear Father, the people of Cuba have lived these last days – as long as the connection was available – clinging to cell phones, trying to find out about the situation and notify their relatives abroad; horrible but eloquent images have remained on cell phones; It is evident that this moment will remain in Cuban memory, thanks to an incessant battle between versions of the same events.


What role has communication played in the events of 11J? How do you rate this “war” inside the screens? *


“The screens have been decisive from the beginning. The first thing that happened was the demonstration in a town, and through the screens the rest of the towns knew it and felt invited to do it, they felt encouraged. They felt that it was the possibility, the moment, and it was the social outbreak. Images of so many prisoners, of so many beaten, of so many people who are still incarcerated today have also circulated on the screens. And we know it instantly, when we have access to the internet. The screens have been decisive, of course.

“Fake news has also circulated on the screens, some say that they were prepared by the government itself to discredit – which the government usually does – opponents, to discredit them, and then present them as liars. The screens are being very necessary, the connection , the internet, the telephones. In fact, one of the measures taken by the government was a general internet cut-off throughout the country. This cut was denied by the Chancellor [Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla] but was affirmed by an official journalist: yes It had been a government strategy.

“Ultimately, we all know how dangerous it is when someone is filming the moment when the police or the government is behaving improperly. Right away, the first attack goes against the person who has a phone in his hand. The role of communication, whether to convene or to influence. That is why many of us are insisting on the need to listen to each other, on the need to reconcile, on the need not to resort to violence and to drop arms, even if it is the government itself that has put them in the hands of their defenders. ”


Is it possible to draw a cartography of recent Cuban journalism, a panorama that encompasses both sides of the issue —the official information system, the alternative media, the improvised report of those who record themselves—, its limitations and possibilities? Do you not notice a descent to vulgarity, to lies, a degradation in the office of informing?


“The journalistic phenomenon in Cuba has diversified a lot, after in 2019 we Cubans were able to have access to the internet through mobile data on phones. Although it has been with prohibitive prices and with a lot of instability, the sites have multiplied, the podcasts, reports and, of course, that great amorphous informant that are social networks.

“The official Cuban press, more than journalism, what it does is propaganda. More than respecting or serving the public interest, it serves the interest of the informant, which is always to communicate only the news that favors the ideology, the system, and those that do not. , they are varied, they are edited, they are put according to the system. On the part of independent journalists they also circulate fake news sometimes. It is said that the government itself shoots them to discredit the independent press. But also, as in every child of neighbors, there is always a relative who reports badly. Lack of professionalism, of course, lack of balance. The situation is tense in Cuba, the situation in Cuba is very complex and the communications that describe it are also complex, often exaggerated on one side or the other.

“A very deformed language circulates, that is true; it has descended towards vulgarity, that is also true. But the vulgarity is not only verbal, but of life in Cuba. Cuban life has become very vulgarized in recent times, And this is also how the journalistic narrative makes it reach those who do not know it or those who are far away. The truth is that until a few years ago, in the next town, tremendous things happened and nobody knew about it; and now , at a click of a button, last Sunday a notable, considerable group, a group that cannot be called, as the government says, a “small group”, but rather a people that took to the streets.

“And everyone, from the spontaneous reports, from journalists ‘on foot’, they all knew it and many others were encouraged to do it and did it too. And that made the government think, and the president [Miguel Díaz- Canel Bermúdez] to speak, and everyone to take measures and decisions, unfortunately the majority were wrong, the majority violent. But the news spread and we have all been aware of what has happened throughout Cuba. That in another time would not have been possible “.


In Cuba, Catholic lay associations have been strengthened, often made up of young people, who are gaining organization and influence. Do you have any advice for those who, like SIGNIS or the Catholic Youth Network, are starting a new type of ecclesial communication?


“To the young communicating Catholics, first, I embrace and respect them for the great work they do, for the great effort they make to carry out this noble profession of journalism, and to do it from the point of view of faith. Then, tell them that it is Journalism is necessary in the Church, because this gaze of faith is necessary in the midst of everything that happens, in the midst of the avalanche of information about those same events, it is always light.

“Then, share this with them, which for Cubans unfortunately is not tradition or obvious, but it is necessary: ​​never to detach ourselves in our communication of the public interest. Respect for our people requires that we follow their interest and respond to their informational interest. Our great challenge will always be to turn what is important into interesting, and thus reach everyone. On the other hand, attachment to the truth is also essential. You can never lie, never and for any reason. You can never hide. Journalism is not to hide nor is it to lie. Journalism is to inform. And when you are a follower of Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, the attachment to the truth, the love of the truth, must guide the steps of every Christian communicator “.
What books, films or musical pieces can help us better understand today’s Cuba?

“Among the books I recommend ‘The night will not be eternal’, by Oswaldo Payá; and ‘The power of the powerless’ [by Václav Havel]. Among the films, Conducta is very good to understand what is happening in Cuba and how it is Cuban society, how it has been until today. ”


Cubans have experienced the phenomenon of fake news firsthand, not only on social networks but also in the news media in other countries – Russia, for example -; the situation has been deformed to paroxysmal levels, and there are those who affirm that falsifying events is legal if it responds to a strategic purpose. Despite that, isn’t this an insult to nature and the search for truth? What is your assessment in this regard?


“The truth has to be a passion of the communicator. Fake news is an attack on human dignity because we have been created for the truth. A good communicator, a good reporter, a good journalist, a good columnist even, has to be in front of all attached to the truth. And you have to verify events, not share without first verifying that what you are receiving is real and that it corresponds to reality. Trying to visualize it as objectively as possible – we already know that one hundred percent goals never we will be—, but if we have to seek it, tend towards it, try to shine a light on all the edges of society, of reality. Do not over-illuminate and hide another, not even when this leads to apparently good ends. ‘who are persecuted with lies or with concealment, sooner or later they will reveal their dark, negative identity. Truth is luminous, and truth, justice and charity go together. You cannot pretend the b Well if it is not by the way of truth.

I would like to ask you to share your personal vision for tomorrow. Can we, through the communication of the truth, of the culture, of the good, get closer to that dream of the future Cuba?
“I believe that lies, manipulation, concealment, ruthless censorship, cuts in communication channels (such as the internet), persecution of journalists, the fact that some journalists have to distinguish themselves by calling themselves ‘independent’, when journalism it is independently independent … all that has to be left behind The Cuba that I aspire to, with which I dream, for which I pray and work is a Cuba attached to the truth, with the possibility of information, with freedom of expression. Where communicators can communicate, of course they can, because they are human beings, but where concealment, misrepresentation, manipulation and lies are not the norm. The Cuba for which I dream, pray and work is the Cuba where each Cuban can have access to the truth, and can, wishing to do so, help to be part of that truth, that justice and that freedom that right now are germinating, are developing, not without pain. ”

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