Journalist Elaine Diaz Arrested In Baracoa While Reporting On Hurricane Matthew / 14ymedio

The team of Periodismo de Barrio before departing for Baracoa. Elaine Diaz is front right. (Facebook)
The team of Periodismo de Barrio before departing for Baracoa. Elaine Diaz is front right. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 October 2016 — The journalist Elaine Diaz, director of the independent media Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), was arrested Wednesday morning in Baracoa, Guantanamo province, while covering the damage left by Hurricane Matthew. The reporter was accompanied by several members of the editorial board of her publication, who also have been arrested, according to a family source who confirmed the information with the site Cubanet.

Diaz, along with nine other journalists, traveled to eastern Cuba after a fundraising campaign that allowed her to support a journey to the areas most affected by the hurricane. This morning the reporters were intercepted by police and authorities who warned them they they would be deported to Guantanamo City, said the same source.

Among the detained journalists were Monica Baro, Julio Batista Rodriguez, Thomas E. Perez and Geysi Guia.

The latest publications from the Periodismo de Barrio (PB) team date from Tuesday when they loaded a photo onto their Facebook page from “the furthest east of Cuba.” Diaz explained that some of them would try to reach the village of La Maquina, in the Maisi municipality, while another group would leave for Imian, Baracoa and Parque Alejandro de Humboldt.

The last message published on PB’s twitter account confirmed that they had reached the most eastern area of Cuba, where electricity service was beginning to be restored.

Hours later the PB Facebook profile published a message in which it claimed that the reporters were well and in the city of Guantanamo. “Tomorrow we leave for Havana. These days expect our team as usual: JOURNALISM. All efforts should be directed to continue to support the victims of Hurricane Matthew,” concluded the brief note.

Periodismo de Barrio is a journalistic nonprofit organization led by Diaz, who graduated in journalism from the University of Havana in 2008 and later served as an assistant professor in the faculty of communications at that university.

Diaz sought permission “fruitlessly, to reach Baracoa and work from there,” explains CubaNet, but the authorities are only allowing accredited media access to the area, such as foreign correspondents based in Cuba and the official press.

The arrest of Diaz and her team comes amid a bitter debate over the legitimacy of small independent publications born in recent years on the island. Official government voices have chosen in recent weeks to maintain Communist Party control over the press and to close ranks against non-government media.

After Hurricane Matthew several independent journalists who planned to approach the eastern part of the country have suffered threats and arrests.

The reporter Maykel González Vivero, who was also in Baracoa reporting for the portal Diario de Cuba, was arrested and spent three days in a cell, as denounced by the journalist’s mother.

The Patriotic Union of Cuba has also reported that several of its activists who maintained a flow of information on Twitter about the affected areas have been victims of arrests, seizures of their work equipment, and forced deportations away from the affected zone to other parts of Cuba.