tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS April 3, 2011 8:30am-9:00am PDT
>> hinojosa: long after the iron curtain collapsed and china and vietnam embraced free markets, cuba's communist system continues. 50 years after the revolution, is cuba ready for change? a conversation with former havana bureau chief from the associated press, anita snow. i'm maria hinjosa. this is one on one. anita snow, you spent ten years living in havana as the bureau chief for the associated press. in fact, you opened the office there. prior to that you lived for several years in mexico. but let's talk about havana. rare opportunity that we get to talk with somebody who's lived
in havana for ten years. so, hard to sum up ten years, but what was it like? >> well, i think it was the most interesting period of my career, and challenging, and ultimately satisfying, but it was really the hardest for many different for many different... >> hinojosa: because? >> well, to open the bureau there was quite a challenge. the ap hadn't been... hadn't had a permanent presence in cuba for almost three decades. so basically it was my job to find an office space, furnish it... >> hinojosa: hire the people. >> hire the people. and you had to hire them through the cuban government employment agency. >> hinojosa: how long did the whole process take? >> about two years. >> hinojosa: just to open the office? >> well, no. i mean, we opened the office, but it took... probably took about two years until it was all outfitted. >> hinojosa: okay, so your biggest misconception about... because you had spent some time, you had covered... you and i
both were there when the pope was there in 1997. but what was the biggest misconception that you had about what it would be like, as a journalist, to live and cover cuba? >> i thought it was going to be easier. >> hinojosa: really? >> yeah, i thoht iwas going to b.. i had no idea how hard it was going to be. >> hinojosa: so what was so hard about it? >> once we were set up, it was hard to report, because access was really limited. >> hinojosa: well, a lot of people find that one of the things why you are such a rock star in international journalism, if you will, is the fact that you, anita snow, for ten years were essentially able to keep your chops as a solid fact-based journalist, but you were also able to be essentially critical of the cuban government and staymplod, keep your... you know, your bosses satisfied. it's... a lot of people just say, "how were you able to please, you know, the cubans so
they didn't kick you out, and at the same time be a really strong reporter?" >> well, i just... you had to walk a pretty straight line. and it's the one thing the ap does the best. i mean, it kind of sort of balanced balanced reporting and neutral language. when the cubans would get upset with our reportage, which happened occasionally, it was usually because of the tone, or because... or if there was an error of fact. i mean, if there was error of fact we always corrected, obviously. but the tone seemed to really kind of be a key... a key problem for them. >> hinojosa: now, a lot of americans, you know, are like, "well, what do you mean, the cubans would get upset?" so you actually... you'd get a phone call, and they would say things like, "ms. snow, we need you to come down to the press center, because we need to talk about that last piece you wrote." >> yes.
they call that a convocatoria. >> hinojosa: there's a name? >> yeah, you were convoked. >> hinojosa: you were convoked. >> to come down and have a chat about your story. >> hinojosa: and they'd have your story in front of them. >> they'd have your story, and they'd have it, you know... >> hinojosa: highlighted. >> they would have it highlighted, and we'd talk about it. which was fine, you know? i figure if i sign a story or somebody in my bureau writes the story, we can talk about it. i mean, i think we have to be responsible for what we sign our name on. so i was happy to talk to them abt it. i didn't always agree with them, and if i didn't agree with them i told them, you know, "i disagree." but we'd talk about it, you know? and i think they appreciated that. i mean, i think they appreciated that i wouldn't get defensive and i wouldn't get ornery, and i was willing to discuss everything. >> hinojosa: so did you have a situation where you were, as a journalist, kind of being watched? did you think, "okay, if i go out and i interview this person, there's a chance that the cuban
government or officials will come and clamp down on this person because they spoke to a reporter"? was that kind of your daily... or was that not how you operated on a daily basis? >> it depended on who you were talking to and what you were talking to them about. for instance, when we'd go interview elizardo sanchez, who is a very well-known dissident, and he's a veteran human rights activist, there's a guy who sits in a car right out in front of his house. >> hinojosa: really? >> yeah. he's, like, right there. >> hinojosa: oh, my god. >> and i remember going to see elizardo, and i'd see the guy, and i'd say, "hey, how's it going?" and he would, like, look at me like this, right? but it's... i mean, it was really obvious, at least with the dissidents. now, we assumed that we were being monitored too, but in our case it wasn't so obvious. but we'd just have to assume that they were keeping an eye on... >> hinojosa: well, let's talk about what that's like. because if you're an american, american living in cuba, and if you're an american journalist
