During my visit to Cuba I watched television whenever I could, trying to get a sense of what Cuban authorities were thinking and what Cuban viewers were seeing. I was especially interested in public health announcements, such as those advising people to boil their water before drinking and to guard against mosquitoes breeding in and around their homes.
In order to catch these announcements, I had to sit through several old reruns of Little House on the Prairie, which had been retitled “La Familia Ingalls” and presented as “an American family living with austerity.” There was a broadcast on disability awareness that began with a music video of Lionel Richie’s song, “Hello,” in which a teacher falls in love with a blind student. And there were also programs from the Venezuelan channel Telesur, such as a healthy cooking show featuring ingredients Cubans might find difficult to obtain and “USA de Verdad,” a program billed as “stories of the average American citizen” and the “impact of the economic crisis on their lives.” The episode of “USA de Verdad” that I watched was set in the Bronx, with the intended message was that life was tough in a low-income New York neighborhood. But the images showed buildings, streets and sidewalks in far better condition than in most of Havana, so one can only speculate as to how Cuban viewers reacted.
This week Telesur began direct broadcasts to Cuba for several hours a day. The Los Angeles Times reports http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-cuba-us-president-obama-20130121,0,7160624.story that Cubans had the chance to watch U.S. President Barack Obama’s inauguration in real-time, though his speech was accompanied by a Telesur commentator who questioned his statements.