Cuban Press Day: What Can We Celebrate?
By Javier Herrera
HAVANA TIMES – International Day of Journalists’ Solidarity is celebrated on September 8th, in memory of the Czech journalist Julius Fucik, who was killed by the Nazis on September 8, 1943. In Cuba, we’ve been celebrating Cuban Press Day since the ‘90s, on March 14th, in honor of the first print edition of Patria newspaper on March 14, 1892, which was founded and led by Jose Marti. I couldn’t let a day like today pass by without congratulating all these brave men and women who put their lives on the line to bring us the latest news or an appropriate analysis of events.
Celebrating the people who work with ethics and courage, the people who withdrew from the profession because of pressure and threats, the people who are still firmly in the trenches of the truth and those who are no longer with us, I wish you all the best on this day that honors your profession. To those who tarnish the noble trade of being a reporter by serving the regime’s manipulation game, those who voluntarily or involuntarily become spokespeople of the dictatorship and the Communist Party, I also salute and praise you for having once studied the profession and I hope you haven’t forgotten this and use it to build the Homeland.
According to Wikipedia:
A journalist is an individual that dedicates themselves to the profession of journalism, in any of its forms, in the form of text, pictures, radio, TV, or digital media. Their work consists of investigating and discovering subjects of public interest, verifying facts, summarizing them, organizing them, and publishing them.
There are many principles that guide a journalist’s work, the main ones being respect for the Truth and rigor when researching/collecting trustworthy and verifiable information. This is governed by a strict Code of Ethics and other values (professionalism), always taking Human Rights as the leading principle.
It also says:
There are dangers linked to this profession, this danger lies in the vocation for truth and freedom. Throughout history, journalists have been victims of persecution, murder, injury, kidnappings, threats, insults, and other forms of attack.
… End of quote
In terms of the current situation of journalism in Cuba, I can say – without fear of being wrong – that the island is experiencing one of the darkest periods in its history of social communication and freedom of thought, because of the regime that rules here.
You have the pro-government or official press on the one hand, which is dedicated to praising the regime’s virtues. In this press, every piece of information has been distorted after passing through the Cuban Communist Party’s ideological screening process and by intelligence agencies that ultimately decide what and how it is published in the national media. Journalists affiliated with this media more than their journalistic work act as simple spokespeople that read pamphlets written by the Party’s highest leadership and even like ideological hitmen.
Thus, they provide distorted information, biased analyses, assassinate reputations with impunity and even allow the unqualified practice of personnel without basic training, as long as they are in line with the Communist editorial policy. It seems they forget that Cubans have been able to enjoy the Internet on their cellphones for several years now. It’s true the connection is quite slow and controlled, but it’s still the Internet at the end of the day, and they can seek out alternative sources of information.
We will never see the reality of ordinary Cubans reflected in the pro-government press or news that describes social events if they go against the idyllic picture the regime wants to uphold. In fact, when Journalism is studied at universities across the country, the first trait applicants must have to get onto the course is an ideological political recommendation that proves their loyalty to the Government and Party, and they should also belong to the Young Communist League where possible. Then, in order to stay on the degree or find a work placement once they’ve graduated, they need to keep the same profile, even if its hypocritical, otherwise they’ll be kicked off their course and won’t ever find work in national media.
It’s as if there is a parallel reality, when the economic and social crisis is devastating the Cuban people and the written, televised or radio press are flooded with reports that highlight the productivity of Cuban state businesses, companies we rarely see a single product or service from. Or, they speak about the virtues of the public health system without ever mentioning the deaths of patients because medicines are in shortage, precarious hospital facilities and other disasters such as the deaths of at least 10 babies at a maternity hospital in Havana in the first 10 days of January.
On the other hand, there are those brave beings who put their physical and moral integrity on the line to write and publish the news where it happens. There are men and women from this century in Cuba who have founded newspapers and magazines independently. News platforms that remain illegal as the Cuban Government rejects the existence of voices that challenge its truth and shine a light on situations that make them uneasy.
