Notes from the Underground, Part 2

The latest dispatch from independent journalists in Cuba: Castro is cracking down

"My generation was heavily marked by the experience of growing up in revolutionary Cuba," the 44-year-old journalist says by phone from Havana. "We are the generation that wasn't allowed to listen to the Beatles. We are the generation that wasn't allowed to believe in God. We are the generation that wasn't allowed to think freely. And of course, all these things have an effect."

When representatives of the SUVP knocked on his door, Torres says, he rebuffed them. "I said if they wanted to talk to me in an official capacity then they should bring an arrest warrant, but that voluntarily I had nothing to talk to them about," he recalls. "They became very angry and upset, and they left."

Torres has no doubt the SUVP visits were coordinated by the state security police, one of the branches of the Interior Ministry. He also says that on February 10, the day after Jorge Olivera was thrown out by his mother-in-law, the SUVP and other local groups responding to orders from the Interior Ministry scheduled "acts of revolutionary reaffirmation" in neighborhoods around the city.

Following Clinton's January 28 declaration that the United States would supply from four to eight billion dollars in aid to a post-Castro Cuba, the Cuban government, interested in shoring up flagging loyalties, announced its intent to hold rallies in every factory, military unit, neighborhood, and school. Such publicly orchestrated demonstrations of loyalty, in which residents sign pledges of their support, are not unusual in Cuba. Similar meetings were convened following a small riot that occurred on the Malecon in August 1994 and after the downing of two Brothers to the Rescue planes last year. These rallies have been known to metamorphose into "acts of repudiation," vicious verbal lynchings that were directed against Batista supporters in 1959 and repopularized in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people would surround the homes of supposed counterrevolutionaries, yelling at the occupants until they were hoarse. Some of the protests turned violent.

As darkness gathered on February 10, Torres says, his neighbors began drifting toward the medical clinic next to his house. Loudspeakers were erected to broadcast the rally. He waited at a window, fearful of provoking the crowd by appearing in person. About a dozen friends had crowded into his three-bedroom house to provide moral support.

The rally started around 8:00 p.m. A spokesman for a neighborhood association that organizes activities on behalf of the government quickly reviewed the different provisions of Law 80, slowing to read the full text of Article 8. Neighbors were asked to sign a pledge of support. Then just as the proceedings appeared to be winding down, a member of the block association grabbed the microphone. "!Esto no se ha terminado!" he bellowed. This isn't over! "We want to say that on our block we have a traitor to our country."

Torres continues his account: "Then he said my name and began to insult me, calling me a gusano [worm], a counterrevolutionary. This guy bet his television and his refrigerator that neither myself nor my colleagues in the independent press were journalists."

But as the jeering continued, Torres says, some of his neighbors quietly left, and when the rally ended more than a dozen showed up at his house. "They said they had no idea that was going to happen to me. People said some very nice things. Neighbors who are not against the government told me, 'Joaquin, whatever happens to you happens to me as well.'"

That same night, five other independent journalists reported that acts of repudiation had occurred outside their homes; one more took place the following evening. Though the demonstrations varied in size from about 40 people to about 200, they all followed the same pattern: A member of the Communist Party would explain Law 80 to the group, reading from Article 8 at length. Then someone would declare that one of the neighbors had violated that provision, and the barrage of insults would begin.

CubaPress reporter Ana Luisa Lopez Baeza speculates that the rally directed against her attracted a large crowd because she is among the journalists most frequently heard on Radio Marti. She had also spent years writing in the official press in fervent support of the regime. "I loved the Cuban revolution," she confesses. "I loved the leaders of the revolution. Yo amaba entranablemente a Fidel Castro." I profoundly loved Fidel Castro.

Her feelings began to change in the late 1980s. In 1989 she attended the trial of Arnaldo Ochoa, the popular army general who was found guilty of corruption and drug trafficking and later executed. Like many Cubans, Lopez Baeza opposed the execution and speculates that Castro might have seen Ochoa as a political threat. (Ochoa's sentence carries a grim warning for independent journalists: In a televised 1989 speech, Raul Castro implied that the general's arrest was due in part to his agreement with glasnost, then-Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of encouraging "openness" in the media.)

After the trial Lopez Baeza began to feel increasingly stifled in her job in the official press. "In Cuba a journalist can't reveal anything that is not approved by the government or the party," she says. As an independent journalist she aims to present Cubans with both sides of an issue so the majority of the population can reach a decision about what should be done, an approach she says her neighbors appreciate; they do not consider her a counterrevolutionary. Like Torres, Lopez Baeza says she received declarations of support after the rally.

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