14ymedio, Havana, 17 October 2016 — In an editorial published Monday, the independent medium Periodosmo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) distances itself from the ruling party to explain the circumstances of the arrest of its director, Elaine Diaz, and several members of her team while covering, last week, the damage left by the hurricane Matthew in Baracoa in Guantánamo province.
Entitled “Who Has The Right to Tell a Country’s Stories? All Its Citizens,” the article states that the arrests were illegal given that the team from “Periodismo de Barrio didn’t violate any law.” The editorial explains that the authorities referred to a supposed state of emergency in force in the east of the island because of the hurricane, but, “This last statement does not have the legal status required to declare a state of emergency under the Constitution.”
After noting that Cuban legislation does not limit the exercise of journalism in areas affected by natural disasters, the text highlights that, during the two days the reporters remained under arrest, “No charges were filed against us nor were any members of the Periodismo de Barrio team accused of crimes,” which apparently confirmed the lack of motives to detain them.
Despite this, the members of the team were searched and their belongings confiscated. In addition, the three women “were physically searched by an official to seek other technological means they could have hidden in their bodies, treatment given to pre-criminal cases.”
The Periodismo de Barrio team sees in these events an opportunity to reflect on the role of the press in Cuba and the denounce the “monopolization of information” by the state.
“It is not possible to tell the truth about Cuba from a single version, or from unanimous versions, which amount to one.” It blames monopolies for the lack of the pluralism society needs, saying, “TV channels, radio stations, print publications, publishers, changed ownership but were not socialized. Socializing is not nationalizing. There are not good and bad monopolies. All monopolization, realized by the State, by a person or a corporation, ends up curtailing freedoms.”
The editorial denounces that, “The State, for more than 50 years has avoided requiring reporters to think about the economic dimension of the activity they carry out thanks to financing their means of production,” and explains that Periodismo de Barrio faces economic problems, lacking support from the authorities.
The media, the editorial reveals, uses the online PayPal service, despite its inaccessibility in Cuba due to the US embargo on the island. “The strategy is simple: use the account of a collaborator and friend resident in another country and then send money to Cuba using remittances through a legal agency,” it says. And adds, “Those who today question the funding mechanisms of Periodismo de Barrio are forgetting that journalism costs money.”
For the team of journalists, the organs of state security not only limit the right of speech and press guaranteed by the Constitution, ” but also the freedom of speech of each individual who chooses to speak to the media.”
“On October 11, the Cuban authorities tried to define who is entitled to tell the stories of our country. Because we believe that right belongs to the entire Cuban citizenship, because these stories need to be told, we will return to Baracoa, Imías and Maisí once the emergency is over,” adds the editorial.
Without over-elaborating, the editorial condemns the “arbitrary detention of journalists anywhere in the world [and] in Cuba.” It was not always so. Elaine Diaz came to be known through her blog La Polémica Digital (Digital Controversy), which was presented in another era by officialdom as a “revolutionary” alternative to the critical blogosphere that broke onto the Cuban scene in 2007.
In a chapter of the government’s TV series “Cuba’s Reasons,” Elaine Diaz was interviewed in her role as a professor at the School of Communication at the University of Havana a counterpart to bloggers critical of the Government that were defined in the program as “cyber-terrorists.” In her blog, Diaz avoided for years any statement of solidarity on the arrests of independent journalists who have characterized the Cuba of the past two decades.
Today, after the humiliations suffered at the hands of State Security, the Director Periodismo de Barrio has become aware of the enormous obstacles put in place by the authorities to the exercise a free press in Cuba. However, the editorial says nothing of other independent journalists arrested in Baracoa in the same circumstances.