living in cuba, you were being watched. you were being spied on. >> we assumed. >> hinojosa: i mean, you assumed. >> we assumed, yeah. >> hinojosa: what does that do to you, when you're thinking, "okay, well, this guy is parking my car, but is he really just parking my car, or is he..." you know, or, "the woman who's cleaning my house, is she really cleaning my house, or is she picking up..." did that... did you let that get into your head, about the fact that that's your life in havana? >> well, i mean, i was cognizant of it, and quite frankly i did see a lot of people write down my car license plates at different parking lots and stuff. they would... you know, that was sort of a matter of course. i mean, i remember going to the clinic, the health clinic for foreigners, and every car that was parked down there they'd write down their license plate, every single one. >> hinojosa: we talked about the fact that you assumed that your phone line was being tapped. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: but when you think about what's happening in the
united states, or what was happening during the ten years when you were living in havana, and now you kind of come back and you're like, "hmm, americans were being eavesdropped on by their own government, too." >> i was being... actually, when i was in mexico... i actually got proof that i was being bugged when i lived in mexico when i was cering chiapas. i had a guy from telmex check it out for me, and he said i was being bugged from three different sources. >> hinojosa: so how do you operate as a journalist like that? >> well, you can still make your calls and do reporting. i don't really care. i'm not doing anything wrong. they're already going to know who i talk to, because i'm going to publish the stories. and if they want to listen to all my boring conversations with my sister, you know, whatever. i mean, and then just after a while you just get used to it, because if you worry about it, you waste a lot of time worrying about it. >> hinojosa: okay, but is there a psychological... now that you have a little bit of distance... you left havana several months ago. now you're living in cambridge. with a little bit of distance, do you look and say, "wow, i
really was affected by my time in cuba"? or are you thinking, "wow, i really miss cuba," you know? i mean, what's the balance for you? >> i think i was really affected by my time in cuba, just kind of worn out. >> hinojosa: can you tell me about that? >> yeah, you know, i came here... you know, i came to cambridge for this fellowship at harvard, which is fantastic. >> hinojosa: the nieman fellowip. >> the neiman fellowship. and, like, the first few weeks i was here i slept all the time. i was just exhausted. you know, because it was a lot of hard work for a lot of long years. >> hinojosa: there was, like, an emotional, a psychological exhaustion? >> yeah, i think that was part of it, too. and physical, you know? it's just like... i don't know. covering a place like cuba, you're kind of waiting for the big story all the time, you know? you know, we're watching fidel, you know, because everybody's
like, "when..." you know, "when fidel dies, it's going to be a big story." the problem is, it's not an adrenaline story. it's not like going to afghanistan, or covering a story where you have adrenaline that keeps you going. so it's a little bit... it becomes wearing on you. i mean, you don't have the adrenaline to keep you going, so after a while you start getting kind of burned out, really. >> hinojosa: and you as a reporter took some amazing challenges. i mean, again, you are a rock star in terms of international reporters. >> oh, thank you. >> hinojosa: but there are a lot of people who also can't stand anita snow. >> that's true. >> hinojosa: huge critics. one of the things that you did was in the year 2007, you decided to live on the same exact food rations and salary as if you were a regular cuban. paint that picture for us. what does that look like? like, help americans who are watching this understand what that looks like. >> well, you know, i had thought about it for a while, you know? and i remember talking... you
know, we talked about it. some of the other reporters, we talked about it. and a lot of people were afraid to do it, because they were afraid they were going to be criticized, because they knew, you know? and i thought about it, but i thought, "you know, wouldn't it be interesting?" because the thing is you can't really appreciate... and i don't pretend to appreciate totally how a cuban lives. but i think it was the one area of their life where you could try to get kind of a sense of what a cuban has to go to to eat every day. and it's not easy. >> hinojosa: just being a regular cuban who's not... who doe't have access to dollars coming in from family, so just surviving on the cuban peso and trying to eat every day. you spend how much of your day, let's say, on a daily basis, dealing with, like, "where am i going to get it, how am i going to buy it, where am i going to find it?" >> well, i did it for a month, and i spent a couple hours every day at this.
