14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, 8 May 2019 — José Ramírez Pantoja, who was expelled in 2016 from Radio Holguín for a publication the government found uncomfortable, requested political asylum in the United States on Wednesday, convinced that “escape” is his only option.
“They left me without work or sustenance, without caring about the years I worked as a journalist just for reporting. Then came the threats, pressures, they wanted me to stop working for the independent press and at the same time they continued to censor my work in the official press,” recounts Ramírez Pantoja by telephone minutes before leaving the Mexican border behind.
The journalist made public the content of a meeting in which Karina Marrón, deputy director of the official newspaper Granma, warned of “mass protests” similar to that of the 1994 Maleconazo, should there be a repeat of the “Special Period” in Cuba.
After his dismissal from the official press, the Popular Municipal Court of Holguín ratified the judgment against him. The National Ethics Committee of the Union of Journalists of Cuba also failed to reverse it. From officialdom, voices with power inside the media accused him of wanting to move “to the Miami press” and unleashed a campaign against those who dared to defend him, like the Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg, who at that time was publishing from the Island.
“After I was expelled from my job, I had to work as a domestic servant, because the State controls all the media in Holguín, I worked for room and board. It seems that what I published about Karina Marrón bothered them so much that they persecuted me and threatened me” adds Ramírez Pantoja.
After a series of appeals and letters begging to be readmitted to the circle of official journalists, Ramírez Pantoja ventured into the independent press, writing for El Toque, OnCuba and 14ymedio , sometimes under his own name and sometimes under a pseudonym.
“When I started writing for the independent press, the threats multiplied, and State Security officials told me they had not imprisoned me in 2016 because they had not wanted to, but they told me I lived alone and anything could happen to me,” he says.
The case of Ramírez Pantoja was included in the 2016 report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The organization, based in New York, then warned of an increase on the Island of arrests, confiscations of work tools and the imposition of police warning letters to reporters.
Last year, Ramírez Pantoja was accredited by the independent magazine El Toque to cover the Gibara Film Festival. According to his story, two State Security officers cornered him and forced him into an office where they reproached him for “selling himself to imperialism for $10.”
“At that moment they told me that they knew that I worked under a pseudonym for the independent press, and that I mustn’t ’continue talking shit talking about the Revolution’ because that would have consequences. They also tried to blackmail me with alleged evidence against me and suggested that it would be better if I just remained tranquil until my sanction ends,” he denounces.
The journalist left the country on January 31 of this year after receiving a scholarship to do a PhD in History at the Autonomous University of Baja California. “I am afraid that when I finish my legal stay in Mexico, I will be returned to Cuba, that’s why I made this decision,” he adds.
The number of Cubans who appear in the southern border of the United States to request asylum continues to increase, according to the latest figures presented by the U.S. Border Patrol. In the 2018 fiscal year, 7,079 Cubans were counted, while from October 1 to February 19, 6,289 reached the border.
Last October, the US authorities granted political asylum to independent journalist Serafin Morán after he spent six months in a detention center in Pearsall, Texas. The reporter had to overcome a long judicial process to prove that his life was in danger in Cuba.
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