The Cuban Revolution showed that it was possible to change Latin America's dependence on the big Western news agencies, and Prensa Latina was the first step in that direction, according to US historian Renata Keller.
In this regard, the associate professor at the University of Nevada recalled the leading role of Fidel Castro, who, even before the revolutionary triumph in 1959, acknowledged the importance of international media to confront the anti-Cuba campaigns by the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI).
The revolutionary leader’s role in the fight against these large consortiums and others in Europe occupies a large part of a lengthy research entitled “The Revolution Will Be Teletyped: Cuba’s Prensa Latina News Agency and the Cold War Contest over Information.”
The study recalls Fidel Castro’s statement that we Latin Americans “do not have international cables,” so journalists “have no other resource than to accept what the foreign cables say.”
Latin American press must take control over the media that allows them to know the truth and not become victims of lies, the leader of the Cuban Revolution stated.
And Cuba demonstrated that change was possible, underlines Keller, who is also a researcher on US relations with Cuba and Mexico.
In her study of the background and creation of Prensa Latina in June 1959, Keller corroborates Washington’s interest in making this Havana-based unprecedented media outlet “with global aspirations” disappear.
The new Latin American news agency was a powerful weapon in Fidel Castro’s revolutionary arsenal because it provided a new way for the Cuban Government to gather and shape information and build international solidarity by sharing its version of history with the rest of the world, the researcher underlines.
Other actions by the revolutionary leader in terms of information were taken even before the victory over the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, when the then guerrilla leader received several US journalists in the Sierra Maestra mountains, where he acknowledged the importance of international media, according to the author.
“(Fidel) Castro and his collaborators worked to provide an alternative source of information to newspapers, magazines, and radio and television programs throughout the world. They recognized the crucial role played by news agencies.”
Keller asserts that Prensa Latina’s activities preceded a broader movement to reshape international information production and distribution, as in the 1970s other Third World leaders began to voice some of the same grievances as Fidel Castro about global dominance by the US and Western European media.
Remarks enriched a global debate on information, developed within the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with the purpose of creating a New World Order of Information and Communications, an effort that was spearheaded by Irish Nobel Prize winner Sean Mac Bride, the study notes.
The historian points out that the group’s final report echoed, in many ways, what Fidel Castro had proposed to do when he created Prensa Latina, and recalls that among the members of that commission was later Colombian Nobel Prize winner for Literature Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was precisely one of the founders of the news agency established in Cuba in 1959.
Keller’s article concludes that Prensa Latina has played a key role in promoting and sustaining the Cuban Revolution and that its founders expected to create an alternative source of news and information for Cuba, Latin America and the rest of the world, “and they succeeded.”
“Just as Fidel Castro’s ability to remain in power in the face of relentless US hostility could be interpreted as a triumph, Prensa Latina’s capability to withstand numerous attacks is impressive and unprecedented. However, Prensa Latina survived, expanded and even flourished,” the historian points out in her research.