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      Stop Lies & Deceptions!
      How Mainstream Media Falsifies the Truth About Cuba

      By Tamara Hansen

      The news: ‘Historic’ survey of Cubans living in Cuba released!

      In the first weeks of April 2015, a flurry of headlines sourcing a new poll of Cubans living in Cuba took over the news. According to a Google news search over 7,000 articles were found citing the poll.

      Mainstream media was all abuzz: The Washington Post, CTV, TIME Magazine, Reuters, Miami Herald, Yahoo News, USA Today and many others all published articles about the findings of the poll. Headlines analyzing the details of the poll ranged from the obvious, “Poll shows vast majority of Cubans welcome closer ties with US”, or “Poll: Cubans expect US detente to improve economic lives”, to the scandalous, “Obama Almost Twice as Popular in Cuba Than in US, Poll Says”, or “Despite Optimism, Many Cubans Still Wish To Leave, Secret Poll Finds”, or “Obama more popular than the Castros in Cuba”, or “Historic poll: Facebook is 20x more popular than Twitter in Cuba.”

      The only surprising headline I could find in the mainstream news that bucked the trend taking the poll results in a whole new direction was from the New Republic which proclaimed, “Cubans Are More Satisfied With Their Political System Than Americans Are”.

      How could one “historic poll” lead to so many new conclusions?

      Who released the poll and what was the goal?

      Upon investigation, it turns out that the “Fusion poll” (as it is commonly referred to in many articles) was conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International, a public opinion research firm located in Miami, Florida, on behalf of Univision Noticias/ Fusion in collaboration with The Washington Post.

      From an article published on fusion.net entitled, “Historic poll: Obama is nearly twice as popular in Cuba as he is in the U.S.” they explain, “The door-to-door poll, considered the most comprehensive and largest independent survey in Cuba in more than 50 years, was conducted by a team of local Cuban interviewers led by Miami-based research firm Bendixen & Amandi. The poll was carried out without the authorization of the Cuban government between March 17-27 in all 13 provinces of the island, including the capital city of Havana.”

      While this polling firm and poll methodology (explained in documents published by Bendixen & Amandi International) seem to pass the initial threshold for a valid survey, there are some critical questions not mentioned in their “methodology” document or in their published report. After reading carefully through their documents I was left with many questions...

      • It is unclear how many Cubans refused to be interviewed or were not interested in participating.

      • The company claimed to have contacted each “randomly selected” candidate 3 times for an interview, but gives no data on how many people they were unable to interview after 3 attempts or the general response rate.

      • The interviews were conducted in Spanish, but I was unable to find a Spanish version of the report. This makes it impossible to tell how accurately the questions were translated for the English report.

      • Their “Introduction” on the survey reads: “I would like to ask you a few questions about some important issues. I assure you that I am not selling anything and that the survey will only take a few minutes. Your responses will remain strictly confidential.” But it is unclear if these are the only things their survey team said to introduce the poll. Did the field team tell people this was a “secret poll” not sanctioned by the government? Did they say they were representing Miami- based Bendixen & Amandi, or “Univision Noticias/Fusion” or the Washington Post?

      Where to find the answers...

      Interestingly, the Washington Post published an article exposing the answers to some of these questions on April 8, 2015. At the same time the poll was released, their article titled, “Surveying Cubans under the Castro government” gave some insights that were nowhere to be found on the Fusion or Bendixen & Amandi International websites.

      First, the title for the article, “Surveying Cubans under the Castro government” is clearly building up the idea that surveying Cubans is different than surveying people in any other part of the world. The bias of the Washington Post and the poll they paid for is evident in the first sentence of their article which asks, “How do you conduct a reliable public opinion poll in a closely monitored society where political dissent is strictly repressed?” If the goal of their survey is to go and find out what the people of Cuba think about their government and the government of the United States, doesn’t this question seem to suggest that in the end they already know what answers they are looking for? Cubans are dissatisfied, want change and are repressed in a “closely monitored society where political dissent is strictly repressed”. Right?

