The Intolerable Virtues of Cuba’s Periodismo de Barrio Project

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

The team of Periodismo de Barrio that was detained in Baracoa trying to report on the aftermath of hurricane Matthew.
The team of Periodismo de Barrio that was detained in Baracoa trying to report on the aftermath of hurricane Matthew.

HAVANA TIMES — I must confess that I read Periodismo de Barrio (PB) less than I should, even though my daughter tells me off more and more for not doing so. However, from what I have read, I can claim that it is one of the most interesting intellectual and media projects that have ever been carried out in Cuba.

I say this because of the young activists’ professionalism – which combines significant professionalism with elegant prose – but especially because it is a good attempt at giving a voice to those who don’t have one, precisely to those that an intelligent PB journalist calls “the wronged”.

It’s investigative journalism which goes places and deals with situations that many people think don’t exist on the island, including many Cubans. It is – and this is their sin – a challenge to the unquestioned and arrogant government discourse which denies a reality of poverty and exclusion which is gaining more and more ground among the rubble of this authoritarian regime.

However, PB isn’t an opposition organization. It doesn’t aspire to change the Cuban government, but to promote social change by critically following Raul Castro’s controversial reforms. In this respect, it occupies an area in the political field which I have referred to as critical/systemic along with Cuba Posible, Temas and other groups who hope to “perfect” Cuban socialism.

That’s why the recent arrests of a group of these new journalists when they were reporting from Baracoa, which had been destroyed by Matthew, couldn’t be interpreted in any other way but as a step up on the Cuban government’s repressive scale. Repression has always existed, however, it had never been directly applied to groups like this one before, which is not only not “opposition”, but also doesn’t put any direct pressure on the control of Cuba’s most empirical public space: the street.

PB has countered this repression – including a fierce government media campaign trying to discredit it – with a brave text that labels the repression exercised against them as both illegal and illegitimate. It denounces their “arbitrary arrests” and the existing illegal landscape we live in, where they refer to the State’s own monopolist ambitions. Let me quote a paragraph:

“We believe that the public figure of Cuba’s media isn’t solely guaranteed by the government’s ownership of the media. You can’t tell the truth about Cuba with just one version, or with unanimous versions, which would be the equivalent of just one in essence. Not when there are so many versions that disagree. In order for the truth of Cuba to be the truth of Cuba, there needs to be a coming together of all of these truths, it would have to be a collective construct where different voices participate with equal rights and duties.”

Finally, PB demanded their right to exist independently and to appeal for funding sources outside of Cuba, giving a detailed report about their revenue and expenditure [for their reporting on the post-hurricane situation], whose preciseness should inspire the not-so-transparent Cuban state.

The situation that was produced around PB has provoked many reactions. And of course, everyone is free to live with their opinion. In my opinion, the young journalists at Periodismo de Barrio have given the nation a very important lesson in civility at a time when our society is beginning to overcome the fragmentation and authoritarian zone that made possible its subordination to the government for decades. And that’s why they deserve our respect and support.

However, just like CUBALEX, Grupo Convivencia, MUD and UNPACU activists deserve it, as well as any other group or person who believes, like PB, that thinking freely and working as a result of this aren’t reason to be blamed. And these groups have been suffering the regime’s repressive blows, a regime which has lost any notion of decency a long time ago.

This is another lesson that can help us all, including the troops at Periodismo de Barrio. By believing that keeping a distance from organized opposition saves their space from repression shows that they don’t understand how authoritarian regimes work. These regimes don’t allow anyone to disagree with them and they go after the rebels that do, one after the other. Or we save all of us together or we die one after the other.

And the last one to die, like Niemoller, will realize that not protesting when the time was right was a costly political mistake.