you know, because you have to go to lots of different places to get stuff. >> hinojosa: it's not like you can go to the corner grocery store. >> no, there isn't a corner grocery store. i mean, there might be... there might be a small store with, like, some of the stuff you need, but not all of the stuff, you know? and then you have to go to the farmers market, and then you ahve to go to the... you know, the place where you would get your ration. actually, that's in a couple of different places. >> hinojosa: you go with your little book. >> uh-huh. >> hinojosa: and they check off... >> well, i didn't have a book, but that's what cubans do. >> hinojosa: right, right. and they just check off what they gave you, this much rice. >> exactly. >> hinojosa: so were you hungry? >> i don't know if i had real hunger, but i had yearnings for lots of different things i wasn't eating, including meat, because didn't eat hardly any meat for a month. and eggs get kind of boring after... eggs and beans. >> hinojosa: but the whole food thing in havana... i mean, one of the things that makes it hard for you also is the fact that you had... even though it was hard work as a journalist in havana, you had an okay life.
you lived in an amazing penthouse that looked over, you know, the ocean. it was your kind of getaway. but how do you really, then, understand the lives of cubans, who would say, "bye, anita, i'll see you later," and you knew that they were going back to, you know, an apartment where maybe six people were all crammed together, where their futures were completely unclear. how'd you deal with that? >> i don't think a foreigner could ev fully understand the life of a cuban, unless they move into their house, i suppose. >> hinojosa: and are cuban people... there's a lot of talk about... you know, there's a tremendous amount of joy in cuba, and there is. but also in my notes i wrote down, "what about depression of the cuban people?" >> cubans are pretty cheerful people generally. they're very sort of a musical people. they sing a lot, and, i mean,
just walking down the street, it's just a very musical society. the music there is fantastic. >> hinojosa: did you find the cuban people to be open and welcoming? >> oh, yeah, they're very open. they're very curious about foreigners. you know, strangers will just come up and start talking to you and want to know all about you and stuff. >> hinojosa: and on the whole, would you say that theuban people... hard to generalize, but on the whole, would you say that they are well educated, very well educated, you know, not so well educated, aware of the world? >> i think they're pretty well educated. i think they... you know, a lot of cubans now have access to illegal satellite tv. and of course they're in contact with their relatives abroad, so they're pretty well informed. >> hinojosa: in fact, this is from one of your articles. you said that the cuban government faces a kind of opposition of sorts from rappers, gays, dissident
bloggers, private satellite dish installers, and women with tattoos and belly pierces. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: there's this undercurrent of... what would you call it in cuba? is it resistance, is it... what is it? >> well, there are people who aren't totally with the program. they're not really dissidents per se. i mean, in our society we might just consider them normal people, really. and they're people who want a... they want something more. >> hinojosa: they're essentially tired of seeing... >> they want some options, i think. i think that's really what people want. they want some options. they mostly want economic options. >> hinojosa: and it's not like they're all looking to leave cuba as soon as possible. >> no. >> hinojosa: people like their country. >> yeah. i mean, i think they'd like to be able to leave and come back. i mean, it's not like everybody's scrambling to get out of there and never come back ever. i mean, i think they'd like to be able to leave and see their family in miami, or wherever