      In his article Washington Post journalist, Peyton M. Craighill, boasts that their poll was, “designed and executed without the authorization of the Cuban government” as if this is somehow a positive or legitimizing point!

      “Interviews were conducted by Cuban residents personally trained by senior B&A survey researchers.” How much did they pay these people? Did they tell the Cubans working for them that the poll they were doing was “carried out without the authorization of the Cuban government”?

      Finally, the most important information, again not found in the poll or its methodology document, only in this one article from The Washington Post notes that, “Among all the households sampled for an interview, 39 percent completed one.” That means 61% of people they asked to do the poll did not participate. Why is this not a headline? ‘61% of Cubans asked to take our poll refused’ I guess it would have been harder for Fusion, Univision and The Washington Post to have their prestigious and ‘historic’ poll taken seriously if this was one of their key findings.

      What’s in the poll?

      So far I have not even explained what was in the poll, other than the headlines pulled from the results. In many ways the contents of the poll are of secondary importance, because this survey and poll were not designed to be fair. They were designed with predetermined answers in mind, which the Washington Post journalist exposed with his musings, “How do you conduct a reliable public opinion poll in a closely monitored society where political dissent is strictly repressed?”

      However, I would like to quickly examine the article from the New Republic that I mentioned in the first section of this article, which is again entitled, “Cubans Are More Satisfied With Their Political System Than Americans Are.”

      The article takes the poll findings in a different direction than the rest of the mainstream media around the world. Journalist Joel Gillin writes, “According to a January 2014 Gallup poll, 65 percent of Americans are “dissatisfied with the nation’s system of government and how well it works.” Meanwhile, 52 percent of Cubans are dissatisfied with their political system, according to the new poll by Univision/Fusion.

      More than two-thirds of Cubans—68 percent—are satisfied with their health care system. About 66 percent of Americans said the same in a November 2014 Gallup poll.

      Seventy-two percent of Cubans are satisfied with their education system, while an August 2014 Gallup poll found that less than half of Americans—48 percent—are “completely” or “somewhat” satisfied with the quality of K-12 education.”

      So while the questionable statistics in the Univision/Fusion poll are meant to make Cubans seem unsatisfied, miserable and repressed when they stand on their own. When put side-by-side with statistics about how Americans feel about their political system and social services we get a more balanced look and realizing that even if we accepted these numbers as fact (which I do not, based on the holes and bias mentioned above) they do not say anything as drastic about the situation in Cuba as the mainstream media headlines would like us to believe.

      International Context since December 17, 2014

      The reason this article will not look too closely at the contents of the poll, is first because of the stated bias with which the Washington Post began this venture and second because this poll is clearly being used as a tool by the mainstream media to make a particular point about Cuba. Only the New Republic article chose to deviate from the story that Univision/Fusion and the Washington Post wanted everyone to read.

      The next question we need to ask is why did the Washington Post and Univision/ Fusion choose now to invest in a ‘historic poll’ about how Cubans see the present and future of their country and the U.S.?

      On December 17, 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro both announced the first steps towards reestablishing diplomatic ties between the US and Cuba after over 50 years of US hostility towards Cuba.

      Since December 17, 2014 the U.S. has made several openings towards Cuba. On March 29, 2015 the Obama administration officially removed Cuba from their list of “state sponsors of terror”, a very unjustified label the U.S. had slapped on Cuba and also one of the road-blocks to re-establishing diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.

      In April 2015, Cuba was welcomed to the Summit of the Americas hosted in Panama by the Organization of American States (OAS) an organization with 35 member states including countries in North, Central and South America. The Cuban government had been banned from participating in the OAS Summits for 47 years based mainly in the insistence of the U.S. government that Cuba did not belong based on it being a communist country and its desire to isolate Cuba. While the ban was lifted in 2009, it was only this year that Cuba finally took its seat at the table.

      Then on July 1, 2015 U.S. President Barack Obama said, "Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re- establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re- open embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas."

      So we have seen since December 2014 many important moves by the U.S. government to forge a new relationship with Cuba, but what are the changes based on?

      A new era of U.S./Cuba relations Why now?

