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.
Although he lives with fear, he’s made it his sidekick. If he should suffer the same fate as his peers, as his mentors, then so be it. He works for something more valuable than money, something more valuable than a byline, and something more valuable than himself. He works for the truth. His onus is to tell the story of the real truth instead of the “official” one, even though telling the truth, in Cuba, can kill him.
Right now there remain at least two dozen independent journalists incarcerated in Cuba simply because they dared speak the truth. Some have been locked away since 2003, still in the infancy of their 15 or 20 year sentences. Truth has made them suffer beatings, torture and malnutrition. Truth has mocked, ridiculed, and subjected them to abject horrors and indignity.
All because they bear witness to the world around them and dare describe it nakedly and without their government’s official veil.
There are many journalists from around the world in Havana. CNN is there. Reuters, the AP. They live comfortably in hotel rooms and work in comfortable in air-conditioned offices full of amenities. They have the copy machine. They have the faxes and computers and printers and scanners. They have staff and editors. What they don’t have is the security to report the truth. They trade that truth away, to keep a bureau and a staff. They walk on eggshells when they should be stomping the ground beneath them with integrity and zeal. With the hunger to dig, to dig deep enough to get to the real story that needs to be screamed aloud, at the tops of their lungs, for the entire world to hear.
Yet we hear no screams of injustice from the foreign reporter’s pool in Havana. We hear only the chirping. We here the Polly-wannacrackers of fidel castro’s propaganda machinery. It’s more important, you see, to keep a bureau in Havana, just in case the big story breaks, than to report the obvious failure of a system, and the systematic enslavement of a people.
To bear witness to the subjugation of journalism, you need look no further than Cuba.
The Inter American Press Association has called for newspapers to publish simultaneous commentary on the state of the imprisoned Cuban Independent Journalists today and to urge for their immediate and unconditional release. Reporters Without Borders has condemned Cuba’s treatment of independent journalists and lists Cuba as second only to China in the number of incarcerated journalists. If the numbers were calculated on a per capita basis, Cuba would stand alone as the number one jailer of reporters in the world.
There is no better time than the present to bring to the world’s attention the state of independent journalism in Cuba, and to show the world the ignominious fate of the few with the integrity and courage to stand up against their oppressors, armed but with words and truth.
Valentin J. Prieto is Editor in Chief of http://www.babalublog.com