By Circles Robinson
HAVANA TIMES – Today marks the first day of the 15th year of our publication. A heck of a lot has happened since we began when I was hoping to make a contribution to the deadpan Cuban media scene for 2 or 3 years with a small non-commercial website.
One of the principal ideas was to give young people, without any avenue of expression in the monopoly state media, a chance to be heard. We naively didn’t think such an effort would be seen as something subversive that would merit punishing the writers. To the contrary, I even made a successful effort to convince the leadership of the very conservative Cuban Journalists Association that the novel idea of letting non journalists speak their views would strengthen the media and not be a threat in any way. It would boost the level of debate.
Despite not having the possibility to obtain legal status, since freedom of association doesn’t exist in Cuba, in December 2008, two months after we started publishing, we were invited to present the website at the Journalist Association’s headquarters and numerous State media people were invited. Even though I took it with a grain of salt, it was encouraging to hear the president of the Association stand up and promise his “political” support for our project.
To make a long story short, they liked the idea, but when they started to read the young Cubans opinions about their country and its problems, it wasn’t long before they privately withdrew their support and State Security began to harass and punish some of our writers.
Eight months into HT, while at the same time I kept working at my state job as a translator/revisor for several official Cuban media, I had my residency withdrawn and was given a month to leave the country. No reason was given. I wasn’t ready to leave, but in Cuba if as a foreigner you don’t work for some State or Communist Party institution or business you cannot stay. (There are some exceptions for foreign businesspeople in joint ventures with the government or military, or by marrying a Cuban, but those did not apply in my case.) I was just an everyday worker for 7.5 years doing my share.
I made the commitment to the people writing and contributing on the website that it would keep going. During the first 9 months, while I was still in Cuba, we only published in English, which was our original niche audience, but on the contributors request we began also publishing in Spanish as soon as I got situated in another country, which was Nicaragua, where I had lived for 16 years before accepting a job in Havana.
For those of you that follow coverage on Nicaragua on our web publication you are aware the country slid into a cruel dictatorship as the years of the Ortega-Murillo rule (2007-present) advanced. By 2022, under a police state since 2018, independent media and journalists are persecuted, jailed, or forced into exile. Several of those with offices were attacked and confiscated by the government’s police and paramilitary forces. I was just one more of so many who had to leave, or in my case face probable deportation or jail.
However, thanks to friends, family, and reader donations we have never stopped publishing as a daily. Most of the original contributing Cuban writers have had to leave the country due to State Security harassment or for having work possibilities closed. This, not just for being part of Havana Times but also for activism in other groups trying to advance changes in the stagnated and highly conservative Cuban system.
In recent years we have taken on new writers in Cuba and some of those from the early years are still contributing from within. Likewise, some of those now settled in other countries continue to participate.
By 2012 we began to expand to give coverage on Nicaragua and especially since the civic rebellion of April 2018. In the current year we also have included coverage on Chile and its interesting and conflictive political process since its civic rebellion in 2019.
One of the distinguishing aspects of HT has been our photo contests which took place during our first 11 years, the last one in 2019. Then came the pandemic and it isn’t until today that we are announcing our 12th HT Photo Contest.
This was just an overview of what the publication has experienced over 14 years and I want to thank all those people who have been a part of it. I don’t know how long it’s going to last but with good health and enough support I will continue to publish.