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Day 17

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Castañeda's Specious Speculations

When It Comes to Cuba and the Media Anything Goes

by NELSON P. VALDÉS

On March 14, 2009 Newsweek magazine published an article ["The Plot Against the Castros"] written by Jorge Castañeda. The article claimed to provide an interpretation of the reasons for the March 3rd government changes in Cuba.

The author claimed,

"…for at least a month or so, Lage, Pérez Roque and others were apparently involved in a conspiracy, betrayal, coup or whatever term one prefers, to overthrow or displace Raúl from his position. In this endeavor, they recruited—or were recruited by—Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who in turn tried to enlist the support of other Latin American leaders, starting with Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic, who refused to get involved." [1]

Castañeda, using his power of creative fiction wrote:

The day after their resignation, the two plotters were expelled from their other posts in disgrace. In a newspaper column Fidel accused them of harboring excessive "ambitions" fed by the "honey of power" and the "absence of sacrifice." He said they had reawakened the illusions of "foreign powers" regarding Cuba’s future. More importantly,and enigmatically, he resorted to a baseball metaphor on the occasion of the World Baseball Classic to praise Dominicans for not participating (the team’s plans had been unclear) and to claim that Chavez’s baseball players, "as good and young" as they might be, were no match for "Cuba’s seasoned all-stars."

In his article Castañeda conflated Fidel Castro’s comments about the
Baseball Classic with changes in the makeup of the Cuban cabinet. In the process he even imagined the role of two Latin American presidents.

Within hours it was clear that the Newsweek piece was based on no evidence. Jorge Castañeda had said as much 72 hours later, CNN from Mexico City quoted him as saying, ""I have no evidence of it."[2]. Yet, on March 18th in the digital version of the Spanish newspaper  El País he had a new article (La ambigüedad de la victoria)  where he repeated his speculation although acknowledging he had nothing to back him up. In the new revised speculation he mentioned Hugo Chavez but not the Dominican Republic president. Of course, the Venezuelan president denied the assertions. [3]

Over 67,000 web pages, blogs and printed media reproduced the claim that there had been a plot against the government of Raul Castro; yet, only 18,000 web pages reported that the whole thing was not based on evidence. When it comes to Cuba, anything goes as far as the mass media and numerous academic institutions are concerned. Castañeda is at present a fellow at the New America Foundation, which only shows that some "think tanks" are ready to broadcast fantasy, falsehoods and anything else as long as some ideological preconceptions are ratified.

The blogger Machetera, on March 17, decided to speculate on what is going on "Inside Jorge Castañeda’s feverish mind." And "just for fun" Machetera ripped the Newsweek article apart, paragraph by paragraph. [4] Yet, another "respectable" publication came to the rescue of the creative fiction writer – Foreign Policy magazine [FP] , owned by the same company that produces Newsweek. Joshua Keating, the editor of FP wrote on the blog the editors of the magazine have:

"To be fair to Castañeda, "informed speculation" is probably the best we’re going to get in terms of Cuban political analysis at the moment. His theory seems as good as any of the others (It is a bit strange that Chavez hasn’t publicly commented on any of this yet.) and at least it has the virtue of being entertaining."[5]

Of course, all these assertions were the result of an overactive imagination lacking the most basic professional ethics of commitment to truth, integrity and intellectual honesty. [6]

In the post-modern world truth, accuracy and method are of no consequence, it seems. Infotainment now passes as foreign policy analysis. When everything fails to justify political speculation, and hacks passing as academics are caught in their lies; there is always the entertainment value of lying. Or so, we are told.

NELSON P. VALDÉS is Emeritus Professor of Sociology (University of New Mexico) and director of the Cuba-L Project.

This article was written for Cuba-L Direct and CounterPunch.

Notes

[1]  http://www.newsweek.com/id/189261

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/

[3] http://cuba-l.unm.edu/

[4]  http://machetera.wordpress.com/2

[5] http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/

[6] A Guide to Professional Ethics in Political Science, Second Edition, revised 2008. http://www.apsanet.org/imgtest/ethicsguideweb.pdf