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Home World Independent media in Cuba: tolerated at best

Independent media in Cuba: tolerated at best


The Cuban government is fed up with research. She tries to discredit editorial offices with reference to foreign funding.

Pedro Sotto Alba nickel mine in the in the Cuban city of Moa Photo: Alexandre Meneghini / reuters

The x-rays with the yellowish-beige veil over the lungs are an important element of the report by Cynthia de la Cantera and Alberto C. Toppin. They appear twice on the twenty pages that make up the digital magazine Yucabyte cleared the two authors for their in-depth research on the other side of nickel mining in the very east of the island near Holguín.

In Cuba, hardly any journalists have dealt with the consequences of nickel mining for the environment and local residents. “The other price of nickel” is the apt title of the report, which shows how the population is doing in the immediate vicinity of the Pedro Sotto Alba nickel mine, which has been operated jointly by Cuba and the Canadian mining company Sherritt International since 1991. However, without worrying about the use of modern environmental protection technologies and protecting the local population from the toxic dust that the open pit mining and the extraction of nickel and cobalt from the stone bring with it.

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This is exactly what the two freelance journalists researched on site, talked to residents, but also to doctors and hospital staff in the Moa region, and compared the history of the Cuban-Canadian joint venture and the exemptions granted by the government.

The report was published on October 22, 2019 on the homepage of Yucabyte and initial reports of health care in the Moa area followed about two months later. For Cynthia de la Cantera something of a direct response to the publication. At the same time, she remembers: “It wasn’t until the Fundación Gabo nominated our report for a prize almost a year after it was published that interest rose again by leaps and bounds”.

Increasing popularity of the independent media

The “Fundación Gabo” foundation from Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, founded by Colombia’s Nobel Prize for Literature, Gabriel García Márquez, is Latin America’s most important media award. In 2017 and 2018 there were at least two winners from Cuba. “Both from independent and not from state media,” says Carlos Manuel Álvarez, who is with The sneeze has set up one of the two award-winning editorial offices.

“The government in Havana is annoyed by this, is questioning the quality of the journalism and is criticizing the financing of these independent media, which are supported from abroad,” says Álvarez. In early January appeared on the official Internet portal CubaDebate, which bears the beautiful subtitle “Against Media Terrorism”, an article in which the funding of independent editorial offices in Cuba by the Open Society Foundations as well as by US government agencies was denounced. In the article, the budget of the Gabo Foundation and its origins were also critically examined.

From Cartagena de Indias there was only the succinct counterattack that the nomination by the jury was based on clearly defined quality criteria. From an official Cuban perspective, however, it is more important where the money for the reporting came from than its content. Nothing new for Álvarez. He attests to the increasing popularity and relevance of independent journalism on the island. The strong increase in internet usage is partly responsible for this, independent media like The touch, Tremendous Note or Neighborhood Journalism have become more and more relevant as a source of information.

This is precisely why the pressure on independent journalists is increasing again. As recently as February 10, the Labor Department released a new list stating that newspapers and magazines should not be produced, news agencies should be founded and all journalistic activities prohibited. For journalists like Carlos Manuel Álvarez and Cynthia de la Cantera, this does not come as a surprise. “Journalism was never allowed, at best tolerated,” said the two of them. Despite being nominated for the most important media award, Cynthia de la Cantera has decided to turn her back on journalism after more than six years as a freelance.

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