CiberCuba, a news website that operates independently of the Cuban government, reported Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez and his partner, Maykel González, were reporting for Periodismo de Barrio, an affiliated online outlet, in the city of Sagua la Grande when the reported incident took place.
Sagua la Grande is a small city in the province of Villa Clara that is located on Cuba’s northern coast. It is roughly 180 miles east-southeast of Havana, the country’s capital.
Rodríguez told the Washington Blade on Thursday during a telephone interview from his home in Sagua la Grande that the vice president of the local Cuban Communist Party was in a bay front neighborhood when he and González were interviewing local residents about their hurricane preparations.
CiberCuba reported Rodríguez and González approached the official and asked her about plans to evacuate the area ahead of Irma. The website said the official declined to answer their questions and authorities detained them a short time later “without an arrest warrant.”
“We were reporting,” Rodríguez told the Blade.
Rodríguez said authorities confiscated his camera and cell phone and brought him and González to a local police station.
CiberCuba reported police stripped searched them and erased videos that González had recorded with his camera. The website also said authorities later returned their belongings to them and “prohibited both reporters from practicing journalism.”
Rodríguez told the Blade authorities detained him and González for six hours.
“She had us detained,” said Rodríguez, referring to the Cuban Communist Party official in Sagua la Grande who declined their request for an interview before they were taken into custody. “It happened to us.”
González, who is also an LGBT rights activist, worked for a government-run radio station until he said the director fired him in August 2016 because he worked with independent media outlets. Security agents last October arrested González in the city of Baracoa while he was reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
González has also publicly criticized President Raúl Castro and his daughter, Mariela Castro, who spearheads LGBT-specific issues in Cuba as director of the country’s National Center for Sexual Education. Rodríguez on Thursday told the Blade authorities continue to target him and González because of this criticism and their work as independent journalists.
The Cuban government issues press credentials and visas, including to this reporter who has reported from the Communist island three times since 2015. González told the Blade after his arrest in Baracoa there is no law that prohibits him and other independent Cuban journalists from working in the country without government-issued credentials.