October 13, 2016 at 1:19 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay Cuban journalist arrested while covering hurricane aftermath

Maykel González Vivero, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Maykel González Vivero, an independent journalist and LGBT rights advocate, speaks with the Washington Blade in his apartment in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, on May 17, 2015. He said he was arrested in the city of Baracoa while covering the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A gay Cuban journalist said he was arrested while reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

Maykel González Vivero told Diario de Cuba, an independent website, he was interviewing an official in the city of Baracoa on Oct. 9 when security agents took him into custody.

González said they told him they arrested him “in the interests of state security.” He told Diario de Cuba that the security agents later accused him of engaging in “illegal economic activity.”

“They confiscated my computer and my camera,” González told Diario de Cuba from the city of Guantánamo on Wednesday after he was released.

González said he met two political dissidents who had received donations to help hurricane victims while he was being held in a Baracoa jail. He told Diario de Cuba that he was placed in a cell with 13 other people.

González told the Washington Blade on Wednesday night during a telephone interview that the guards were “offensive” and “aggressive” towards him, but they did not hit him.

He said the jail in which he was held lacked adequate food and bathrooms. He told the Blade he was not able to change his clothes or brush his teeth for three days.

“It was horrible,” said González.

Officials ‘impeding’ independent journalists

Matthew caused widespread damage in Baracoa when it made landfall on Cuba’s southeastern coast on Oct. 5.

Cuban President Raúl Castro visited Baracoa on Sunday to oversee relief efforts. Security agents arrested González on the same day.

González told the Blade that conditions in Baracoa remain dire more than a week after Matthew lashed the city. He said Cuban officials are also “impeding the work of any independent journalist” who has tried to report from the area.

Diario de Cuba reported that security agents on Wednesday arrested nine contributors of an independent Cuban website who were in Baracoa.

Journalist has publicly criticized Mariela Castro

González, who is also an LGBT rights activist, in 2012 publicly criticized the removal of statistics from the Cuban census that noted the number of gay and lesbian couples who live on the Communist island. He told the Blade in May 2015 during an interview at his home in the city of Sagua la Grande that those who criticize Mariela Castro, the Cuban president’s daughter who champions LGBT-specific issues, face “risks.”

González said the government-run radio station at which he worked fired him last month because he contributed to independent media outlets. He told the Blade on Wednesday that his allegation did not contribute to his arrest in Baracoa.

Supporters of the Cuban government wrote on Facebook that González was arrested because he was working without the proper press accreditations. González told the Blade there is no law that prohibits him and other independent journalists from working in the country without government-issued credentials.

“It is not prohibited,” he said.

Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, on Thursday criticized “private websites or those who are openly at the service of the counterrevolution” for seeking to provide a “distorted” image of the situation in Baracoa and in other areas affected by Matthew.

“They acted without previous authorization, as required during an emergency situation,” reads the article, which did not specifically criticize González or Diaro de Cuba. “The country took all measures that all other countries of the world would have taken under an emergency situation.”

The Cuban Embassy in D.C. has not returned the Blade’s request for comment.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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