Cuba: Press and Responsibility in the Face of Tragedy

The cloud of smoke from the explosion at the Saratoga Hotel was visible from the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, 7 May 2022 — It sounded like thunder, but when I looked out from the balcony, the sky was clear. I scanned the city with my eyes and a huge mountain of smoke was rising in the area of ​​Old Havana. Instinctively I looked at the clock, it was 10:52 on the morning of Friday, May 6. We didn’t know what had happened, but it was serious. In the Editorial Office of 14ymedio we quickly wrote the first journalistic note that warned the world that an explosion had shaken Havana. We initially thought it was in the area around Havana Bay.

A few minutes later the first images arrived and our reporters approached the place. The event was taking shape: the Saratoga Hotel was enveloped in a cloud of dust and the surroundings were full of debris. People took pictures with their mobiles and reported from the vicinity of the building which, until recently, was an architectural beauty that adorned the city and now had been reduced to a jumble of iron and ruins. For almost an hour the official press did not react.

Citizen journalism and the independent media negotiated those long minutes very responsibly. Despite the bomb and sabotage rumors circulating in the streets, my colleagues kept a professional pulse and tried to check every sentence published. It was difficult, because when the official newspapers began to publish about the incident, they often mixed facts with speculation, truth with lies. The biggest hoaxes were from the account of the portals controlled by the Communist Party.

The television coverage was nefarious. Unprepared announcers who improvised by confusing the Saratoga Hotel with the Capitol building, who pronounced someone “dead” just by watching screen as they removed a body on a stretcher, as if they were doctors who can determine who is alive and who is not. And ideology everywhere, trying to kidnap human solidarity, painting as partisan the support that people gave to the most suffering.

To make matters worse, Miguel Díaz-Canel did not miss the opportunity in front of the microphones to attack the independent media, which he accuses of spreading rumors and lying about what happened. Instead of making a speech based on the harmony and unity that tragedy brings, he preferred to use the moment of pain for his old battle against dissidence. The mediocre man that he is once again demonstrated that he does not have one iota of the greatness of a statesman.

Without our work and that of so many citizens who reported from the place, the news would have taken much longer to be known and solidarity would have been delayed for a time that was vital for the victims. Accusing the press is a vile act of politicking in the midst of tragedy, an attempt to use emotions to denigrate journalists.

We would have preferred, of course, that this Friday morning, the news that shook us and forced us to work almost 24 hours straight would have been happy and hopeful. But in the face of the catastrophe, our journalistic policy is transparency, professionalism and respect for those who suffer, without being moved at all by the vanity of having a scoop.

Make no mistake, Díaz-Canel, the independent press has been essential in the first hours of this unfortunate event. Without admitting it, you read us, copied us and even took entire sentences from our articles. While the mouths from outside insulted us, inside their air-conditioned offices they completed many of the details of this drama through us.

We offer out condolences and we accompany those who have lost a loved one, who have a family member fighting for life in a hospital or who are still trapped under the rubble. Know that we will not rest in our journalistic duty until we publish every detail about what happened, we will insist on a transparent investigation without political manipulation. We will be, as always, on the side of the victims.

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.