He explains why as he approaches the US border seeking asylum
Journalist and news anchor Yunior Smith Rodriguez says he wanted to “escape all the rotten shit, the lies, and the desperation.”
HAVANA TIMES – Yunior Smith Rodriguez, journalist and former anchor on the Cuban State television evening news show Noticiero Estelar, has left Cuba, heading for the United States. In an extensive post on his Facebook profile page, he speaks of the difficult conditions he suffered during his time working on the island.
“My trip began like that of thousands of other Cubans who in the last few months have grown tired of plowing in the sand, and have decided to leave, to escape from so much rotten shit, from the lies, from the desperation.” That’s how Smith begins his post, written from an undisclosed location in Mexico, on his way to attempt to cross into the United States.
“I began to notice that “the blockade” [embargo] isn’t to blame for all the failed policies that are announced time and time again as solutions that will save a dead economy, then go nowhere. It’s not the guilty party in the abuse, either; or the deceit, the bureaucracy, the corruption and the many poor decisions made internally. [My decision] began with the deep scorn [I felt] towards the ministers with no necks and overflowing bellies, who spout explanations that they themselves don’t understand (or believe), with their unscrupulous calls for people’s resistance, for votes of confidence from a people tired of trusting, because the slogans and the waiting don’t fill bellies, nor clothe you, nor put shoes on your children’s feet,” the journalist accused.
Yunior Smith’s career was part of an official attempt to end the accusations of discrimination against Afro-Cubans on television. The journalist himself had spoken of this barrier since the time he studied Social Communication at the university.
Little by little, he became a familiar face to Cubans on the island. His dual role as journalist and anchor obliged him to take on controversial topics in which the regime’s opinion had to be imposed.
“I recognize that I was a convinced and romantic lover of the system. This was instilled in me for years, and although I’ve always noted and criticized errors, I did so with my vision clouded by the concepts and illusions I’d acquired as a child: “if it weren’t for the blockade, everything would be better”; “this government seeks the good of all”; “a better world is possible”. So much shit bottled up in my chest for years finally reached me and convinced me,” Smith writes.
The year 2021 changed the life of many Cubans. In his extensive Facebook narrative, the journalist says he began to feel sick on January 27 of that year, when Alpidio Alonso, Cuba’s Minister of Culture, physically attacked the young people gathered at the Ministry site. Later, Smith witnessed the July 11 police abuse of young protestors and Diaz-Canel’s call to actively combat them. These outrages combined with new economic policies in which shops began selling in a currency tied to Euros or dollars [instead of the pesos Cuban workers receive]. All this, plus the long lines and widespread hunger, caused him to see those in government as “experts in imposing fear, their best weapon for keeping themselves in place all these years.”
“Almost no one knows that I have a brother, Kessell Rodriguez, who’s a political prisoner,” the journalist confesses. “I learned early that confronting the government means going to prison, receiving blows, mistreatment, torture; it means being isolated from your family, without them knowing anything about you; hunger strikes in defense of rights; pain for your family; worries; separation. And in the end, nothing changes,” he adds.
“I didn’t want that for my life or for my family (..) That’s why I did everything in my power to be an “upstanding citizen”. But it was impossible, and now I know that well. Those in State Security knew I was related to a political prisoner. Under cover, they did everything they could to test me, and each time the tasks they gave me were larger and more intense. I complied. I did my work the best I could, because it was a matter of proving my worth or perishing, losing my job or having them slowly dim my lights, as in the end they did.”
“In my reporting, I stuck loyally to the constant messages from “above” they sent me. I read what they asked; I adjusted my tone; several times I went to my superior to ask: ‘What do you want me to say?’ when I couldn’t find explanations nor ways to defend the indefensible, when I myself was in agreement with the things they were making me denounce,” he affirms.
