In Cuba, independent journalists are not entitled to a pension. Crowdfunding campaign tries to help a 84-year-old writer

photo of an older woman with white hair

At 84, independent journalist Tania Díaz Castro lives at home in Havana, Cuba, with her pets and without a pension. (Photo credit: Courtesy Casa Palanca)

Casa Palanca is a Cuban collective of independent women journalists that was born in early 2022. At that time they launched a crowdfunding campaign to build a house-shelter in Cuba for women journalists and communicators who suffer persecution and harassment by state agents. Although at that time they did not reach the requested amount, the project is still alive. Now they have a new goal — for pioneer of Cuban independent journalism, Tania Díaz Castro, to obtain a dignified retirement. She dedicated almost 60 years of her life to journalism, founded a pro-human rights political party, and is a poet. However, this 84-year-old woman, who "writes with her soul," is not entitled to a pension or old age retirement funds.  

"Vamos pa' allá" is the slogan of Casa Palanca's new campaign. ‘We are all going there, towards old age," states their website. This is a great concern for Cuba's independent journalists, who do not make pension contributions due to the precariousness in which they practice their profession. That is the case of Tania Díaz Castro who, at 84 years old, lives alone in her house in Santa Fe, Havana, with her pets, and without enjoying a pension, retirement fund or financial aid. "Being a journalist in Cuba is difficult and risky," stated Cuban journalist Yanelis Núñez on the campaign's web site, in a country where practicing the profession independently became an illegal activity as of 2021

The campaign is hosted on the website goteo.org. As of April 25, it had 42 co-funders and raised up to 1,648 euros [US $1,800], exceeding the minimum amount. They have ten days left to reach 2,190 euros [US $2,400]. "This is a practical campaign," Yanelis Núñez, journalist and member of Casa Palanca, told Latam Journalism Review (LJR). "The goal is to help a woman who is in a vulnerable situation in a terrible context such as Cuba. The situation of food shortages and violence, mostly affects the elderly." 

"We want to support Tania during the next six months, ideally up to a year, to improve meeting her basic needs such as food, internet, cleaning, and a person to help her buy food because in Cuba you have to wait in long lines to get it," Núñez said. Those who make monetary contributions to the campaign are sent a book with a compilation of Díaz Castro's best crónicas [long-form literary journalism] and illustrations by 11 Cuban artists. 

About this book, Núñez said: "It is a way of celebrating her work. All the crónicas are published in CubaNet and cover different topics. Some are general political and social analyses, others are personal recollections of meetings she had with figures of Cuban culture. You can see a complete panorama of her work.” 

Another of their goals is to pay homage to Díaz Castro and her commitment to independent Cuban journalism. As well as to make visible the lack of labor rights for independent journalists in Cuba. 

Nuñez said: "Cuban independent women journalists reach retirement age and have no way to support themselves. The independent media do not have the means to pay for retirement.” And she wondered about other needs: "What about women who want to become mothers and cannot afford maternity leave. Or vacations. They have to go on working because they can't afford not to." Ideally, while they obtain financial support for Díaz Castro, they are also campaigning for decent social coverage for old age on the island. 


A pioneer

"Tania started doing journalism when stories were told over the phone. She would call and someone else would do the writing. Some people have told me they got to know Cuba through Tania's crónicas," this is how Núñez describes Díaz Castro's journalistic imprint and the vital contribution she made to Cuban society and politics. "Her journalism is visceral, humane and about day-to-day life. It provokes a lot of empathy and brings you closer to a certain reality. Some foreigners have been really moved by it, that's how they came to know Cuba."

But the best thing is to let the journalist introduce herself. She created a personal blog (taniadiazcastro.com) once she retired from the independent news outlet CubaNet, of which she was a founding member and to which she dedicated more than 20 years of her career. In her blog, Díaz Castro says that she was born in Camajuaní, Villaclara, in 1939, and that she dedicated almost 60 years to journalism. She studied for six months at the University of Havana, but abandoned her university studies to devote herself to the practice. She defines herself as being "self-taught." She worked for several newspapers and magazines, and published four books of poetry. 

Already married to a Japanese man, she traveled to Japan in 1972. There she discovered that "socialism and, above all, communism were a failure," she adds in her short bio. "In 1987, I joined the Human Rights Movement and was president of the Party of that organization. I asked Fidel Castro for a referendum, for which I was imprisoned twice, and was threatened with a firing squad if I went on that way.”

As she tells it, her human rights activism and her opposition to Fidel Castro's regime landed her in jail on more than one occasion. This CubaNet article, which briefly summarizes her career, says that part of her activism was to denounce human rights violations committed by the communist government. She was even in charge of explaining why there was no freedom of expression or press freedom in Cuba before a United Nations commission sent to the island in 1988. 

The CubaNet article notes that Díaz Castro's time in prison did not silence her. In 1998 she began to collaborate with CubaNet, where she had hundreds of texts published until 2022. Many of her crónicas are noteworthy. For example, there is one that portrays the darkest and most tyrannical face of Fidel Castro, which she titled El hombre que amaba la guerra (The man who loved war). In another noteworthy crónica she recounts her personal experience with Cuban-style book burning. Burning books to make fire is how prisoners (political or common) heat water to bathe in winter. Díaz Castro herself had no choice but to adhere to this ritual when she was imprisoned in Manto Negro, Cuba's western prison. 

The crónicas about figures of the Cuban cultural and intellectual world are remarkable; many of them were even friends of hers. Díaz Castro writes in first person about her friendship with the Cuban poet Carilda Oliver Labra, who was marginalized by the communist regime for decades, tarnishing the bond of friendship between the two writers. In this journey, it is essential to rescue a text by Cuban poet Belkis Cuza Malé, also a friend of Díaz Castro, who in 2007 painted the intimate life of the journalist in her Havana apartment and the influence of Japanese literature on her writing. 

"For Tania writing is very important, she continues to write at home," Núñez said. Díaz Castro has had to say goodbye to many things: To her physical vitality, to her children who are abroad, to her golden years in journalism. But never to writing nor her pets. She lives with her dogs and cats in Santa Fe, Havana, where she awaits the retirement she deserves.