Cuba: Waiting for Cable TV / Ivan Garcia
Posted on August 25, 2015
Ivan Garcia, 21 August 2015 — When you tell Felicia, aged 76, a
housewife, that with that "strange and complicated gadget" which you
operate with your fingertips she can make an audiovisual connection with
her son who lives in Miami, she shakes her head as if to say you are
pulling my leg.
Tablets, laptops and smartphones, seem to her like things from science
fiction. She is convinced that her rough fingers can destroy those
little toys with their flat screens.
Felicia prefers to sit down on the sofa in her house and watch five
hours of Brazilian, Turkish and South Korean soaps or costume dramas
produced in the States.
Right now, she is waiting anxiously for the local messenger who is going
to let her rent various episodes of Game of Thrones. The weekly packet
is an audiovisual collection of films, serials and foreign soaps
downloaded by private entrepreneurs and then marketed; it's a primitive
local leisure industry.
"Two years ago, a neighbour who had an antenna, let me use the signal
for 8 CUC a month, with a listing of programmes from Miami and comedy
items from Spain. But since the police shut down her business, I rent
videos or the "weekly packet." It's because Cuban TV is so bad that
people have no option but to spend money on other alternatives," Felicia
The reports in the national and foreign press emphasis the increase in
internet services in the island, but they say little about any opening
up of cable TV.
In a survey of 15 people, of both sexes and aged between 14 and 76, all
of them approve of improved access to the internet, but are waiting for
some news about an opening-up of prepay television channels.
Yudelis, aged 16, would like to have a "bundle" of available channels to
see documentaries like discovery Channel, different news analysis in CNN
or HBO serials.
Eusebio, 27, prefers a cable channel so he can watch live broadcasts of
NBA and MLB games and international Tennis Opens. "Cuban television is
making an effort on its sports channel, but it falls short. Many events
are delayed. And when they transmit them, you already know the result."
There are huge fanatics of the channels from Florida. Ileana, 34,
obsessively consumes Caso Cerrado or Belleza Latina. "If they permitted
cable TV you could choose your favourite programmes".
Sergio, 41, an economist, thinks that opening up a television signal
would be a really good deal for the government. "It could be more
profitable than the internet. Remember that in Cuba it's only a minority
that has a computer or smartphone, but almost everybody has a television."
Carlos, 59, a sociologist, thinks that the political prejudices of the
military autocrats count for more than economic profit. "In cable TV
there are poor quality programmes which add nothing to general culture.
But every person is able to make their individual decision as to
preferences and what to do with their free time. An opening like this
would short-circuit the State's monopoly on information. The problem for
the government is not that people would be able to see recorded crap,
but that they would know, for example, about Antonio Castro's vacations
in Greece and Turkey."
In President Obama's 17th December 2014 roadmap to empower the Cuban
people, there was no mention of the intention to market the US prepay
Spanish TV service.
And this isn't mentioned either in Raúl Castro's timid economic reforms.
The olive green government has only committed itself to digitise TV by 2021.
If you are interested in the Florida channels, you have to pay the
equivalent of $10 a month to shady people who market the service, or
rent the "weekly packet." There's no choice.
Note: After more than three decades of the Brazilian reign, South Korean
soaps have gained ground with the Cuban public. The boom in "doramas"
(Asian dramas) on the island exploded after the successful transmission
of The Queen of the Wives. That was followed by My Beautiful Woman, You
are Beautiful, Unlimited Dreams and Secret Garden, but some 30 or so are
going round from hand to hand, nearly all of them from Miami, where the
"doramas" are very popular with the Cubans and Latinos living in Florida.
On a visit to the island, the actor and singer Yoon Sang Hyun, known in
Cuba for his interpretation of the butler Seo in the My Beautiful Woman
soap, said that the success of the South Korean series was down to their
showing real life personal relations, and including some comedy, romance
and drama, but without over-dramatising it.
The South Korean soaps follow a similar model to the Brazilian, Mexican,
Colombian and Venezuelan TV dramas, and show the Cubans an unknown
country, although for a while they have been selling Made in South Korea
appliances (Samsung is the best-known brand). Seoul and Havana have had
no diplomatic relations since 1959 due to the historic political and
ideological alliance between the Castro regime and the Kims in
Pyongyang. According to the Yonhap agency, "Cuba and South Korea can
normalise their diplomatic relations in the very near future."
Lately, the Cubans have also latched onto the Turkish soaps, although
the Brazilian ones remain the favourites. Cuba is a precursor country of
the genre: it was a Cuban, Félix B. Caignet (1892-1976), author of the
famous radio serial The Right to be Born, in the '40's, who fixed the
srructure later adopted by television for its melodramas (Tania Qunitero).
Translated by GH
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