I share with my fellow Cuban independent journalists the drunkenness of writing freely under a totalitarian dictatorship; of experiencing the catharsis of denouncing the regime’s violations; of feeling useful to my people knowing that, in the long run, what I write will contribute to a better future.
In 1998, I was initiated as an independent journalists writing for Nueva Prensa, a small independent news agency directed by Mercedes Moreno, a former sports commentator on Cuban TV. I had already hit rick bottom. Due to “ideological problems,” I had not been allowed to finish an academic career, for more than 18 years, I had only been given work in construction and agriculture. At literary competitions and workshops, my stories were invariably rejected because of “ideological problems.” Had I not gone into independent journalism, I think I would have burst from impotence and hopelessness.
All independent journalists share common experiences. The hazardous beginnings, the first arrests by political police; the systematic harassment, the tapped phone lines; the feelings of being permanently watched, that any and all who surround you can be a sneak; reprisals against your family; friends who stop visiting; neighbors who avoid you in public. It hurts but you understand: they are scared.
These are only the first barriers that you encounter while doing this job. Deprived of official information (or knowing information in being manipulated), you have to turn to less-than-reliable sources for your reporting. The sources, fearful of reprisal, can deny today what they told you yesterday.
In journalism handbooks, it is easy to talk about being objective and unbending with information. Under the conditions faced by journalists in a totalitarian society, the effort is tripled. Being yet another victim, you cannot let your emotions sweep you under. If there is one thing that you must trust it’s your intuition. You have to learn to read between the lines in the official press. The smallest gaffe in your reporting can be used by the authorities, in the best of cases, to discredit you; and in the worse, to send you to prison.
The hardest task is to adjust to the idea that you or your colleagues could tomorrow be jailed.
The complete version of this article, which was first published by the Committee for the Protection of Journalist, is available(here).