      Over the past 10 years or so, it has become clear that United States government has become more and more isolated from the rest of the Americas, and even the rest of the world, in its policy towards Cuba. While in the 1960s, just after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, the U.S. policy to isolate Cuba was echoed by every country in Latin America except Mexico, today the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba has led to the isolation of the United States itself. The U.S. which is used to being master of the world, has found itself being chastised by other nations for its harmful and outdated policy towards Cuba.

      So let’s get back to the question: why did the Washington Post and Univision/Fusion choose now to invest in a ‘historic poll’ about how Cubans see the present and future of their country and the U.S.?

      It is true that these new moves towards better U.S.-Cuba relations are important for the Cuban people and the Cuban government. However, one has to look at what has been going on between the U.S. and Cuba over the past 50 years to really grasp what is happening today. Over the last 50 years the various U.S. administrations have dedicated themselves to a single task in Cuba – to overthrow the victorious 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro. They have planned this through assassination attempts, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the National Endowment for Democracy and their “democracy building projects”, the sabotage of Cuban agriculture, the payment of ‘dissident’ groups, and most importantly their economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba. The U.S. blockade was meant to starve Cubans into giving up on their revolution and to accept U.S. hegemony over their island.

      All of the United States measures against Cuba have failed, and despite even the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the most challenging periods, Cuba has thrived. Indeed, Cuba has become more popular, making allies and signing agreements across Latin America and around the world. Just this year Cuba has become known as a world leader in the fight against Ebola in West Africa sending hundreds of Cuban doctors to fight the epidemic. Then on June 30, 2015 the World Health Organization declared Cuba the first country in the world to eliminate the mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Cuba has Health and Human Development figures that rival that of many industrialized countries due to great advances in its free education and healthcare systems. Life inside Cuba is a challenge, but very dynamic from its world-famous jazz, to baseball, to salsa, to cigars and beaches.

      While the Obama administration is making steps towards Cuba, they have not given up on their policy of “regime change” for Cuba, meaning overthrowing the revolution and its gains. This also means they are not interested in leaving Guantánamo Bay, Cuba where the U.S. has its military base and prison, world renowned for torturing its prisoners. It means they are not interested in finally ending their blockade against Cuba despite the fact that the United Nations General Assembly has resoundingly condemned the U.S. blockade 23 times in the last 23 years.

      So how can the U.S. government and the mainstream media make sure that they get enough support for renewing diplomatic ties with Cuba, while at the same time keep the general population skeptical about the Cuban people and government?

      One method is to release a ‘historic’ poll of Cubans living in Cuba, reaffirming that despite all of the positive news coverage you have heard about Cuba in the last year, Cubans are still “closely monitored society where political dissent is strictly repressed”. They make sure that the poll questions will get the answer that they started with. Then publicize the results around the world, to a mainstream media that will take that data in whatever context they give them and not bother to look outside the box or analyze the content.

      Where do we go from here?

      From an article published on fusion.net entitled, “Historic poll: Obama is nearly twice as popular in Cuba as he is in the U.S.” they explain, “What’s clear is that tidy friend-or-foe days of the cold war have since been replaced by something messier, modern and more honest.” This might be the reporter’s opinion after reading the survey results, but all it shows is that these people have never spent any time in Cuba. The so-called cold war “friend-or-foe”/black and white/”you are either with us or against us” is never how the Cuban people or the Cuban government have seen the United States. The Cuban revolution has always distinguished between the American people and the American government. Cuba has always been a warm and welcoming place for Americans to visit. It has been the U.S. government with this black and white mentality, forcing travel restrictions on its own people, worried Americans will travel to Cuba and be inspired by revolutionary Cuba.

      This is why the U.S. and the mainstream media are not interested in really understanding the feelings of the Cuban people during this historic period of change. They are not interested in sharing with people in the United States a deeper understanding of the challenges and gains made by the Cuban people and their government since the revolution triumphed in 1959. They are too afraid that poor and working people in the U.S. might see something exciting about the path forged by the Cuban revolution – a path that has meant free healthcare, free education, jobs, culture and dignity – all things poor and working people in the U.S. are fighting for today.

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