BELatina News speaks to Yoel Suarez, an independent Cuban journalist who has been blacklisted by Cuba’s regime.
Wednesday marks one month since a historic wave of protests erupted in various Cuban cities and captured international attention.
Fed-up Cubans made history when they flooded the streets with chants of “Libertad” and “Patria y Vida” and were heard beyond the waters of the Caribbean island. Exiled Cubans and their allies joined the protests from cities across the world.
The pandemic underlined the Cuban government’s negligence of its people — COVID-19 infections soared, and uncertainty took over, further destabilizing the Cuban economy and deepening the hardships of an impoverished nation.
It led Cubans to say “¡Ya Basta!” and voice their dissatisfaction, willing to bear the consequences.
These events illustrated the pent-up anger of the Cuban people with the mistreatment and injustices of the island’s authoritarian government.
However, many non-Cubans, and those who have never experienced the grip of oppression, are portraying the island’s recent unrest as unrelated to the authoritarian system, not doing any justice to those living it.
A situation as complex as the one Cuba is experiencing should not be diluted by political agendas.
Truth be told: only Cubans should be in charge of the narrative revolving around Cuba.
This is why we spoke with Yoel Suárez*, a Cuban journalist on the ground in Cuba. He lives and breathes what many of us can’t even fathom from the safe havens of our privileged environments.
For those still resting on the laurels of Castro’s romanticism, how we conversed with Yoel Suarez may give them an idea of the reality of life on the island. Yoel’s work as a freelance journalist forced him to have an impersonal conversation via WhatsApp voice notes, made possible by a few waves of a lagging WiFi connection.
Suárez, who can’t travel outside of the island as punishment for his journalism, described Cuba to BELatina as an oversized jail.
BELatina News: How can a history as complex as that of Cuba be explained?
Yoel Suárez: I like to divide Cuba into three parts: When it was a colony of the Spanish empire when we were a Republic, and now where there has been a socialist tyranny in the country for sixty-two years. And I am going to tell you, the way to explain it is that there is currently a tyranny in Cuba where you can’t talk about what the government doesn’t like because it becomes a political problem and basically destroys your life.
There are people here who have been imprisoned for posting about communism on their social media or reporting it through videos that they themselves took on their phone, even before the events of July 11th.
BELatina News: How do you feel knowing that your opinions about Cuba may have negative consequences?
Suárez: Well, the truth is that my opinions, the ones that have negative consequences, are rather those that refer to the Cuban socialist state, the socialist dictatorship, and how it oppresses the Cuban people. And, in the general sense, it makes me feel proud because the applause is coming from the right place — because I feel that I’m on the right side of history. For me, it would be devastating if tyranny applauded something I did.
Of course, on the other hand, there is fear because my family is also involved in this.
Police stations have summoned my mother to threaten her due to my work, to question and pressure her, so she pressures me in return to quit journalism. My wife has also suffered that fate.
BELatina News: In what ways is the international media mistaken?
Suárez: I believe that some are wrong, especially liberal and left-wing media when they try to naturalize or normalize what is happening in Cuba. For example, some compare what happens in Cuba with what [unfortunately] happens in other places in Latin America, and that generates a false equivalence. It is true. In other countries, there is terrible organized crime, but Cuba also has it. But the State itself is organized crime.
The reality is that Latin America isn’t like Cuba. In Cuba, there is no freedom of association. There is no freedom of assembly; there is no freedom of movement. In fact, there are 250 people right now on a black list that the government has to regulate them.
I’ve also heard some say that in such and such country, 12 families control the entire country, and Cuba is different. Here in Cuba, there is a family that controls the entire island, which is the Castro family and its acolytes. The acolytes of that communist court are basically the generals, the so-called historical commanders, Ramiro Valdez, Guillermo García Frías, or current generals, such as General López Callejas, among others. — that is Cuba.
BELatina News: In your previous answer, you mentioned something about regulating people. What does that mean?
Suárez: That means limiting their freedom of movement for political reasons. In other words, these people cannot leave Cuba. They cannot take a plane. If you arrive at the airport, they tell you that you cannot travel even if you purchased the air ticket. I, for example, have been on that list for a year and a half or so. You are basically a prisoner in your own country.
BELatina News: How do you Cubans see the coverage of the island, and how close is it to reality?
Suárez: Three types of media operate in Cuba. First, the state media is related to the Cuban propaganda machine, a Leviathan of communication. It is a completely vertical antediluvian monster, which only obeys orders from the Communist Party and refers to that Soviet communication model — it is probably a species of dinosaur that still lives. This is the centralized model of the Communist Party of media.
The other group is the independent media to which I belong. They are more of a private media type similar to those that existed before 1959 in Cuba. Private media of all kinds are now forbidden. They are often followed and strongly persecuted. This one provides a better report of Cuba.
And then there are the accredited media of Cuba. This third group of media also offers a limited vision of Cuban reality because they are mostly restricted by the very office that accredits that they are legal in Cuba. This media is basically full of liberals and people from the left who are permissive of the regime somehow. They must do it either out of fear or out of affinity with tyranny. This media also offers an incomplete view of reality.
BELatina News: What would you recommend to people who really want to help Cuba’s situation abroad?
Suárez: First, denounce all the arbitrariness that the Cuban regime commits with those of us inside Cuba, which, by the way, when we try to denounce it ourselves, they persecute us, threaten us, push us into exile, or torture us here. They hit or threaten the family or get them fired from their workplace. That is something that commonly happens here. In other words, those who denounce are often victims of the regime, and they themselves become the cause for the complaint. It is a kind of spiral. I say that the Cuban Revolution is an expert in creating its own enemies. So, denounce and call it out as much as you can.
BELatina News: In terms of donations, what would be the best route?
Suárez: I know people with very good intentions say they want to send a shipment of clothes or medicines to Cuba, but that’s a tough situation.
For instance, if the supplies enter the country and the recipient is a Cuban institution or the regime’s hands, then the regime arbitrarily distributes those drugs, goods, products, whatever was sent to the people, keeping it in the hands of the regime’s nomenclature instead. Many times those well-intentioned supplies do not reach the population. So, my recommendation is that, if you want to send something to Cuba, do it within the citizens — from Cuban to Cuban.
Try to give donations through the support networks of churches, for example, civil society organizations that, although they have been pressured and continue to be pressured by the regime, have not agreed with the regime. There are organizations like Cáritas Cuba. Evangelical churches organizations also offer these networks in communities throughout the country, such as in rural communities, in the highest mountains, in cities, and where the need is.
At some point during the interview, Suárez asked the following question as he provided one of his answers: “If freedom of expression were limited, to the level of Cuba, how would you feel?”
So, how would you feel?
The interview has been translated from Spanish and lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
*About Yoel: Yoel Suárez obtained his journalism degree from the Universidad de La Habana. He has worked with independent Cuban sources, for example, Diario de Cuba. He has also written for international publications, such as El Español from Spain, El Espectador from Colombia, VICE, and Univision. He’s also an author, scriptwriter, and producer of documentaries.