A thoughtful look at the Cuba profunda, through the lens of its independent journalists

by Milvia Rodriguez, Public Policy Studies Administrator

I left my home in Cuba in 1988 to study in Moscow and immigrated to the United States in 1997 to pursue a PhD in music. Throughout all these years abroad, I have leaned on family and friends for reliable news about the situation on the island. Fortunately, with the advent of social media and online publications, the Cuban diaspora as well as Cubans on the island, are now able to access up-to-date information through a number of publications and virtual news outlets, filling in the information gap we have experienced for decades both inside and outside of Cuba.

Expanded access to the internet in the last decade has provided a set of conditions for a growing number of independent journalists (most of them in their 20s and 30s) working outside of government-sponsored publications – to chronicle the realities of Cuban life on the ground since around 2010s. Despite the youth of Periodismo de Barrio(founded in 2015) and similar independent publications, the range of issues these young journalists cover is remarkable. Even more remarkable is the variety of ways in which they work. Each publication offers its own unique identity and focus, covering environmental, education, social and cultural issues, open data access, documentation of daily life, entrepreneurial news, and other commentary with nuance and depth. The critical eye and fact-based journalism presented in their work is a breath of fresh air to Cuban readers, many accustomed to the bland propaganda of Periódico Granma and Juventud Rebelde, two of the newspapers sponsored by the state and the Communist Party of Cuba.  

Independent publications work in the most difficult circumstances and under scrutiny from government censors. Like Elaine Diaz, founder and director of Periodismo de Barrio, says in her article “Cuba’s Emerging Media: Challenges, Threats and Opportunities”, “almost all of [these independent publications] survive in an openly illegal terrain known as ‘allegality.’ Non-state media in Cuba defy the very Constitution of the country, which in Article 52 explicitly prohibits the existence of private media.” [1]

Despite the lack of official support, independent Cuban journalism is starting to gain international recognition, which has helped expand their audiences beyond word of mouth and the good luck of an internet search. Chronicles like “La sangre nunca fue amarilla” written for Periodismo de Barrio by Monica Baro was awarded the 2019 Text award at the Gabo Awards, which recognizes Ibero-American best stories each year. In 2017, another publication, El Estornudoreceived the same award for “Historia de un paria”, written by Jorge Carrasco. A number of independent publications, like Yucabyte14ymedioel TOQUEInventarioPostdataNegolutionand On Cuba to name a few, continue to expand their readership and impact. To facilitate the work and prevent shutdowns, some have even opened offices outside of Cuba while most of the journalists work from inside the island[2].

In my personal opinion, independent journalists are publishing the best journalistic work produced in Cuba since the post-1959 government began to monopolize the news outlets. Some online publications are more successful and popular than others; some have more established business models and engaging websites. Nevertheless, they seem tightly united in their fight for survival against censorship and restrictions.

While I enjoy having access to the information they provide, what amuses me the most is the way these young journalists write. In contrast to the cut and dry language of official news, the tone of the independent journalism pieces, with the colloquial rhythm easily identifiable as Cuban, make me feel closer to my island and my people in ways I have not during the many years living abroad. Many of the published articles are written with a mix of straightforward facts, humor, sadness, and skepticism that truly feel like freedom. From chronicles about unique characters, like Farah in “Historia de un Paria”, to the lead poisoning investigation at a neighborhood of Havana in “La sangre nunca fue amarilla”, many of the stories reflect the idiosyncrasies of the Cuban people in their daily fight (la lucha, as we call it). They provide a window into the soul of the Cuban people on the edge of change, but still deeply rooted in the system they have lived in for more than six decades now. 

Cubans often refer to ourselves as “los de aquí y los de allá”, meaning the Cubans on the island and the diaspora. The democratic access to the internet, now more and more accessible to all Cubans, has provided a new bridge that many are crossing in both directions. Cubans are talking to each other and openly discussing their views about what is happening in Cuba. 

My hope is that independent journalism continues to establish itself and grow in scope and popularity, so we Cubans, “de aquí y de allá”, can read and share the stories we seek to know.

[1] https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/en/blog/00-19236-cuba%E2%80%99s-emerging-media-challenges-threats-and-opportunities

[2] Ibid.

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