they may be, and come back, and leave and come back, and leave and come back, like any other country. >> hinojosa: so what's the more important story that you're kind of following now? is the more important story what the obama administration is doing in terms of opening up relations with cuba, or is the story what's happening internally with cuba? when will fidel pass away? what will happen when he passes away? what will happen to raul castro and who kind of succeeds him? so which are you kind of watching most right now? >> i actually think the obama administration has the power to promote change in cuba more quickly than perhaps even raul castro by its policies toward cuba. perhaps opening up travel to all americans, for instance, which is now banned. the obama administration has made good on his campaign
promises to open up travel, full travel, for cuban americans living in the united states to visit their family. >> hinojosa: which is extraordinary. >> which is extraordinary, which is actually more important than i think a lof of people realize. but most americans still can't travel there. so i think if more americans started traveling there, that could create an impact. >> hinojosa: so when you were in havana, you saw a lot of americans in havana and the rest of cuba. who are they? what kind of americans are going down to cuba? >> well, there were more coming... there were more going there during the clinton administration, and a lot of people came. a lot of people came. they came with little league groups, they came with alumni groups from universities, they came... they came on tours of... you know, architectural tours, salsa dancing classes.
they're just people who are interested in seeing the place. >> hinojosa: and when you have these groups of americans going into cuba like that, i mean, it seems kind of simple. it's like, "well, you know, a little league comes." can that change? can that help actually transform what's going on in cuba? and how? >> well, i think the contacts between cubans and americans. i remember even watching some of these little league teams play, and it was incredible. like, they would make friends. the little boys would make friends, and they'd trade t-shirts, and they'd talk to each other. and cubans got a sense of what americans are like, and kind of what our ideals are, perhaps. as far as i know, americans were never prevented from going to soviet union or east bloc countries. now, i may be wrong about that, but i... as far as i know, that was never a problem. >> hinojosa: so, the embargo.
there are a lot of people in cuba who say if the embargo is lifted, that would be a huge problem for the cuban government. because what you hear in cuba day after day, and you saw it with the big posters that are everywhere in the streets of havana, which, you know... el bloqueo, the embargo, is the worst thing that the yankee imperialists are doing to cuba. what would happen if president obama just said, "you know what, the embargo's gone, free trade between these two countries"? >> it would remove the communist government's excuse for all the problems that exist. i think that's the biggest thing it would do. now, once it's gone, or once... if it's gone, the cuban government can control the trade. they can decide whether to import and export, obviously. but if the bloqueo, as they say, is gone, their biggest excuse for l their economic problems is gone, too.
>> hinojosa: and then what happens? >> well, then everybody's going to say, "but why is there a problem?" >> hinojosa: like, if we can't... >> "why are there shortages? why can't i find toilet paper," right? and then you're not going to have an answer for that. yeah, they aren't going to have an answer for that. >> hinojosa: now, cuba is... i mean, a lot of people have this fascination, and it really is extraordinary, and i've been lucky enough to have gone to havana several times. one of my top five favorite cities in the world. people have an image of a place that, you know, is kind of in this moment in time, hasn't transformed. you've got the 1950s automobiles. but in fact, there's a lot of stuff that's happening. you have international businesspeople in cuba, they're making a killing, essentially-- the brits, the mexicans, the spaniards, the germans, the canadians, the australians. everybody except for the united states. >> that's true. i mean, there are... well, actually, i do know a few americans there, and i'm not quite sure how they've been able to get around that.
