Reinaldo Escobar: The Unqualified Cuban Truth / Somos+
Somos+, Leyla Belo, 23 MACH 2017 — Those who ever speak with Reinaldo
cannot deny his innate genius, his sense of humor and gentleness of
expression. A matter of decorum, isn’t it? That quality which is so
scarce among many people nowadays. He does what he considers to be his
duty: to disassemble our Island from within, dreaming that some of us,
or all of us together, will fix it. Each one of his writings brims with
endless sensibility, while leaving to others the use of easy adjectives
and trivial cruelties. A committed journal¡ist; of the kind of those no
longer living, because his commitment is not centered around one man but
around his Cuba, his suffering Cuba.
You had nearly two decades of work in official media under your belt.
When did you decide to take another path and why?
When I was supposed to graduate from the School of Journalism in 1971,
there was a “purge” at the University of Havana which meant the
expulsion and punishment of several students. My “punishment,” caused by
my “ideological issues,” consisted of working for a year for a tabloid
by the name of El Bayardo, which was part of Columna Juvenil el
Centenario, a youth brigade (a forerunner of the Youth Working Army), in
Camagûey province. I stayed there until mid-1973.
After serving out my sentence I was placed with Revista Cuba
Internacional where, according to my colleague Norberto Fuentes, we were
involved in “sugarcoating.” I worked there until mid-1987, when I
transferred to the Juventud Rebelde newspaper, inspired by the Soviet
glasnost, and thought that we would be able to engage in a different
type of journalism in Cuba. I tried to do so with the best of
intentions, and the result was that I was expelled from the newspaper in
1988 and disqualified from exercising the profession on the Island.
Thus, some 18 years elapsed between mid-1971 and 1988 when I was engaged
in official journalism.
I began working as an independent journalist in January, 1989, which was
referred to at that time as “freelance” journalism, and contributed to
several European publications by writing about Cuban subjects.
You are the founder of 14ymedio and are its Editor in Chief. How
difficult is it to engage in serious journalism in an underground media?
The 14ymedio newspaper is not an underground newspaper. If I were to
label it at all, I would rather call it an independent or unofficial
newspaper. The best definition is that we are a digital, non-subsidized,
That definition is essential to explain its difficulties. The problem
other media have in securing ink and paper is experienced by us in
achieving Internet connectivity. The largest volume of information flow
is with our correspondents in the provinces and with other associates
through the Nauta webmail network, which is slow and government-controlled.
The other difficulty is the scarcity of journalists who meet the
appropriate requirements, as the first characteristic is for them to
have the professional sensibility to sense everything which is really
newsworthy. The second characteristic is to be able to truthfully and
appealingly write in any journalistic genre, while checking with
reliable sources. The third element is for them to dare to face the
risks stemming from the threats by the political police.
At times those threats materialize into specific events which physically
render it difficult to perform our job.
Current independent journalism (most of it) does not stem from a
“passion” when dealing with the news.
One of the distinctive features of the current, independent journalism
is the short distance that exists between many of its reporters and
political activism. Arbitrary detentions, beatings, searches, evictions
and everything that contributes to a true picture of a typical
dictatorship seems to be the only thing of interest to that type of
journalism. This can be explained because such news is absent from
official media, and to counteract the official media monopoly on
information is one of the raisons d’être of independent media. The
passion is inherent to the nature of this reporting, hence the (always
unnecessary) profusion of adjectives.
Independent journalism should also focus on other matters, such as the
growing presence of entrepreneurs, and it should look at those
–apparently insignificant– signs of defiance by our plastic artists,
filmmakers, writers, humorists and musicians.
Authorized press in Cuba is subsidized by the Cuban Communist Party
(PCC). In your opinion, what would be the ideal management paradigm for
I do not think there is an ideal management paradigm for the media.
The issue of media ownership is a complex matter. When it is
privately-owned, under a market system, information becomes one more
item of merchandise and “what sells” gains visibility over “what needs
to be reported.” When management is in state hands and does not depend
on advertisers, the media often becomes boring and doctrinaire. In
addition, there is public management, which is somewhat different from
state management in that it is governed by the readership.
Even though it is not noticed at first glance, the official broadcasting
media in Cuba are privately-owned and are the monopoly of the Communist
Party. If we understand that the concept of ownership specifically
refers to the decision-making capacity and add to the aspect of material
responsibility for what is owned, there is no question that the official
media owner is the PCC, which designates the management staff,
establishes the editorial line, manages material resources and pays the
Earnings are not measured in terms of money as under a market system,
but in terms of the achieved control over the population, which only
finds out about what those media report if they are privileged enough to
connect to other media. It is acceptable for a political party to own
its own publication, but it not acceptable for that party, having
exclusive access to power in the name of the law, to use State funds to
pay the cost of its media and, in addition, to take upon itself the
right of prohibiting the existence of its competitors.
Eventually, we will have private newspapers and magazines in Cuba,
perhaps full of advertisements, police-blotter journalism and trivial
news about the world of show business; civil society institutions will
manage their own media and perhaps there will be a public TV channel
where people will learn about the debates in Parliament.
You interviewed the Law student expelled from Cienfuegos University. How
do you define his action?
This young man only exercised his sacrosanct right to free expression
when answering the test questions. If a student is asked on a test what
his opinion is regarding a specific subject, whoever grades the test has
to refrain from his or her political prejudices, otherwise they should
pose the questions with more honesty, such as, “What do you think I
would be pleased to hear regarding such subject?”
You were detained a few months ago while a Spanish journalist
was interviewing you. Was that another violation of the freedom of
During the days of mourning following the death of former president
Fidel Castro, I was interviewed by journalist Vicent Sanclemente, from
Televisión Española. I do not think I was being followed at that
particular time, but “they” were just highly-strung. Maybe the informant
who was keeping an eye by the Malecón sea wall thought my answers to be
inappropriate. When this young man reported to his superiors that there
was a Cuban guy saying strange things to a foreign journalist, the
person who got the report was compelled to fulfill his duty. Something
“natural” in our environment.
Violating the freedom of expression is expressed in the most acute way
when, for instance, our 14ymedio.com newspaper becomes inaccessible to
the domestic servers providing Internet browsing service.
The official discourse boasts of freedom of expression in Cuba. Yet the
reality is different.
Once, I do not remember the exact date, Mr. Carlos Lage maintained that
there was total freedom of thought in Cuba… and it is true. What happens
is, as Friedrich Engels used to say, “the word is the material wrapping
of thought,” so that it is totally worthless for someone to come up with
a political formula if he or she cannot in absolute calmness expound
upon it to all of his or her followers.
Freedom of expression, exercised in its public environment, is the best
guarantee that all rights to which people are entitled are fulfilled,
including, naturally, the right to education, public health and social
Translated by: Anonymous
Source: Reinaldo Escobar: The Unqualified Cuban Truth / Somos+ –
Translating Cuba –