Press Workshop in San Diego / Ivan Garcia


In early October, when I was invited to a workshop on investigative journalism at a university in San Diego, the first thing I did was search the internet for background information on those courses.

I knew that the speakers were superior.  It’s not every day that an independent Cuban journalist has the opportunity to dialogue with reporters from the US of high caliber, some of them Pulitzer Prize winners.

I confess that I had an attack of skepticism when I saw the schedule for the workshop.  The presentations dealt with the border conflict between Mexico and the United States, new technological tools for investigative journalism, and how to approach reporting on health and the environment in a creative and entertaining way. continue reading

How would I be able to combine those themes with the reality of my country, which for 56 years has been ruled by autocrats named Castro?  I was mindful also of the existence of a law which allows the sanctioning of an independent reporter with 20 years of incarceration, and that the internet is an expensive luxury.  In a country in which the average salary is 20 dollars a month, one hour of internet connection costs 5 dollars

With those doubts in place I enrolled in the workshop. Twenty-two colleagues from Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica and Cuba, all living in different contexts. Perhaps for the Venezuelans the realities are analogous. It was an honor to be the first Cuban to be invited by the Institute of the Americas at the University of California, San Diego.

I am one of those who believe that journalism is an occupation always open to new experiences. The workshop was designed in a meticulous manner. Denisse Fernandez, the assistant, was on top of every detail. From the accommodations to the transportation, even providing dinner at the hotel, foreseeing that my arrival in San Diego would be around midnight on a Sunday.

From the first presentation by reporter Andrew Becker, the workshop awoke my enthusiasm. To learn of the raw realities of the border of Tijuana, the emigration problems and drug trafficking seen from a new perspective was an impactful lesson.

I intend to adapt the tools I learned and the experiences narrated to the Cuban context. Although the cloister of the workshop presenters was not typical of academics seduced by Fidel Castro’s revolution, the state of affairs on the island obviously did not preoccupy them.

I had to repeatedly explain to them our reality. And why certain standards and tools of modern journalism are anachronisms in Cuba, where there is no requirement for an institution to disclose information or statistics.

Yes, certain web applications for use in investigative journalism were novel. But if I do not have internet access in my home, nor is there public access to the internet, not to mention that many websites are blocked, how can one use these tools?

“Can you imagine, ” I said to Lynne Walker, one of the most extraordinary journalists I have ever known, “If I were to ask my boss at Diary of the Americas for $2000 to cover a story, when they operate under a minimal budget?

“If I took eight weeks to report a story I would simply die of hunger. The independent journalism that is done in Cuba, in web pages that receive funding from foreign institutions or newspapers with scarce financial means would not allow that.

“They operate like meat grinders. You must constantly be submitting articles, and because there is no profitable business model, digital journalism becomes an establishment of survivors.”

Lynne listened to my arguments with patience. Smiling she replied, “Then we submit to defeat. Will we be stopped by the fear of being murdered by a drug cartel in Tijuana, of being unemployed in Caracas, of being poorly paid or having no internet access in Cuba? It’s all about being creative. Overcoming barriers.  And always think big. Never accept a No. Those are the basic rules.”

Besides gaining new knowledge and learning new journalism techniques, the best part were the ties of friendship made with Latin American colleagues.  Because of the slightly egocentric mentality of many Cubans, we tend to believe that our political and social problems are the most severe in the world.

But you must modify your way of thinking when you meet reporters of interior Mexico who for months have had to operate with police escort because of narcotrafficking, or men like Columbian Fabio Posada who was chief of an investigative unit of the newspaper El Espectador, or John Jairo, who frequently receives death threats since reporting a story in Cucuta.

With the six Venezuelan reporters attending the workshop I shared an almost natural chemistry. They are now living through what we experienced in Cuba 56 years ago. The compadres of the PUSV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) intend to dismantle piece by piece democratic institutions and freedom of expression.

Certainly, Cuba continues to be substandard in the exercise of freedom of the press. But the rest of Latin America is not doing much better.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: The participants of the Investigative Journalism Workshop (November 10-14, 2014) display certificates earned on the last day. Taken from the blog Journalism of the Americas.

Trip report (IV)

 Translated by: Yoly from Oly

The Port of Mariel Has Gone to Shit / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The underwater rocks of the Cuban island platform are also gusanos (worms), as if in tribute to the 135,000 free Cubans who were saved from the Castros via the stampede through Mariel Harbor: Friends of the Castro regime, with all due respect and utmost distinction, it happens now that the super-freighters do not fit through the mouth of the Bay of Mariel, they simply cannot enter the autistic, isolated bay, so all the millions of dollars of corrupt investments from Venezuela, Brazil, China and Russia were in vain. The super-port of Mariel will only be a super-ghost. As fossil Fidel himself is. Thank you parasite rocks: on these stones we shall build a Cuba without Castro. Amen!

