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Cuban Journalists are in No-Man’s Land

Cuban Journalists are in No-Man’s Land / Ivan Garcia
Posted on November 3, 2015

Ivan Garcia, 31 October 2015 — It seems much time has passed since the
’80s, when a stern official from State Security, dressed in civilian
clothing, solemnly intimidated us, a group of fresh youngsters, who were
studying at La Vibora’s pre-university.

I was 16 years old. I don’t remember having felt more fear in my life
than that afternoon, when the agent showed us his document with a red
stamp and green lettering: DSE. The initials of the feared Department of
State Security.

The guy manipulated our youthful fear like an expert. Perhaps he learned
that in a KGB counterintelligence academy, or in the STASI of Marcus Wolf.

He asked for discretion from the school director, known as “the Fly,”
more intransigent than an Afghani Taliban. And he led us half-dozen kids
with intellectual airs like a submissive flock toward the school library.

Our crime was watching movies and documentaries not shown in Cuba on
Betamax videos, reading the prohibited books of Mario Vargas Llosa and
Jorge Luis Borges and brushing up on Herberto Padilla’s poems.

The severe reprimands still resound in my ears. Some of us were crying
and others were begging for forgiveness for their “sins.” The man, like
someone all-powerful, waited to hear my plea for clemency.

I don’t know how I armed myself with valor before such authority, but
with a trembling voice I let out a tirade about personal liberty and
reading what one wanted.

“Can you imagine what would happen if your mother heard about this?”
(She was an official journalist.)* What you’re reading is
counter-revolutionary, and in Borges’ case leans toward Pinochet’s
dictatorship,” the political policeman told me.

Before the “evidence” and, fearing that my mother would know, I also
called up a mea culpa. Some years later, in 1991, I was detained for 15
days in a walled cell in Villa Marista**. Probably my libertarian
sedition cost my mother her job at the Cuban Institute of Radio and
Television (ICRT) and in 1995, she left official journalism to write for
Cuba Press, an alternative press agency.

She had a catharsis: after 20 years of being an independent journalist
in Havana, she knew about the pressure that all those who disagree with
the Regime’s narrative suffer.

There are two paths to take: suffer or shut up. And two ways out:
continue living in your country like a zombie or scurry off to another
nation. One is free to choose. No one has to be a martyr.

In Cuba there are laws that sentence you to 20 or more years in prison
for writing without permission. But the times are different, even if the
same people are in power.

The Castros’ autocracy has passed from being a totalitarian system,
where the State controlled the flow of information, cinema, literature
and any other intellectual facet with an iron fist, to an authoritarian
nation that is opening slowly, with one foot anchored behind the door.

The Soviet paranoia, the acts of repudiation — veritable verbal
lynchings — the wacky accusations and the shameful spewing of insults
directed at someone’s integrity still continue.

But the desire of many communicators to express their way of thinking
through a blog, a website or a digital newspaper has grown thanks to the
new technologies.

When, at the end of the ’80s, ex-State reporters like Rolando Cartaya
and Tania Díaz Castro started spreading the news generated by pro-human
rights groups, they defined a road that Indamiro Restano, Rafael Solano
and Raúl Rivero would follow later.

In an error of calculation, Fidel Castro’s government thought that
incarcerating 27 free journalists in March 2003 would curtail the
independent press. What happened was the opposite: it multiplied.

Now there are dozens who, on their own and at daily risk, report from
every province. Furthermore, official journalists have to take into
account the fact that these reporters collaborate with the foreign
media. Or they are like Elaine Díaz, who has founded her own weekly,
Journalism from the Barrio.

The difference between writing freely and editing boring news about
supposed economic growth is abysmal. In their eagerness to head off the
alternative bloggers who were led by Yoani Sánchez, the Regime
authorized official and professional journalists to open blogs.

The plan was to create on the Internet a sphere for the Battle of
Ideas***. It generated a full network of bloggers. There are those who
are trained and vitriolic. Others are respectfully obstinate and
convinced about the oliive-green Revolution. Or they are critical about
the state of things, although their intent is to perfect the System.

But autonomy and liberal thinking engender distrust in a country where
the orientation always comes from a central command post. The Government
lost focus again.

There is no guided freedom or half-freedom. Binary education of
“revolutionaries” against “dissident mercenaries” is very simple. But in
the actual panorama of the Island, the “enemy” isn’t the dissident
movement. It’s the discontent of a large segment of Cubans because of
inefficient institutions, a crazy economy and corruption.

So journalists who are honest take their own pulse on reality. They
aren’t official or independent. They work for the people.

Iván García

Photo of Elaine Díaz taken from “Fear of the Rain,” one of the articles
with which Journalism from the Barrio had its debut, on October 18, 2015.

Translator’s notes:
*Tania Quintero Antúnez, who has lived in Switzerland as a political
refugee since 2003.
**Formerly a Catholic schools for boys, under the Revolution it became
(and remains) a prison, known for detaining political prisoners.
***Fidel Castro’s effort to reinforce his ideology and power.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Source: Cuban Journalists are in No-Man’s Land / Ivan Garcia |
Translating Cuba –
translatingcuba.com/cuban-journalists-are-in-no-mans-land-ivan-garcia/

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