Reports from Cuba: ‘We will be watching you’

14yMedio reports from Havana via Translating Cuba:

“We Will Be Watching You”

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The police offered Luz Escobar better treatment if she collaborated so that the Government could influence the editorial line of ’14ymedio’

Two State Security officers threatened the journalist Luz Escobar on Monday with prosecution for a common crime and making her life hell if she continues her work as a journalist for 14ymedio. “We are going to be watching you, because everyone here [in Cuba] has to buy something on the black market,” warned one of the interrogators.

Escobar received a summons, the second in less than five weeks, to attend an “interview” at the Zapata and C Street police station in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, on 15 January at 1:00 in the afternoon. The meeting lasted an hour and 20 minutes and included several warnings.

“They threatened to tell my neighbors that I am a counterrevolutionary, to not let me leave the country and to prosecute me for a common crime,” adds the reporter, who in the last four years has published dozens of chronicles and reports in the pages of this newspaper.

“They gave as an example the case of the economist Karina Gálvez,” a member of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) who was prosecuted last year for the crime of tax evasion. “The same thing can happen to you,” the officers threatened.

Escobar, who previously worked as a theater producer, has been working as a journalist since the beginning of 2014 when she joined 14ymedio’s initial team. Since then she has specialized in cultural and local coverage; highlights of her work are her interviews with artists and her chronicles of daily life in Havana.

“They were particularly annoyed by the article I published last week about the situation outside the Colombian embassy in Havana, where visas are processed so that Cubans can continue the consular procedures for visas to United States in Bogotá,” she said.

“The official, who identified himself as Lieutenant Amed, reproached me for going there and gathering information from Cubans who were waiting to enter the consulate,” Escobar said. “He told me that I had to notify State Security whenever I wanted to cover news of that type.”

The “interview” cycled between threats and an offer of collaboration for the journalist to help the political police to “influence the editorial line” of 14ymedio, because right now “it is a newspaper that receives instructions from abroad to subvert the Revolution,” they told her.

“Among the warnings there were clear hints that they will put pressure on my family and even alluded to my daughters, telling me that they might not have me around as they grow up,” said the reporter, who has decided to continue with her work. “It’s what I want to do with my life,” she says flatly.

The officials insisted that the United States Government financially supports this digital newspaper, but did not reference public information on 14ymedio’s finances; in its four years of existence the newspaper has not received funds from any governments or political parties, or from any organizations linked to any nation’s executive branch.

“Lieutenant Amed avoided mentioning the transparent finances of which this newspaper boasts,” said the director of 14ymedio, the journalist Yoani Sánchez. “He is lying, because we have created our own business model with the resources derived from memberships, reporting agreements with other media, private donations and the work we do in academic centers or other information spaces,” she adds.

“Amed wants to blame us for something that is totally false and is committing the crime of defamation crime by saying that we receive resources from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), when we are a project with total economic and editorial autonomy,” she reiterates.

A few weeks ago, this newspaper inaugurated a membership system for Internet users to help support the costs of maintaining a newspaper in a country where the independent press is penalized. “We have managed to involve readers so that they can support, with their monetary contributions and solidarity, the work we do every day,” says Sánchez.

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Thank you all for the solidarity. The “interview” was full of threats from State Security to get me to quit my work as a journalist on the digital newspaper 14ymedio. 15 January 2018

Since the founding of 14ymedio, in May 2014, members of the editorial team have received constant pressure to abandon their work as journalists. The website is blocked on national servers and residents on the island can only access it via anonymous proxies or VPN.

“Arrests, threats and interrogations have been our day-to-day reality, but we have tried to prevent that repressive atmosphere from distracting us from our reporting,” Sánchez emphasizes, “however, the situation has reached a point where we fear for the integrity of our reporters and it is time to call on the solidarity of journalism organizations in the region and human rights organizations to alert them to what is happening.”

At the end of the interview, Luz Escobar received a new police citation for next Wednesday, 17 January, at the Police Station on 21st and C streets in Vedado.