Independent Journalists Live on the Razor’s Edge in Cuba / Iván García

Aini Martin Valero, independent journalist. The photo is by Gustavo Pardo and was taken from Cubanet.

Every day when they go out to report or write some story about daily reality, invisible to official media, the murky Gag Law that can land them in jail for 20 years or more floats over their heads.

It’s not just the legal harassment. There is also their ration of slaps, subtle taekwondo blows in the ribs, insults by fanatics spurred on by the special services, threatening phone calls at the break of dawn or arbitrary detentions.

The further they live from Havana, the more brazen and open is the intimidation. Independent journalists of deep Cuba, after spending several hours in a pestilent cell, are released in the night, far from home, on a hidden roadway surrounded by sugar cane plantations.

None of the free journalists can collate his information with State institutions. All the officials shut the doors in their faces. Nor do they offer you facts or figures. But there is always a way of getting them. Sometimes, employees of state agencies, sick of Fidel Castro’s inefficient socialism, whisper to you first hand information or numbers.

Anonymous people bring you internal regulations, figures about suicides or the analysis of the latest meeting of the provincial Party. In exchange for nothing. They just want to broadcast aspects of the sewers of power. Nonconformist technocrats, beat cops, low ranking military soldiers, prostitutes with years in “office,” marginalized slum dwellers and budding athletes are the true architects of any story or news.

Each text that goes out from the mature laptops of many independent journalists has a dose of review filtered by those deep throats desirous of changing the Cuban political compass. Years of writing under the hostile barrage of fire and harassment have polished the style of these lone wolves.

When one speaks of journalism on the margin of state control in Cuba, some indispensable names must not be forgotten. From human rights activists Ricardo Bofill and Adolfo Rivero Caro, who in years of hard repression reported about the violations of essential rights of man, to Yndamiro Restano, Rafael Solano, Rolando Cartaya, Raul Rivero, Ana Luisa Lopez Baeza, Iria Gonzalez, Tania Quintero and Ariel Tapia, among others.

Rivero Caro is no longer with us. The rest sleep far from their homeland, anguished about the future of Cuba, dreaming that they walk along the Malecon or drink coffee brewed in their Havana homes. The repression, the jail and the harassment by the regime forced them into exile. We have had to get by without them.

There is Luis Cino. I present him to you if you are not familiar with harassment. He has a blog, Cynical Circle and writes high quality chronicles on Cubanet and Digital Spring, a newspaper managed in a Lawton apartment. It is a reference. For the quality of his work and his human condition.

In Downtown Havana, surrounded by empty lots and buildings that scream for repair, cradle of prostitution and con artists, of people who think twice as fast as the average Havanan, bastion of misery, prohibited games, children induced by their parents to beg for coins, stronghold of the sale of melca and imported marijuana, here, in the heart of the capital resides Jorge Olivera.

Tall and quiet mulatto. A softy in every sense of the word. He was one of the defendants of the Black Spring. Not even a walled cell could erase the perennial smile from his face. Seventeen years after beginning as an independent journalist, Olivera has not lost hope of greeting his friend Raul Rivero again and together founding a new kind of daily in a future Havana.

Meanwhile, Jorge keeps firing with his pen. Stories, opinion pieces and poetry drafted at night. In Santa Fe, surrounded by cats, we can find Tania Diaz Castro with a long track record in the Cuban opposition movement. In Regla, among quacks and religious syncretism, a reporter from the barricades, Aini Martin Valero also has a magnet for news.

Juan Gonzalez Febles is another sharpshooter, he currently directs Digital Spring. The lawyer Laritza Diversent lives in a village in keeping with its name: Calvary. According to a state decree, the majority of its inhabitants, natives of eastern provinces, are illegal. They survive in overcrowded cardboard and aluminum shacks.

To relieve legal illiteracy, Diversent opened in the dining room of her home a legal consultancy, Cubalex. And for various digital sites she writes articles on legal topics, without jargon. Some are very popular in her neighborhood.

If he ever aspired to be a councilor, Roberto de Jesus Guerra would succeed. There is no need to know the address of his home. The locals indicate to you the home of this communicator born in the east of Cuba, agile and tireless in the search for information. He ably manages the audiovisual equipment and has the instincts of a detective. It was Roberto de Jesus who got the scoop about the medical brutality that may have cost the lives of 27 psychiatric patients in January of 2010.

Miriam Celaya a reporter of the race. She resides near the “mall” of Carlos III in Downtown Havana. We independent journalists, who agree on almost nothing, do agree that Celaya is one of the best columnists of that other Cuba that the government tries to ignore.

On all the island there are independent journalists, some are better known and have more experience than others. But all report the vision of their community and their country. They are the cry of the citizens who have no echo in the official press.

Translated by mlk

November 24 2012