“It’s Hard for the Government to Tolerate the Professionalism of
14ymedio, Joanna Columbie, Havana, 21 October 2016 – Ignacio Gonzalez is
frequently seen in the streets of Havana with microphone in hand
recording citizens’ reactions to a flood, a historic baseball game or
the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of
Cuba and the United States. Independent journalist and editor of the Hot
Free Press (ECPL) agency, the young man aspires to continue excelling
professionally and thinks that non-government media are experiencing a
time of growth.
Recently Gonzalez spent 48 hours under arrest at a police station as a
consequence of his work as a reporter, an arrest that is among the
repressive acts carried out against independent journalism in recent months.
Columbie: How was Hot Free Press born?
Gonzalez: It comes from the idea that people are again gaining
confidence in the independent press, which had lost a little due to
government propaganda that says that it involves unqualified and
mercenary journalists. We interview not only the regime’s opponents but
also doctors, engineers, can collectors, mechanics, carpenters… people
Columbie: You suffered an arrest recently. What happened?
Gonzalez: I was doing a report together with another colleague on a
study of central Havana, and an operation began with a patrol car, five
police officers and two agents from State Security. They took us to the
fourth police unit and interrogated me in one of the offices. They made
me undress and squat forwards and backwards in order to see if I had
hidden any USB drives. I felt denigrated.
Then I was transferred to a police station on Zanja Street and later to
the 10th of October, located on Acosta Avenue. I was detained for 48
hours, which had never happened to me, because they had always detained
me between three and four hours.
Columbie. Were you accused of some crime or are you now subject to some
Gonzalez. They told me that they had a file on me and that I am a
counter-revolutionary. Although they assured me that my detention was
not because of political problems, but because I was committing an
illicit economic activity, since I had an agency where it was known that
I paid workers and that I had no license to practice this activity nor
was I accredited in the country. They also threatened me that my
equipment could be seized. I did not sign nor will I sign any paper.
There is no accusation as such, what I have is threats.
Columbie: Do you feel you are a “counter-revolutionary?”
Gonzalez: I told them that they were the counter-revolutionaries because
they refuse progress and all kinds of democracy to our country. If they
are going to put me in prison, they are going to have to do so also with
thousands of Cubans who bravely and spontaneously make statements for
our reports. Nor am I a mercenary. I work and get a salary for my work
with my press outlet.
What they want with their threats is that I stop being an independent
journalist and dedicate myself to taking photos for birthdays and
quinceañeras [girls’ 15th birthday celebrations – a major coming-of-age
Columbie: How do you define yourself?
Gonzalez: I am neither an opponent nor a dissident; I am a person who
practices journalism in favor of the truth. If the government does
something positive, I do an interview or a report about that topic, but
if it does something negative, I also bring it to light. If an opponent
commits an act of corruption, I bring it to light, and if he is making a
move in favor of the people, I do as well. That’s how journalism should
Columbie: Why do you believe that the repression against you has become
more intense now?
Gonzalez: The increasing growth of independent journalism is upsetting
them. We unofficial reporters have had the opportunity to attend
courses, improve ourselves, and the government doesn’t tolerate it. This
improvement, this professionalism that journalists are acquiring, even
the audio-visual media which shows the whole world the news as it is, it
is hard for them to tolerate. They are trying to accuse us of
illegalities. It is a zero-tolerance policy towards the independent press.
In the case of Hot Free Press we are making reports almost of the same
quality as Cuban television, but with the difference that we are not
censored. We are reaching people; we have managed to make people feel a
little more confident with the independent press, to give their
statements. We have even found among members of the public that they say
that if it’s not for national television, they say whatever they want.
They are more disposed to make statements to independent outlets because
they know that the national press belongs to the government and simply
does not work.
Columbie: Are other non-governmental press agencies going through the
Gonzalez: I have not seen the same attitude with the rest of the new
supposedly independent programs, like Bola 8 or Mi Havana TV. These just
have a lot of nonsense. Supposedly they are being financed by the
self-employed, but I work in this industry, and I know that the
self-employed cannot pay for a production like these programs are
showing. There are diverse locations and entry to places to which the
independent press does not have access.
Columbie: How would you define the practice of the press in Cuba outside
of the official sphere?
Gonzalez: Being an independent journalist here is like being a war
Translated by Mary Lou Keel
Source: “It’s Hard for the Government to Tolerate the Professionalism of
Independent Journalists” – Translating Cuba –