>> hinojosa: who are doing a little bit of... >> yeah. >> hinojosa: ...business situations. >> yeah, i was always curious about that, like, "how's that possible?" yeah, there are foreign business folks there. there aren't that many. and of course, you know, the cuban government can control that, too, because it can control foreign investment, you know? it has lots of ways to put brakes on stuff. i mean, even if americans are given carte blanche by the us government to travel to cuba, the cuban government can control that as well with visas. it doesn't have to accept every single american tourist who wants to get on a plane or a boat or... >> hinojosa: all right, so what do you know of in terms of raul castro, who is now in power, 76 years old. you and i both... >> 78. >> hinojosa: 78 years old, oh, my gosh. boy, that was fast. okay, and you and i both, as journalists, equally upset about the fact that raul castro gives his first interview to an
american, and it happens to be sean penn. but what is raul castro.... what's his plan? i mean, is there going to be a difference there or not? >> wl, he'done a few things. they've been relatively minor. i get the sense that he would like to open things up a little bit econom... you know, in the economic arena. he's said to admire the china model, or perhaps even the vietnamese model. but i think that's been stopped by the presence of his brother, fidel castro, who's still alive, and then the old guard, which kind of back up fidel. but he has done a few things. i think one of the things that's sort of been overlooked, which i consider to be extremely important, was when he got rid of this ban on cubans being able to stay at hotels, tourist
hotels and tourist resorts, because that was a really sore point for a lot of cubans. >> hinojosa: well, because it was like apartheid within your own country, right? >> right. but that's gone now. in fact, in the first few weeks, there are a few journalists who have offices over at the hotel nacional, and one of them went to chat, and about half of the people staying at the hotel were cubans. >> hinojosa: oh, my god. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: just because they could, they wanted to stay in the hotel nacional. >> "oh, let's go stay in the hotel now." >> hinojosa: so this image, fidel castro passes away, and there's havoc in havana, and, you know, the cubans who live in the united states are going to rush back into cuba, this is a picture that is not real. >> no, that's not real. >> hinojosa: what's it really going to look like? >> it's going to look like a big state funeral. it's going to look like a big state funeral, it's going to be a lot of heads of state. it'll be very sort of dignified
and formal. and... >> hinojosa: but no protests out on the street, like... >> no, cubans don't do that. they just don't. they don't get out pots and pans. they just don't do that. i mean, this idea that people have, it's not real. >> hinojosa: and the relationship of the cuban people to fidel, i've always found this very interesting. it's like they're tired of him, because he's been around for so, so, so long, they dislike a lot of things that he represents, but they also don't necessarily walk around saying, "i hate..." i mean... >> well, they don't walk around saying, "i wish he was dead." well, a few people do. not that many. but he's... you know, he's like their dad or their uncle or their... you know, their annoying uncle. you know, the guy you see at christmas, you know? like... >> hinojosa: again and again. >> you know, sometimes he gives you a a headache, but he's your uncle, you know? you don't say, "oh, i wish uncle jorge would die." i mean, nobody does that, right? >> hinojosa: i suppose not.
so it's hard to predict, but give a sense... okay, fidel passes, raul castro, 78, passes. then what? >> oh, that's a good question. i've been thinking about that a lot lately. there's no one person i see. i think the military might start taking a bigger role. >> hinojosa: and what does that mean? i mean, is that a positive thing? >> it could be. >> hinoja: really? >> yeah, it could be. i think there are some reforming elements in the military. the military plays a pretty big role in the economy now. and the companies some of these former military guys run are run extremely efficiently. but i'm not sure, like, what form the government would be in. i mean, i don't know if it would necessarily be a military junta. but i do think the military
would take a stronger role. i mean, the military is really the strongest institution that exists in cuba. more so than the communist party, i would say. >> hinojosa: all right, so we've got one minute left. let me ask you this question-- you think of cuba, do you think of optimism, potential, hope, you know, creativity, possibility, or do you think of cuba and think, "another decade or two of really rough times for the people there?" >> oh, i'd like to be optimistic for the cuban people. you know, i'm really fond of the cuban people. i spent a lot of time there, and i just..i me, i don't think it'll happen as fast as a lot of people would want, but i think it's going to happen. i do think things are going to open up there eventually. you know, and i think people deserve a chance, people deserve some options. >> hinojosa: all right, and we'll see if anita snow makes it back to havana or not. thanks for joining us, anita. a real pleasure.