Iván García, 25 October 2016 — Erasmo Calzadilla, a columnist for the Havana Times digital newspaper, is a controversial chap who listens to opposing arguments but but hangs on doggedly to his own opinions.
In a forum on Cuban journalism, organised by the IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) in Miami, Calzadilla ran into Luis Cino, an openly anti-Castro reporter, who lives very near to his house, in the the Eléctrico neighbourhood in south Havana.
In the panel discussion groups they came together with different political opinions, but united by the same aim — to improve journalism in a country where the government tries to transform it into an exercise in loyalty and bending the knee.
The IWPR forum was a complete success, as much as the Cuba Internet Freedom conference was, which took place the week before, also in Miami, and which was attended by reporters, bloggers and communicators from the island.
Nothing new was said they nobody knew before at the two events. But it is always good to point to the closed and locked doors which exist in Cuba in order to exercise free expression and write away from state controls.
Elaine Díaz is a journalist of the people and former professor of the Communication Faculty of the University of Havana, and now Director of Periodismo de Barrio (Neighbourhood Journalism), a freelance project which tries to publicise the thousand and one environmental problems suffered by Cubans living in remote communities. In the IWPR forum she summed up the discussion about independent and alternative journalism in one phrase, coined by ex-official journalists: “Journalism is journalism, and that’s all.”
Elaine, along with Carla Gloria Colomé, reporter for El Estornudo (the Sneeze), a nearly-new digital medium on the internet with an entertaining and relaxed angle on the national reality, and Marita Pérez Díaz, the editor of the digital On Cuba Magazine, goes for refined reporting, with light literary touches, when she comes to describing the daily life of ordinary Cubans.
There is also talent on the other side of the street. Men and women born in different provinces, seasoned reporters from the barricades, with experience of reporting from the streets and writing op-eds. There were Ernesto Pérez Chang, Regina Coyula and Augusto César San Martín, politely greeting each other.
Standing on the periphery of the media they were representing, the participants passionately defended their points of view and journalistic priorities. At the end of the debates, they chatted, took photos and talked about their future projects.
A newspaper column pointing out the repressive nature of the Castro brothers’ regime, can be as effective as an article or report written in the east of the island, particularly following the passage of Hurricane Matthew through Baracoa, Imías and Maisí, among other towns in Guantánamo.
Taking their different routes, each one transmits a message there and back. Cuba needs to change, depoliticising differences of judgement, accepting the rules of democracy, and respecting freedom of expression.
Of course, it isn’t a perfect objective, particularly when we look at the Latin American panorama with its dysfunctional “democracies”, galloping corruption, and governments coming and going, plundering public funds, and where democracy is sometimes a dirty word. It seems to me that one way or another the reporters present at the IWPR forum and at the Cuba Internet Freedom conference, were agreed about respect for differences.
Apart from the participation of prestigious journalists such as Verónica Calderón, who writes in Spanish in The New York Times, and the editor of Political Animal, who always provide interesting material for Cuban reporters, the most important thing, in terms of the meeting supported by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, was different writers getting together under the same roof, without any hysterics, or anyone being verbally attacked or being kicked out.
Nothing like the government’s stance of physical attacks or intolerant comments to those in opposition or reporters who speak out. Right now, there are bad times ahead for the profession in Cuba.
Opinion pieces from reporters writing under orders, and official ventriloquists, paint a dismal picture. They have gone back to frenzied attacks, some of them directed at colleagues from the state press, just because of a wish to depict Cuba in flesh and blood.
There are even reporters who have preferred to abandon their calling, before they become conspirators in carrying out their work in a way which they would find uncomfortable. That is what Yarislay García Montero did, who is now selling coffee and croquettes in Matanzas, where he was born. “Media analysis was going off in one direction while real life was going off in another. I think our journalism is merely partisan, working in an infantile manner, avoiding any conflict, in spite of the quantity of it which occurs on the street”, he says on the El Toque website.
The spiral of threats, malicious lies and repressive methods can put off many journalists from reporting the national reality with all its nuances. In a system like the Cuban one, the word is mightier than the bullet. That is why the regime is trying to silence them.
Photo: Panel working on independent Cuban journalism, at the Cuba INternet Freedom conference on September 12th and 13th in Wynwood, Miami. Right to left: Miram Celaya, Ignacio González, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, Rachel Vázquez, Iván García and Luis Felipe Rojas. Taken from Babalú Blog.
Translated by GH