Free Journalism From Havana / Ivan Garcia

la_esq-620x330For a Cuban reporter, in addition to mastering the narrative techniques of modern journalism, it’s good to have in hand Oriana Fallaci’s book. To read the chronicles of Gay Tallese or Rosa Montero. These days, seems essential to own a laptop, tablet, and a digital recorder and camera.

But, please, keep in mind you are engaging in journalism in an autocratic country, where according to its laws the professions of spy and unauthorized reporter are almost synonymous.

Yes, we must learn to use 21st century tools, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, but in Cuba it’s ore useful to have a network of friendships located in different strata who can give you first hand information.

Not being able to confront the information, or verify it through other sources, we have to have confidence in our intuition. We’re always going to lack a specific date, or a concrete figure that could round out the note.

Not having access to official statistics, it’s impossible to contrast the news and look for other points of view to balance the story. In my experience, after working as an independent journalist for 18 years, on the island we have to throw in the trash certain rules established like canons of the profession.

Let me give an example. If we try to have a hooker tell you about her life, it’s advisable not to show her a microphone or camera. Or she’s not going to tell you a story. Then the most sordid stories flow.

Not being able to record, take notes, or take photos, a good memory is fundamental. When an interviewee quotes outside the law, what is important is to get across the essence of their opinions.

To do journalism inside Havana’s marginal world comes with its risks. One journalist note can bring down a police operation on a guy who sells drugs or a girl who sells herself. So you have to be very careful to camouflage the identity, place of residence or where there person usually operates.

I’ll tell you an anecdote. In the past year, Diario de las Americas published a story of mine about transvestite prostitutes. Every night they sit in a doorway on 10 de Octubre avenue. After I published the work, the police discretely evacuated the place.

These unadorned stories carry a risk in Cuba: any person mentioned could be arrested and end up behind bars.

An old butcher told me about a common method among the DTI (Technical Investigations Department) officials when they detain someone, to avoid a conflict, is to say they got the information from an article by an independent journalist.

Although at times the publication of a story helps the affected. In December, as a result of strong downpours assaulting Havana, a neighbor, living in a destroyed room in a tenement, told me he’d been asking for decent housing for his family for 20 years.

“After you mentioned my case, the authorities talked to me. They told me that if I stopped offering statement, they could resolve my problem,” the neighbor said.

On Friday, 10 January, the independent journalist León Padrón Azcuy published on Cubanet a report about the private restaurant Starbien, owned by José Raúl Colomé, son of Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, Army General and Minister of the Interior.

On Monday the 13th, Colomé Jr. visited the journalist at his home. He told him he was very annoyed with what was reflected in the article and promised to take charge of the matter personally. On 15 January Cubanet revealed that the minister’s son’s restaurant had been entered on Spain’s Merchant Register as Starbien Investment SL.

When you do journalism outside the State, you have to be well-informed and can’t try to wield the “journalistic stick” or compete against the international news agencies stationed in the country.

A journalist, according to Kapuscinski (Poland 1931-2007), above all must be a good person. To do good reporting work and, in the case of Cuba, to describe this reality hidden by the regime with objectivity.

Iván García

Photo: All the independent journalists who live in Havana, at least once a week go to the Esquina de Tejas, by foot, bus or taxi; this is where four of the most important streets of the capital meet: Monte, Infanta and the Calzadas del Cerro and Diez de Octubre. Taken from Primavera Digital.

22 January 2014