The Students of Delphine

On February 11th, they left a comment in the blog:

Sorry for the bother.  I am a Spanish professor at a French school and in our classes we our studying the subject of free press in Latin America and, more specifically, in Cuba.  We have studied an article about the Cuban bloggers, taken from the newspaper “El Pais”, and the students are asking lots of questions.  They are very interested in the subject.  I proposed to them the idea of collectively writing a letter which I am thinking of sending to all of you within the upcoming days.  Don’t feel obliged to respond, but it would be a magical moment for them to actually receive news directly from Cuba.  Thank you, I congratulate you for your blog.

Delphine Bougeard

On March 1st we received two letters, one from the 1S2 class and the other from the 1S3, directly from Lycee Julliot de La Morandiere, in Northeast France, in Normandy, nearby Mont. St. Michdel.  Four days later, Ivan responded.  The following is what he wrote.

Havana, March 5th, 2010

To the boys of the Julliot Institute of Morandiere:

It is a pleasure for me to respond to your doubts and curiosities. I will tell you. My name is Ivan Garcia Quintero and I have been an independent journalist since 1995.  I was born in Havana on August 15th, 1965.

I am self-taught.  I started writing in Cuba Press, an agency at the margin of state control, run by the Cuban poet and journalist, Raul Rivero (who was one of the 75 prisoners of the Black Spring in 2003– since 2005, he has resided in Madrid).  In these 15 years, I have collaborated with different web pages and digital newspapers.

Since January 28th, 2009 I have a blog.  It’s called “From Havana” (Desde La Habana), and I regularly write there together with the lawyer Laritza Diversent, my mother Tania Quintero (also an independent journalist), and Raul Rivero.  Sometimes we publish texts from other authors, both Cuban or foreign.  The content aims to expose the reality that is lived in Cuba during this 21st century, along with dramatic situations, like the recent earthquake in Haiti.

Since October 2009 I have also been writing in a debate blog called “90 Miles”, in El Mundo/America- a special edition of the Spanish journal ‘El Mundo’ which is targeted to Hispanics in the United States.  90 Miles- which is the distance that separates Havana from Florida- is a blog with different viewpoints, with Max Lesnik, an old Cuban reporter and politician, admirer of Fidel Castro’s revolution, and exiled in Miami.  In that journal I also tell stories about diverse Cuban subjects.  Because I write on my own account, I do not have a censor.  I self-censor myself whenever my sense dictates to do so.

I do not wish to leave my country, which belongs to every Cuban, not only to the followers of Fidel Castro and his revolution like those who control the destinies of my country wrongly think.

In Cuba, it takes God and help to actually be an independent journalist for various reasons.  The main reason is because the government automatically considers you a “traitor”, “sell-out”, and a “mercenary at the service of the United States”.

The Cuban rulers neither accept or respect any disagreements in thought.  When one writes without a mandate, the State’s official response is a plethora of insults and disqualifications. And that is the least of it.  Hovering in the air of this island is an obscure law that allows authorities to jail us for up to 28 years, if they deem it appropriate. It is Law 88 and you can read it here.

Right now, while I write this letter to you, there are 27 independent journalists in jail.  For many years.  They can’t see their children grow and they can’t  follow their progress in school like other parents do.  They have been jailed for writing what they think and for using their pens as weapons.

The independent Cuban journalists and bloggers have to make countless sacrifices to carry out their work.  In general, Cuban immigrants residing in the Unite States, Spain, Europe or other countries, support them by sending them computers, cell phones, and other materials.

When you dissent in Cuba, with some exceptions, they expel you from your job.  This is without taking into consideration that the salary is a joke.  On average, a Cuban earns (in the national currency of Cuban Pesos) the equivalent to about 20 Euros a month.  This is the best scenario.

Many Cubans survive by robbing from the State.  Anything from cheese in a state-run pizza shop to toilet paper and soap if they happen to work in a hotel.  The bloggers I know do not charge a single cent for their blogs.  In the case of Yoani Sanchez, she has obtained some money from numerous prizes and books published in the exterior.

My personal situation is different.  Tania, my mother, my sister Tamila and my niece Yania, who is the same age as all of you, live in Switzerland since November 2003 as political refugees.  With thousands of sacrifices they send me money.  Thanks to those remittances I can maintain my family and Melany, my 7-year-old daughter who is now learning to read and asked me to send her regards, she saw your photo.  I also help out an uncle who is 92-years-old and laughs at the idea of death.

In ‘El Mundo/America’ they pay me according to the works I publish.  With that money, I am planning on fixing the run-down apartment in which I live, in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora.  I also plan on helping Laritza, who resides in the community known as El Calvario, in a simple hut like any poor person from an African country.

I am an exception.  Nearly all the bloggers and independent journalists can only have coffee for breakfast and eat one meal a day.  Nobody in their right minds writes for money when right over your head their hangs a law that could condemn you to many years in prison.

If the Cuban government has not jailed, in a massive sweep, all of us who openly disagree, it is due to international public opinion, and sensible people like yourselves, who take into consideration what goes on under totalitarian regimes.

I’ll answer other questions.  Connecting to the internet is very expensive.  About 5 to 10 dollars an hour.  Almost the average salary in Cuba.  No independent journalist or blogger has DSL in their homes.  We have to connect in hotels where the service is very slow.  It is exhausting to load photos and videos.

There are embassies that, through compassion, allow internet access; but to go to diplomatic areas is risky because they can accuse you of “conspiring with the enemy.”  I do not have the vocation of a hero.  I am also not made out of martyr material.

Of course I fear the possible reprisals of the Castro regime, but my desires to one day live in a democracy is much stronger.  And it will happen.  Sooner or later, Cuba will be a democratic country and one day we will be able to chat face to face.

From the bottom of my heart I appreciate your concern for this small Caribbean island, full of symbolism and misfortunes.  You have all been raised to respect the ideas of your fellow neighbors.

France is the birthplace of the modern form of politics.  A short distance from your school, on June 6, 1944, the allied troops disembarked on the coasts of Normandy and did away with the evils of the Nazis.

From that moment, the world was changed.  The rights of men, freedom of expression, and freedom of information are now undeniable human rights.  Even if Fidel and Raul Castro don’t see it that way.

I hope that in the near future that approaches, you all will be successful professionals.

And when I am a grandfather, I will tell my grandkids that, one day, when in my country there did not exist essential freedoms, some French school boys, full of curiosities, wrote to me and sent a questionnaire with very intelligent questions.

It has been very pleasant experience for me to respond to you all.  If I was able to shatter your doubts, I will feel satisfied.  If I haven’t, please write back.

Let us stay in touch.  Keep on being concerned about what happens around you.  One day I hope to meet you all in Havana, which even if it’s not worth a mass like Paris, it’s worth making a trip to the city of columns and the Malecon.

With affection, to you all, Delphine and the rest of your companions and professors,


PS: Laritza asked me to please send you all a hug.  Like the majority of Cuban women who are workers, mothers, and wives, she has very little free time.  In order to actually publish her work she has to do it during the small hours of the morning.

Letter from Delphine’s students 1es2

Letter from Delphine’s students 1ls3

Translated by Raul G.