Cuban-Americans dream up newspapers for a capitalist future

BN-IL421_cuba3_G_20150515175203HAVANA, May 26  Okay, so they might be dreaming a little. But three Cuban-American newspaper designers have seized upon the new, warmer relations between the two countries to imagine what newspapers might look like in the capitalist Cuba of their fantasies.

Mario Garcia, Ana Lense Larrauri, and Nuri Ducassi, who all emigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as children, came up with more than a dozen prototype designs for three different varieties of newspapers: a photo-heavy middle-class newspaper, a downmarket tabloid filled with gossip, and an English-language paper aimed at tourists and expats.

The designs are colorful and resolutely capitalist, with front-page ads for Target and Home Depot, splashy photos imagining Hillary Clinton and Pope Francis visiting the island, and another one featuring the best carnivals to visit.

“Something is in the air,” says Mario Garcia, head of a media consulting firm, who has designed more than 700 newspapers. “We figured it would be great to let our imaginations run.” When Mr. Garcia reached out to his friends, Ms. Larrauri, a designer with the Miami Herald, and Ms. Ducassi, creative director for the Toronto Star, he said both leaped at the chance. “We had fun anticipating what could be,” he says.

BN-IL427_hilcub_CV_20150515181153The newspapers are colorful and lively. Diario Rampa, the middle-class newspaper designed by Ms. Ducassi, would be a free metropolitan weekly. The inspiration for the paper’s name was the famous main east-west thoroughfare of central Havana. And a blue-and-white mural on the wall of the Havana Hilton, today called the Havana Libre, by the avant-garde artist Amelia Pelaez, was the inspiration for the paper’s logo.

One page has a half-page photograph of Pope Francis, just above an advertisement for Target. Another fabricates a cover story marking one year after the end of the U.S. embargo against Cuba (which, for the record, hasn’t officially happened yet). Then there’s the page that describes “la presidenta estadounidense Hillary Clinton en visita oficial a la Habana,” or the first state visit from a future President Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Garcia’s example, Cuba Hoy or Cuba Today, was aimed more at the supermarket tabloid market. Every society needs a paper with “silly stories, entertainment, gossip, survival tips, good classified, and short texts,” he says. Cuba Hoy also boasts ads for McDonald’s, recipes for chicken, and a story about a Carmen Miranda revival.

BN-IL425_havana_CV_20150515180941Ms. Larrauri’s paper, called Havana 24/7, would be aimed at the English-speaking market, including tourists, expats, and diplomats. That version is dotted with ads for Home Depot and Target. “Don’t you have an aunt in New Jersey? 12 daily flights Havana to New York,” proclaims the ad for American Airlines. The stories feature the launch of the drive service Uber, a cigar festival, a jazz festival, and a boxing tournament.

“The way I approached it was that they’ve had 50 years of a lot of heavy political news,” says Ms. Larrauri. “I’d like to see something light and feature-y, cultural, and educational.”

As for the project itself, “we poured our heart and souls into it,” says Ms. Larrauri. “It’s in our DNA and it’s been a personal fantasy of mine for decades.”

BN-IL428_havana_CV_20150515181314The next step would be getting the prototypes seen in Cuba, says Mr. Garcia. All would eventually also have digital versions, but “I think that at the start of the new Cuba – if it ever comes – would be a revival of print on the island with people devouring stories not related to politics and the Communist party line.”

Mr. Garcia helped design new newspapers after the 1989 end of communism in the Czech Republic. “At the time many reporters interviewed me and told me it was such a juxtaposition to have a Cuban who escaped communism to have the ultimate capitalist weapon,” he says.

Now, he says, it’s Cuba’s turn. “I’ve been so busy being an American that the Cuban in me is sort of dormant.” Now, though, he thinks, “This is really happening and I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime.”

Ms. Ducassi agrees. “Inside every Cuban-American journalist, you have to say, my God, why can I not be doing this in my homeland, where I was born?” she asks.

The biggest hurdle, of course, still looms. Mario Garcia says, “The first thing would be to have freedom of the press for titles like this.”