On December 10, 1987, when we met at the place where I then lived to make a recording of a round table discussion that was to be transmitted by Radio Marti several days later, the last thing that any of us, crazy fools, would have thought of at that time was that our meeting would open up a crevice in Castro’s Cuba, where the seeds of the independent journalism would root and grow.
We were very few – there was only about ten of us. Ricardo Bofill was the one who had come up with the idea and Rolando Cartaya was the moderator. In the program, each of us, mainly Adolfo Rivero Caro and Rafael Saumel, expressed our views on what the Cuban totalitarian dictatorship meant with regard to the “Magna Carta” of human rights (the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights). We demanded freedom of expression and establishment of a democratic society.
Even at that time it was clear that the country needed free press. We remembered that before the Revolution, there were over 60 newspapers, 20 TV stations, 106 independent radio stations and dozens of magazines, newsletters, etc. in Cuba. In 1960, everything was confiscated by Fidel Castro, who turned Cuba into a censured country.
The idea of independent journalism in a country like Cuba, where all mass media have been, and still are, controlled, funded and heavily censured by the State, seemed somehow supernatural – something like a miracle, especially when considering the repressive machinery eager to suppress even the smallest flicker of dissent or criticism of the regime, not to mention an opposition movement.
That day, December 10, 1987, marked the first time when a group of Cubans, many of whom were very famous journalists, publicly assessed the human rights situation in Cuba under the dictatorship of Fidel Castro. Also, for the first time since its founding in 1985, Radio Marti broadcast dissident voices from Cuba.
The irrepressible human instinct for freedom being at work, independent news agencies and journalist associations emerged months later, as well as names that should never be forgotten, such as Hubert Jerez, Indamiro Restano, Raul Rivero, Maria Elena Cruz Varela, Tania Quintero, Manuel Vazquez Portal, Jorge Olivera, Hector Maseda, Vicente Escobal, Claudia Marquez Linares, Fara Armenteros and many others.
In January 1989, the first independent media was established in Cuba after 30 years of dictatorship. It was a simple samizdat, reproduced by hand and passed from one reader to another.
At those times there were no computers or cell phones and the fixed phone lines of many independent journalists were blocked by State Security. A true picture of the situation in Cuba was given by Colombian novelist and journalist Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the foreword to Gianni Mina’s interview with Castro “Un encuentro con Fidel” from 1988, where he said that the official press seemed to hide things from people rather than inform them.
The Cuban independent press, which has thrived most since the nineties of the last century, can be seen as something quite new in the history of totalitarian dictatorships, as nothing similar has ever appeared elsewhere, not even in the former USSR.
The seeds for planting the tree of such a robust independent movement were many. Regardless of the fact that some might have considered the independent press in Cuba crooked after four or five opportunists had flopped over to the Political Police, the tree grew stronger and stronger and withstood even the storm of April 2003, when many journalists were imposed long prison sentences by Fidel Castro and his draconian Law No. 88, known as “La Ley Mordaza”, or “Gag Law”.
After those barbaric arrests, a brave group of independent journalists took up the task of those who ended up in prison, under the umbrella of the agency known as CubaNet, directed by Rosa Berre.
Almost thirty years have passed and the independent press is now stronger than ever and thanks to the advent of the digital age it is benefiting from a dynamic flow of information.
Many of the journalists, 111 in total, who are all active members of many agencies all across the island, have joined the “Asociacion Pro Libertad de Prensa” (Press Association for Freedom), founded in 2006 and chaired by Jose Antonio Fornaris, one of our oldest and most valuable colleagues.
Among the many members of this movement, which grows bigger and bigger every day, many bloggers stand out with millions of entries on their web sites. For instance, Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar, whose project known as the “Generacion Y” launched in March 2007 was so successful that it gave rise to the “14 Y Medio” newspaper, which is made up of contributions of over twenty journalists, many of them quite young.