“I did my work. But once again I disgraced myself: I married a woman from the US. I tried as well as I could to maintain my stance, despite this, but each time I had less desire to keep my mouth shut, to bow my head. People saw a Yunior Smith on the screen who criticized other governments. No one ever knew about the times I said “NO”. When they asked me to justify the beatings of the July 11 protesters by talking about Spain having imprisoned a rapper, I refused to do such a crazy thing, because censorship and persecution is wrong in Spain and also in Cuba.”
Yunior also faced pressure from the Cuban Communist Party’s propaganda machinery to take a position against figures active in the internal opposition.
“No one saw the commentary they asked me to write about Yunior Garcia [of the Archipelago group] after November 15th, because they censored it. At that time, I wrote that in Cuba we needed to deepen our democratic practices, since while the economy remained in crisis, other activists would arise, because it’s totally natural to blame the government and its policies for the economic ills of the nation. That was too much for those who direct the news program,” he relates.
“No one knew that I said ‘NO’ when they asked me to do a report on inflation in Latin America, at a time when the dollar was worth nearly 100 pesos in Cuba. Meanwhile, the “government”, with arms folded, allowed people to subsist in misery without doing anything more than adorning their outworn and ever less heeded speeches with inert slogans.”
“They don’t want journalist comments. They don’t want opinions. They want worn-out, stale tracts, even though no one believes them. The saving grace was that I didn’t have to cover topics like that all the time, because my work was basically on international topics. Everyone knows, or should know, that the official Cuban press is a puppet used to sustain in power those whose live from power.”
Yunior Smith Rodriguez’ post also speaks of the conditions in which the official journalists work. The system “uses us and doesn’t even pay us well,” he asserts. “Many believe we all receive high salaries and have cars and bags of food, but only a few sell their souls for that level of benefits. People don’t know we buy most of our studio clothing and our own make-up, that we go to work on the public buses, and that there’s not even a lunch for those of us who spend hours inside that newsroom.”
According to the journalist, many of his colleagues think like he does. “They’re honorable human beings and they know they’re being used by that system,” he affirms. “But I promised not to give their names, nor to ever reveal the things we talked about, criticized or secretly laughed at; the times we were all disgusted by the stink of the dirty, decomposed and rotten policies we were forced to defend.”
“No one is unaware that fear is a powerful weapon for dictatorships. Many are afraid of losing the little they’ve obtained for themselves or their families, or of losing the chance to do what they love. Because there’s no other legal press, and the person who opposes the government becomes a victim of scorn, persecution and even jail,” Yunior Smith adds.
He also refers to what he says is an “open secret” within the Television Information System: sexual harassment.
“The higher-ups offer favors and privileges in return for sex. Sexual abuse on the part of the powerful is an open secret that no one denounces out of fear. There are whores of the screen, cronyism and favoritism, all inherent in that system that doesn’t benefit the most capable but the most ass-licking, the one who comes across as the most revolutionary, the most communist, the biggest snitch, the one most willing to sell their soul to the devil.”
In his last years with the Television Information System, Yunior states he was a victim of the abuse of power.
“When my boss told me to my face that if he were in my position (married to a US citizen) he’d have left the country (and may his nose grow for being such a hypocrite, bearer of a double standard, and shameless to the bone). My ideas or “my springtime” as some called of my fading desires to keep quiet, bow my head and obey, caused the flames of my career to extinguish little by little, disguised by a thousand excuses. A psychological war of attrition, in which I had all the losing cards. They’re experts at dismissing people.”
“Maybe, if it were just for myself, I’d have stayed. Or maybe I’d have changed jobs, as I thought of doing so many times. But I preferred to live, to escape with my life while I still could. Because I’m also a father,” Smith justified. “My daughter has dual citizenship, and I would never forgive myself if she – having the chance to live in freedom, in another country, under other conditions – should end up forced to grow up in the same poverty as I did. I wouldn’t be a good father.”
Yunior Smith is married to a US citizen and has a small daughter. At the end of his declaration, he thanks the messages of support from his Cuban followers.