Cibercuba, Periodico Cubano, Diario de Cuba, 14ymedio and many other independent platforms go to great lengths to bring us accurate and timely news, as far as their restricted freedom allows them to. Journalists that contribute to these media outlets are ruthlessly persecuted as if they were terrorists. These brave people are victims of intimidation, coercion, harassment, surveillance, doxing (the dissemiantion of personal information), humiliating or hate speech, public defamation and other threats, and sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above.
Independent journalists are limited in their right to move about freely. Many are arrested for hours and days on end. During these detentions, they are humiliated, threatened themselves or their family members are threatened, i.e. young children, husbands/wives and even parents regardless of their age. They are subjected to merciless interrogations. Threats go as far as mentioning the journalist’s or their loved ones’ life or physical safety. Their technical resources are seized and confiscated at the repressive body’s discretion. Many are sentenced to home arrest without a court order: a State Security agent just comes by in a patrol car and stops them from leaving their front door and arrests them if they do try to leave.
There are hundreds of examples of this and Radio Marti has recorded over 400 attacks against journalists on the island in 2022, for those of you who want to investigate the matter. You just need to click a few times to see the dimension of state repression.
Other journalists are forced to leave the country for good such as the case of journalists Esteban Rodriguez and Hector Luis Valdes Cocho, who were banned from the country by State Security and sent to Nicaragua with the objective of sending them on their way to the US in keeping with the migration wave that was happening at the time.
Others are allowed to leave the country for certain events and then, when they try to return to the island, the Cuban Government warns airlines that this passenger won’t be able to disembark at a Cuban airport, or the journalist is simply warned that if they do dare to go back, they will be locked up under any false charges.
Another striking case of the Government’s assault of independent journalists and press, is the story of Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, who was sentenced to five years in prison after he was arrested while covering a protest in Havana in 2021. It goes without saying that he has suffered abuse at the hands of prison authorities and his health is deteriorating more and more every day, to the point that he’s about to lose his sight.
News of a really alarming case broke last year when nine journalists from El Toque resigned en masse, victims of pressure and blackmail from State Security. They had had their working materials seized beforehand, had suffered repeated interrogations and were warned that if they continued with their work, they would be denied the right to leave the country (clearly insinuating they go into exile voluntarily) and that they will be taken to trial with the criminal charges of “incitement” and the “usurpation of functions.”
Given the reality of Journalism in Cuba today in 2023, we don’t have a lot to celebrate and all we can do is once again salute these men and women who risk their lives and freedom to report about Cuban lives, I’m not talking about happiness because there can be no happiness under these conditions, but I would like to wish them a different future where their freedom of thought and speech is respected and they can use their trade to help build a healthy and prosperous society where Truth reigns supreme.
To the “journalists” who insist on ignoring the ethics of their profession, I would like to dedicate a few phrases from the greatest Cuban journalist of all time, Jose Marti.
There is no invincible government, the press should be the example, never allowing hate or rage that don’t leave space for the free expression of ideas. (Escenas mexicanas, Revista Universal, Mexico, 1875).
The newspaper is a sword and Truth is its hilt. Only the good should wield it, and it shouldn’t be used to erradicate men, but to win against those who oppose their freedom and progress. (Escenas mexicanas, Revista Universal, Mexico, 1875).
There is no monarch like an honorable journalist. (Un gran escandalo, La Nacion, Buenos Aires, 1886).
2 thoughts on “Cuban Press Day: What Can We Celebrate?”
Youtube has become an important outlet for independent journalists to document everyday life in Cuba. YouTuber Hilda Núñez Díaz, also known as Hildina, was arrested recently in Santiago de Cuba by police agents. They burst into her house and seized her telephone and her computer.
“They know absolutely everything,” she decried, alluding to the blackmailing agent, who told her they would “complicate her life” and they reminded her that she was the mother of a small boy. “Where is the freedom of speech?” she demanded. “They don’t want people to know the reality of Cuba.”
I am glad to see you refer to José Marti. He is constantly held up as the hero of Cuba but his thoughts on freedom of speech and the responsibility to demonstrate have been ignored. We must study his teachings and adhere to all of them.