Val Prieto

The “r” on the typewriter no longer works and there’s no ñ key. The ink being engraved into the paper isn’t ink; it’s shoe polish. Typewriter ribbons are hard to come by and paper is old, brittle and scarce. There’s no copy machine, no scanner, no fax and there is no phone next to the typewriter on his desk. Computers aren’t allowed. Satellite dishes receiving the latest world news aren’t allowed. There’s no software, no hardware, and no staff. There are only a few sheets of yellowing paper, a typewriter, a pencil and a candle to see by.

He works by candlelight not because of the frequent “apagones” – power outages – but because any light shining though his window late at night is but a beacon to those who want to silence him. It would serve as proof that he’s up to no good by the standards of his government and an excuse to be picked up and taken into custody for “dangerousness.”

He plods on in the dark, without r’s or ñ’s, unable to see the full text in the darkness, and typing as gently as possible so as not to awaken the sleeping giants. Beads of sweat sometimes gather on his forehead, the humidity of Havana at night trickling his perspiration and making his eyes sting, smudging, perhaps, his already typed pages.

The morning daylight is his only editor. It is in the mornings when he can truly see his night’s work. He sits with the document and a half empty cup of café cubano brewed with a mixture of last week’s coffee grinds and soy, and he pencils in his edits. He inserts all the r’s and ñ’s by hand. He corrects his spelling. He adds slashes where the old Smith Corona failed to add a space. Right there, with his pencil stub, he edits for grammar and moves words here and there for impact.

He will not retype the piece when he’s done with his morning edit. Paper is scarce. He’s got very little shoe polish left for the typewriter ribbon. Had his last sheet of carbon paper not been used up, typed down to whiteness, he would have had another copy. Now, he must travel almost all of Havana looking for a phone owned by a friend to his cause.

His article won’t get Xeroxed or faxed. It won’t get typeset and printed. His article will be read, by him, over the phone a dozen times, perhaps more, with the hopes that the person on the other end of the line in Miami or New Jersey will do justice to his work. Each call is made hoping that the person in charge of monitoring his conversation from some government office in Havana won’t cut the transmission, and turn him in for a pound of rice as reward.

That is the life of the Independent Journalist in Cuba: Clandestine meetings, clandestine writing, clandestine transmissions with clandestine words of a clandestine truth.

Val Prieto

Valentin J. Prieto is Editor in Chief of

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