Cuban Journalist: “Without Freedom We Can’t Create Anything”

Interview with Jorge Rodriguez

Photo: Diario de Cuba / Facebook

My whole family supports me unconditionally and they know the dangers I’m exposed to. My family also includes all of my friends.

By Javier Moreno

HAVANA TIMES – Jorge Enrique Rodriguez, 49, is a writer, cultural promoter, and art teacher. He was a member of the Hermanos Saiz Association, a government agency that brings together young artists and writers up to 35 years old, from 1996 to 2012, where he was a board member. He is currently living in Cuba, and is a victim of harassment because he is an independent journalist and an activist for human rights and free art. 

I know you were a board member of the Hermanos Saiz Association. What was it like working in an institution like that?

To honor the truth, I must always say that my time at AHS marked a before and after in my cultural life. The result of my work there has been wiped clean after I moved towards independent journalism and the opposition. For example, it’s like my column of literary reviews, “Deshojeando el Calendario” and all of my work for “Esquife” magazine never existed. I don’t think my Palma Digital award in 2010 is even on the records anymore. Yet, I still hold onto dear memories from my time at the institution, for nearly 20 years, from being the head of the Literature section, to the president of the Havana office, and an assistant to the national president as a Literature expert. 

What challenges does a cultural and social activist face in Cuba today?

They aren’t challenges. Only interrogations, harassment, persecution. Jail and exile for many. These are the consequences that lie in wait for anyone who becomes an activist, artist, or independent journalist. Taking on these roles is a challenge to the Cuban Government, and you pay dearly for walking down this road.

What importance do you see in the July 11, 2021 protests?

Personally speaking, 11J was a flame that was lit in Cuba, which will never be put out. It was the first day Cuba has been free since 1959, and lots of Cubans are paying for this hint of freedom with jail time. It’s not a matter of being an optimist or pessimist, but of being consistent with history and memory. 11J brought the regime down to its knees, and they had thought they were untouchable for six decades. But the Cuban people went straight to the point. I remember this day with honor, with the pride of knowing I was here on the island and living that Sunday like no other in my life.

How has your identification as a member of the opposition affected your family and personal life?

Even though I was always public about my position as an opposition member and independent journalist since the very beginning – in mid-2014 -, it wasn’t until February 18, 2018 that the political police began their saga of persecution and harassment against me. It started off with stopping me from leaving Cuba to go abroad, thereby stopping me from taking part in the Summit of the Americas, which was being held in Peru at the time. I had taken part in the previous edition, held in Panama City, in 2015. Reprisals against me have never bothered me, nor do they bother me, because they come in response to my stance. I’ve been aware of this ever since I decided to take the reins of freedom and break my shackles.

My whole family supports me unconditionally and they know the dangers I’m exposed to. My family, which also includes all of my friends, has never turned their back on me. Not even one of them has abandoned me, on the contrary, they have come closer to me, and they prove this to me every day. According to them, I am their pride. This lets me wake up every morning with their blessings and it gives me the strength to carry on.

One important thing, though, not a single relative or friend has been harassed because of my position, unlike the cases of fellow colleagues. That’s because since the harassment began, in 2018, I made it crystal clear to the political police that: they could do whatever they wanted to me, but it’s another fight if they go for my loved ones and the war will be different.

They’ve respected that until now, and the day they don’t, the song will have a different tune. A word to the wise…

How do you create under the pressures of everyday life in Cuba?

It’s excruciating to write poetry in Cuba. Time is a whip, a merciless persecutor. It doesn’t wait for anyone, and my work as a journalist for Diario de Cuba takes up a lot more of the time I need to sit down quietly and write poetry. My attitude to life as an opposition member also devours all my time. So, I only have these snippets of time where I try to write a new poem that is becoming more and more necessary but also demanding at the same time, because poetry, my poetry, can’t be far-removed from reality.

Have you been arrested by the political police? Can you share a little of your experience with us.

I’ve lost count, to be honest. Well, in fact, I’m not counting, but organizations who record these complaints do. I remember I discovered in January that I was one of the most harassed independent journalists in 2022, the number of interrogations was incredible.

I was held at the processing center (VIVAC) for seven days once, because I’d recorded an argument between young people and police in my neighborhood (Los Sitios). But this was just an excuse, because the real reason was my campaign after a young black man was murdered in Guanabacoa by a policeman. I wasn’t taken to trial because the campaign for my freedom was huge.  When I was released and I saw just how big the campaign was, I had to cry.  I cried a lot.

I will never be able to repay this debt; this beautiful memory is tattooed on my soul.

The intensity and number of arrests and interrogations has to do with the subjects that I frequently address in my independent journalism: gender-based violence, sexual abuse of minors, marginalization, racism, alcohol and drug addiction in teenagers and young people, femicide. Education and housing, to a lesser degree.

I was invited to give conferences about femicide on two occasions, and I wasn’t allowed to reach either venue. I was arrested one time to stop me from covering the trial against six individuals who sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl.

It’s not hard to deduce that the Cuban regime doesn’t care about children, women, and so many other things.

Future plans

Before anything else, freedom for Cuba. Without freedom we can’t create anything, life isn’t possible. My only future, where I see myself, is staying here on this island under the damned condition of water being everywhere.

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