In the last two months, at least 12 Cuban journalists have decided to quit their jobs or leave the profession publicly as a result of the harassment they have suffered at the hands of Cuban State Security.
So far, LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) has learned of the resignations of Nelson Julio Álvarez Mairata, independent journalist; Jancel Moreno, from the Dame la Mano website; Cynthia de la Cantera from the digital news outlet Yucabyte; and nine journalists from the digital news outlet El Toque, including José Leandro Garbey, Mellin Puertos Borrero, Mauro Roberto Díaz, Aleiny Sánchez Martínez, Claudia Bravet Ramírez, Laura Seco Pacheco, and Wimar Verdecia.
"I’ve decided to quit journalism because I am not willing to accept either of these two options: collaborate with State Security or prepare myself for criminal proceedings. It was a decision that I had to make in a matter of minutes and, I reiterate, under threat," Cynthia de la Cantera wrote on her Facebook page on July 24. This social network has been the place where journalists usually make public their decisions.
"The people who have announced the forced end of their information activities have been victims of sustained persecution for years, where they have been subjected to hours and hours of interrogations, house arrests, raids on their homes or workplaces, arbitrary detentions, violation of their social media and email accounts, blackmail containing intimate information and constant threats, all because of their work," the Mexican organization Artículo 19 said in a statement posted on Sept. 1.
According to Cuban journalists and Cuban media, agents of the Department of State Security demanded that journalists publicly resign under the threat that, if they do not comply with their demands, they would be tried and sent to prison, under the terms of the new Criminal Code that will come into effect on Dec. 1.
"Whoever, by himself or on behalf of non-governmental organizations, institutions of international character, associative forms or any natural or legal person of the country or of a foreign state, supports, promotes, finances, provides, receives or has in his power funds, material or financial resources, with the purpose of funding activities against the Cuban State and its constitutional order, will incur the penalty of a prison term of four to ten years," the new Cuban Criminal Code states.
It has also come to light that journalists are asked to record a video in which they repent of practicing their profession or sign documents in which they commit themselves not to engage in "counterrevolutionary" practices. Journalist Nelsón Álvarez explained in his resignation statement that "in addition to threats of legal proceedings once the new Criminal Code is approved and insisting that I stop working for Cubanet, they are asking me to make a video talking about my relationship with the newspaper and its financing, which I flatly refuse."
Cuban society has suffered an escalation of repression in recent months. In July alone, 140 events considered violations of press freedom were recorded, the highest monthly figure so far in 2022; according to a statement issued by the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press (Iclep).
July 11, 2022 marked the one-year anniversary of the largest anti-government protests in Cuba in decades, where thousands of people took to the streets to demand better living conditions, and this resulted in activists, opponents and independent journalists being besieged in their homes or detained. In July 2021 alone, more than 1,500 people were imprisoned, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
The organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Cuba in its 2022 ranking as the worst country in the Americas in terms of press freedom and the eighth worst in the world. The situation had already deteriorated, but pressure for journalists has only increased.
"Since 2019, I have been subjected to grueling hours of interrogations and arrests, warning letters, raids on the home where I was living, beatings, blackmail, seizing the equipment I work with, hacking my social media profiles and exposing my private life, mocking my sexuality and gender identity. Also, my family has been affected. My mother has been summoned for interrogation. They threaten us constantly with forbidding us to leave the country," Alvarez said in his resignation post on Facebook.
On Thurs., Aug. 25, 2022, Cuban authorities blocked the departure from the island of six young journalists from the independent multimedia platform El Toque. They were going to participate in Media Party in Argentina, the most important media innovation conference in Latin America.
As a result of this incident, a wave of resignations was unleashed in the outlet's newsroom. At least nine journalists have resigned due to direct or indirect pressures from Cuban State Security.
"We are living through days of great sadness and indignation. We feel great emotional turmoil when members of the team are forced to stop working, for no other reason than that of an authoritarianism that is not held accountable. Colleagues who have contributed their talent and dedication to make El Toque a news outlet that serves, in the full extent of the word, the Cuban citizenry are today forced to abandon the practice of independent journalism," the news outlet said in a statement.
One of the most significant resignations was that of Wimar Verdecia, director of the graphic humor supplement Xel2 of El Toque. As a result of his resignation, the project, which focused mainly on political satire, has closed and other cartoonists were indirectly affected.
"I announce with deep regret that I resign to continue working as director of the humor supplement xel2 and to draw for any independent news outlet in Cuba now and in the future," Verdecia said on Twitter. "Xel2 now has a place in the history of Cuban graphics, but I don't want to be history, I want to live and be happy, to continue drawing and creating."