Translated by Yoly from Oly

7 December 2014

Congratulations: Free Trade of Agricultural Products / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By: Jeovany Jiménez Vega

The decision of Cuban authorities to ease restrictions on the commercializing of agricultural production (to be implemented in practice as outlined, it would be that and not a greater increase in “flexibility”) must be received with relief in both corners of the ring, for both producers and consumers; the first for obvious reasons, the latter because they are stake-holders from the first round at their local farmers markets. continue reading

The decision is logical; that is how every gesture aimed in the right direction should be received. Too many facts condemn the current scheme, directly responsible for thousands of failed crops; guilty of the discouragement of rural people (i.e. farmers) who no longer support the failure of agricultural systems that rot the harvest, and which are largely to blame for the exorbitant prices that leave me the consumer at the end of the chain without feathers and clucking. Over-centralization has led to nothing for decades and the persecution of producers and brokers has lead to only frustration and shortages and high food prices.

Although I will reserve my enthusiasm for when changes become concrete–forgive me those who forget that agricultural producers still live with the legal threat of “illicit enrichment” or “hoarding” hanging over their necks–I do believe that this proposal, now in the experimental phase limited to Artemis, Mayabeque and the capital Havana, if extended to the rest of the country depending on successful outcomes, could lead to an immediate stimulus to the production and trade of agricultural products with benefit to all in the very short term.

On this point I disagree with published studies that predict longer term benefits. Unlike other serious problems in this country such as housing for example, agriculture only requires an appropriate political will to remove barriers and in a few years we will see the rewards, as an example look to the politics of Xiao Pin in China.

Clearly when it is time to regulate and limit prices, the State should take a more responsible attitude to the politics of pricing imposed upon my people. If they require agricultural producers to restrain prices, the State should also restrain their prices that have so far been brutal. It is the State that is responsible for the perpetual extortion suffered by Cubans every time we walk into a store.

Only when actual prices fall to more justified and realistic levels, will the governing powers of this country have the moral justification to demand the same from private producers. Now it remains to be seen what directions are given to the pack of inspectors, from which we have become accustomed to expect nothing good when zero hour arrives.

Although to err is human, to continue the same errors is the failing of fools. This society cannot permit itself the luxury of continuing to ignore the lessons that life has given. It is inconceivable that where nature has provided ideal conditions for agriculture to flourish by the fertility of the soil and a favorable climate, our hands are tied due to man’s own stubbornness.

In order to enjoy success we should free ourselves of burdens, all bureaucratic obstacles preventable and absurd. Congratulations, finally for all that encourages and promotes new ways. We have hope.

Translated by: Yoly from Oly

12 November 2013


Yearning for a Dream / Eliocer Cutino Rodriguez, Cuban Law Association

Eliocer Cutiño Rodríguez

Some time ago, as I began to write a text about my country, I surprised myself with this thought: “… it seems as though a change toward participatory democracy is becoming reality.” That was my inspiration which turned into my written words, but before finishing the text, a friend whom I asked to critique my writing suggested I should eliminate that idea. It was a notorious moment. Although the concept was never devoid of free will, at some point I wanted to convey a very distant but not outlandish hope.  Revisiting after seeing the activities for the 55th anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution and hearing the speech of the President of the Council of State and Ministers, it is nonsense.

Perhaps the signs that provide guidance to the analysts or the media are not the same that take into account the Cuban people. continue reading

In the brief horizon of my country fit the many stories and accountable actors, sins of deed and omission, events as much as processes. But no factor is more impactful as the deterioration of the political system, increasingly less able to represent the national interests, build consensus and make decisions within a reasonable time to be implemented.

A country that each day becomes more ungovernable, even though all the year end data and statistics continue to be the “best” of Latin America, though the trend is worse and ominous.

The growing dissatisfaction of the Cuban people is real. If the government was never good at completing things now it is not even able to start them. The constant creation of experiments is an example of its mediocrity.

Creative politics that stopped being rational with the collapse of socialism in Europe.  The government allows small tactical victories for certain groups at the expense of a colossal strategic defeat for society.

The status quo of our political system is no longer tenable and hurts us all, though many may not realize it yet. It is time to reexamine from its foundation, so we do not leave as inheritance to the next generation this longing for the dream of a developed country, with all and for the good of all.

Translated by: Yoly from Oly

21 March 2014

Only Versions / Fernando Damaso

During these last few weeks we have “enjoyed” to the point of boredom the Russian version of events in Ukraine and in Crimea, and the Chavez version of the situation in Venezuela. In the first case, we have heard and read what has been said by the Russian President, Prime Minister and Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense, and even by the deposed Ukrainian President who has been granted asylum in Russia, but we have heard absolutely nothing of what the new authorities of that country think.

In the second case, the same has happened, i.e. we have heard from the President and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, but nothing from the opponents or students participating in protests and violence. In both cases, as is now usual, opponents have been labeled fascists (which has become fashionable), marginal extremists, terrorists and even traitors to their respective countries.

I do not hold our press solely responsible for this misinformation and distorted information, because it only obediently does as ordered by the authorities who for years have unconditionally supported anything that goes against the United States and the European Union, no matter where it comes from or who promotes it.

It is ironic being a people so politically educated, how our leaders never tire of repeating themselves, they hide information from us and do not allow us to analyze it and draw our own conclusions. Perhaps it is with a patronizing intent that we not lose time thinking, which is something they already do for us, and we can devote ourselves fully to our main and only task: to try to survive.

Fortunately, in the real world, despite prohibitions and restrictions, preventing access to information is practically impossible, since it is obtained from different sources.  The thing that offends is that though we are adults, they attempt to treat us like children, feeding us only ideological babyfood, let us reach higher!

Translated by Yoly from Oly

26 March 2014