Reporting from San Diego / Ivan Garcia

The Institute of the Americas is located on the campus of San Diego State University

There are Cuban dissidents and independent journalists who, since the emigration and travel reform was enacted by Raul Castro in 2013, have already accumulated some trips abroad. This has not been the case with Ivan, who agreed to travel to the United States because it was for a workshop about investigative journalism, organized by the Institute of the Americas in La Jolla, San Diego, California. And he accepted because it was a short stay of one week. We offer the first of three reports sent from San Diego. (Tania Quintera [Ivan’s mother]). 

Monday, November 10

I made the trip from Havana to Miami without problems. The Miami is airport is a city, I had to walk nearly a kilometer from the gate to passport control. At both customs I was treated well. At the Miami airport I met a former neighbor from La Vibora who worked there.

I took advantage of having to wait three hours for the flight to San Diego to buy a laptop at one of the airport stores (I left mine in Cuba because it is defective). It cost me $200, has Windows 8 and an English keyboard.

The flight to San Diego was long. The plane, a little uncomfortable. The seats were too close together. This is the best way I’ve found for airlines to make money: put people in a tube as if they were cattle. Although the service and food were good.

I found the San Diego Airport more functional than Miami’s. What I liked best so far is San Diego. A gorgeous city, with clean streets and well cared for houses. For those who have been accustomed to living in a barely lit capital, I was impressed with the great amount of light.

The temperature was 66F degrees, but there was little humidity, the climate was agreeable.

In the hotel rooms there is free internet, but there are computers only in the lobby. The rooms are comfortable. A television with a lot of channels, large bathroom, microwave, dryer, iron, coffee maker, refrigerator and an air conditioner I had to turn down.

Tuesday, November 11

Since the Institute of the Americas started these workshops in 2009, it’s the first time a reporter from Cuba came. The professors’ curriculum is very high level. Yesterday in the afternoon there was a debate about the difficulties of engaging in journalism. It was enriching. The 25 participating journalists are anti-Castro, Venezuelans stand out, with whom I have very good chemistry.

There’s little time for writing. The agenda is packed. When I return to Havana I have thought of writing a dozen stories. I was wrong about what I might expect from the workshop. For years to come, they will think to include subjects related to Cuba. It happens that our country is the ugly duckling of the continent.

The breakfast is too much. In matters of food, the gringos overdo it. We had a good time on Coronado, an island that was and still is a military base, they have a World War II aircraft carrier that is a museum. We dined there. The pizzas gigantic, and the servings of shrimp, it was painful to toss them out when there is so much hunger in the world.

We are going to visit the weekly newspaper Zeta in Tijuana, where in the last 14 years the drug cartels have murdered five journalists.

Wednesday, November 12

Tijuana is a city bordering San Diego and two million people live there. The border crossing seems like a maximum security prison. It is a bad copy of San Diego. There are developments with the same architecture as their neighbors, with the difference that in Tijuana there six thousand well-capitalized factories and businesses.

The interior streets are dark and pot-holed, like Havana. From the border crossing the border the difference is notable. You can smell it in the air. On a narrow boulevard there is a cluster of shops and fast food joints.

I didn’t like the city. It looks like a stage set. It seemed to me that people hide more than they say. You walk the streets and they look at you like you’re a freak. There are many unemployed with apparently nothing to do, but they are doing something: selling a devastating drug called Crystal. It’s a drama. The poor and hopeless people use it to the point of madness. A dose costs some four dollars.

We had lunch at a top restaurant. Excellent food, slow service. By late afternoon we were in a “tolerant” neighborhood. We went with a police patrol and city official. Prostitution is legal. There are around ten blocks of nightclubs and brothels. The prostitutes pay taxes and have to keep their health cards current. In the clubs there are a lot of Chinese, spending dollars on go-go girls.

I was the only one in the group who had to stumble back to San Diego. The immigration official didn’t understand why I presented several gringo visas and was entering the United States from Tijuana. I suppose it must have been a red alert, as nearly 15,000 Cubans a year enter the United States through Mexico.

I replied that if I had wanted to stay I would have done it in Miami and not gone to San Diego. “I like your country, but I have one, it’s called Cuba, I was born there and my family is there,” I told him, and asked him if would have abandoned his.

The guy smiled and answered, “All journalists are the same, they love to turn the tables, but the reality is that Cubans in Mexico stay at the first opportunity.” “I’m not one of those,” I answered. “I think the United States is at fault, they should repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act to end that problem.”

He waved goodbye cheerfully and told me he hoped I wouldn’t write a report accusing him of racism (I’m black) or intolerance towards Latinos, because, “I’m also of Latino descent, it’s nothing personal, but it is my work.”

Colleagues who were waiting in the bus to take us back to the hotel applauded when I got in. In a few days they have learned certain Cuban realities they didn’t know. After the myth of Che Guevara, healthcare for all and good education, here is an autocratic regime.

Iván García

13 November 2014