After participating in a workshop about investigative journalism in San Diego, California from November 10 to 14, Ivan Garcia spent four days in Miami. During his stay in that city a reporter from Diario de las Americas — a Miami-based Spanish-language newspaper for which he has been a contributor since January of 2013 — did an interview with him which was prominently featured in both the publication’s digital and print editions.
Ivan Garcia, an independent Cuban journalist who writes for Diario de las Americas from Havana, notes that “there has been a change in Cuba” in terms of the types of repression that government agents use against those who dissent from the official line.
Garcia, who covers the grittier aspects of daily life in his country, admitted that the strategy of the Cuban government with respect to the dissident community “is difficult to understand.” He notes, “Some such as members of Martha Beatriz Roca’s group, who live in the provinces and don’t even have enough to eat, are being repressed very severely. These are the worst cases precisely because they are less well-known.”
“But for people like Yoani (Sanchez) and me, who write for well-known publications, we cannot say that we are being repressed, especially not since 2013 when they started granting travel permits.”
Garcia admits that working as an independent journalist means ignoring many of the rules of journalism. “I cannot introduce myself as a journalist to the people who provide the material for my stories. I hang out with and talk to hookers, drug dealers, people from the ‘other Havana.’ I practice another form of journalism because Cuba is a different country.”
He recognizes that the government’s changed attitude towards people like him who write about Cuba for independent foreign news media — even for media outlets such as Radio Martí and TV Martí — is something independent journalists have now but did not have in previous eras when they were subject to beatings or years of imprisonment.
“Many of the things they have been allowing, which might seem like openings and which the regime presents as change, is something independent journalists and opposition figures in Cuba have been asking for since the 1990s,” he says.
The Cuban government’s emigration reform law passed in 2013 makes it possible for many dissidents and most Cuban citizens to travel overseas. For some, however, the frequent trips abroad by members of the opposition are an indication that the government has become dismissive of the role they play.
“This means opponents have to find ways to get stronger politically. Since people began travelling almost two years ago, the only thing we hear about when someone comes back from visiting these places is what they were able to buy.”
Garcia believes the dissident community has been unable to find a political voice on the international stage while at the same time when the government has gained attention for its purported reforms. “It seems to me that in politics two years is enough time. I don’t think anything has been achieved. I feel I have to right to raise some questions because I think the dissident movement represents me,” he says.
The reporter, who has been subject to criticism for exposing the political situation and social degradation of his country, says many in Cuba have been deceived.
“People are tired of the Castros and the embargo, which in Cuba is called the ‘blockade’ because the government uses it as an excuse to explain why nothing works. But they don’t trust the dissidents either. The most compelling dissidents might be the Ladies in White but all the reports of internal divisions within the group have hurt their image.
“The other thing is that society has become fragmented. People have been leaving the country for three generations and this has resulted in a big intellectual gap in every speciality, in every field of knowledge and science. And people will keep choosing to emigrate as long as things are bad economically,” he adds.
In spite of this bleak analysis, however, Garcia believes that Cuba is bound to change. “I have no way of knowing this for sure but I think the country will move from a totalitarian regime to a society where democracy gets introduced little by little,” he says.
He adds that “any future American president, whether Democrat or Republican, will have to try negotiating with Cuba once the Castros are gone. By then we will have seen if there is a dissident who can assume political leadership in a democracy, someone with a serious position, because right now there are a lot of lies.”
For Garcia, the prominent dissidents from the 1990s such as Vladimiro Roca, Martha Beatriz and Félix Bonne among others have not only grown older but “can no longer count on support from the U.S. government — which is to say resources and money — because Washington is banking on the new generation.”
“One of our problems as Cubans is that we have no respect for historical memory. We climb ahead by trampling over corpses. This should not be. There were others who came before us and others before them who were executed by the regime.”
According to Garcia, beyond regime change and the need for a political restructuring, the Cuban situation “requires a period of social recovery that will take about five or six generations because the value system does not exist as can be seen by the absence of even a vocabulary for it among younger Cubans.”
“The impoverishment of Cuba means a girl goes to bed with a man for a beer and is applauded for it. This is really what we do not know how to overcome. It is also a fact that the worship of money distracts people from confronting important issues like the violation of their own rights,” he adds.
Garcia points out that he has been witnessing with increasing frequency any number of Cubans — mostly young people — preparing to travel illegally to the United States in the hopes of benefitting from the Cuban Adjustment Act.
“It has to be amended. To me it no longer makes any sense. Refugee status should be reserved for those who actually suffer from political persecution, not for those who seek protection from the Adjustment Act only to return to the island the next year, which they supposedly had to flee due to political problems.”
“The same thing happens with the law that provides protection to those who arrive on land but returns those Cubans who are intercepted at sea (known as the drive-foot wet-foot policy). This strikes me as being pathetic, not to mention all the deaths it has caused. The Florida Straights is the biggest cemetery in the world.”
This trip to the United States was the first foreign trip in Garcia’s entire life and, although he sees an uncertain future for his country, he concludes, “I don’t see myself anywhere else but Cuba. I believe it is the place I belong. In spite of everything, I like my country.”
Iliana Lavastida Rodríguez, Diario las Américas, November 25, 2014
Photo: Ivan at the Diario las América, on Monday Nov. 17, 2014. distributed through Twitter with the caption: “The great @DesdeLaHabana showing us his from Cuba on a visit to us.”