A Cuban-style "consumer-action" column has brightened up the generally dull Communist Party newspaper Granma and has even been used to force bureaucrats to account for their mistakes and inefficiency.
The column, titled "By Return Mail," is widely read and commented on in this nation where most journalism in confined to straightforward narrations of official events and speeches.
Since the column was started in 1975, it has been involved in tracking down misplaced equipment, lost railroads cars, abandoned state-owned vehicles and thousands of stacks of imported chemcials and grains that had been forgotten.
Readers are invited to blow the whistle on inefficient administrators and managers, reporting cases of negligence and waste. The newspaper then sends out a team of reporters to investigate.
Recently, according to Reynold Rassi, a member of the column's staff, it has recently begun demanding "accountability," that is, the fixing of responsibility for the abuses that are uncovered.
Just last week, an investigation initiated by the column led to the dismissal of three high officials of Havana's Sanitation Department. The officials were dismissed after a reader reported that two department vehicles were abandoned for months on a street.
While the column's reporters have no special authority, their work has impact because it tacitly carries the authority of the Community Party.
One letter to the column that caused a lot of talk around Havana came from a Gen. Leyva, vice minister of the Ministry of the Interior, Cuba's national police. He criticized traffic officers and others for "negligence and insensitivity in failing to crack down on government functionaries who violate laws."
The column also deals with less weighty matters, such as complaints about taxi drivers who refuse to stop for passengers.
The column has been so successful that Havana's other daily paper, Juventud Rebelde, the newspaper of the Young Communists' League, has started a similar feature.
The column, a veteran Cuban reporter said, "is encouraging people to write in about what they know and it has lots of bureaucrats scurrying to clean up their houses.
The consumer's column appears to be part of a broader effort by the Cuban government to increase public participation in the running of the country.
Under the new consitution discussed and voted on last year, for example, elected "people's power" assemblies must have meetings with their constituents at established intervals.
Meetings so far have been characterized by enthusiastic, voluble and critical participation from large numbers of citizens.
The role of the press here, once thought to be confined to teaching Marxist ideology and values, has been debated by high-level officials and President Fidel Castro has told foreign visitors that the Cuban press needs improvement.
Previoulsy, most criticism of how the country is run came in Castro's long speeches. In fact, the idea for the new column may have come from remarks by Castro in 1970 when he blamed the country's leaders for failing to meet important economic goals and called for mass participation in the detection and solution of everyday problems.