AFP Says Cubans Fleeing Island for US, Merely 'Depart' Not Defect

January 1st, 2009 11:22 PM
Apparently, for Agence France-Presse, desperate Cubans who flee the Castro brothers’ island prison don’t escape or defect, they merely “depart.”   

It wasn’t merely a poorly-chosen headline stating, “Two top players depart Cuba in a bid to play in US." The whitewash was mirrored in the December 29 article, and the bias wasn’t confined to careful language manipulation.  AFP also minimized the escape by framing it as a simple desire to get rich quick in America with a fat Major League Baseball contract. There was no mention of the harsh realities of Cuban life or the possibility that maybe they also wanted more than six ounces of chicken or ten eggs a month to eat (all emphasis mine, image of Yadel Marti via AFP):

Cuban pitcher Yadel Marti and outfielder Yasser Gomez have departed their Communist island homeland in a bid to launch Major League Baseball careers, ESPN reported on Monday on its website.
Players who become available through such nations as the Dominican Republic are free agents and available to the highest bidder among the 30 North American clubs rather than having their rights assigned in a draft like US collegians.

There was no explanation why Cubans need to sneak off of the island or why people like Marti and Gomez are punished after a failed escape attempt. Instead, the article presented a picture of greedy baseball players who “departed” Cuba looking for a MLB cash cow. 

Language matters to the media. News services frequently debate word usage and the controversy over the terrorist/insurgent/militant/gunman kerfuffle continues today. AFP chose to use “depart” and “departed,” which leave the impression that there are no obstacles when Cubans try to leave the country and no oppression, instead of the more accurate (and detracting) words such as “defect” or “flee.” 

AFP didn’t need to swing in the opposite direction and rail against the injustices in Cuba, but the French news agency ignored the underlying conditions and indicated the pair were motivated by only the desire for a Supersized McMansion and a Black Card. Perhaps they just wanted to be able to buy all the toilet paper and potatoes they wished and access to constant electricity.

In the penultimate paragraph, AFP did use the “e-word”—escape—but again missed an opportunity to provide vital background information:

Gomez, 28, and Marti were teammates for Industriales of Havana but each [were] dropped for the current national series over serious infractions by Cuban baseball officials.

ESPN reported that Marti and Gomez were banned from Cuban baseball after being caught with others trying to board a boat to escape Cuba.

Although they danced around it, nowhere did AFP explain that it is illegal for Cubans to leave their country without the government’s rarely-granted permission, nor did AFP find it necessary to reveal why Cuba’s legal system didn’t punish the players--baseball officials did. I guess highlighting the island’s totalitarian government control over all aspects of Cuban life might ruin its image as a tropical Shangri La.

AFP chose a narrative of greed, not flight from an authoritarian regime with no civil rights. Next time, how about a bit more reporting and fewer fairy tales?

Lynn contributes to NewsBusters and can be reached at tvisgoodforyou (AT) yahoo (DOT) com (substitute the proper symbols in the parentheses for email)