Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba. This article was published on Tremenda Nota’s website on Sept. 16.
Just over a year after its founding in December 2017, Tremenda Nota was censored in Cuba. Our website was blocked in February of this year on the eve of a national referendum to ratify a new Cuban constitution.
During the referendum process, the Cuban Parliament considered the establishment of marriage equality for same-sex couples, but later decided to postpone such a change. Tremenda Nota is Cuba’s leading publication focused on the LGBTI+ community and produced original reporting and commentary on the subject.
Our censorship, still in effect today, was imposed after we published an article revealing a national survey conducted by the Cuban government in 2016. The survey’s results showed popular opinion supports equal rights for LGBTI+ people, contradicting the Parliament’s professed rationale for postponing marriage equality.
Tremenda Nota is the first Cuban digital magazine that covers stories exclusively about women, the LGBTI+ community, the black community, migrants and discrimination. Attacks on our journalists effectively silence these groups.
Since its founding, our reporters, editors, and collaborators have suffered harassment by the Cuban State Security apparatus. Members of our team have been arrested, interrogated, and threatened. In some cases, police officers have destroyed our work product and have confiscated our equipment.
The increasing attacks on our team since mid-2018 have driven at least seven of our journalists to leave Cuba, relocating temporarily or permanently to other countries. The pressure we face grew in May 2019 after a team of our journalists covered an independently-organized LGBTI+ march in Havana. (In Cuba, only political actions organized by the government are permitted.)
One of the seven, photojournalist Yariel Valdés González, has been detained in the U.S. since March 2019, when he presented himself at the border and requested political asylum.
Valdés was cited and threatened by Cuban State Security at least three times in his final six months in Cuba for his work with Tremenda Nota and with the Washington Blade, our media partner in the U.S. He was also denied permission to travel outside the country. He was able to leave Cuba only after promising two State Security officers that he would not return.
Although Valdés has clear evidence of the persecution he suffered in Cuba, U.S. immigration authorities have unjustifiably delayed the granting of his asylum petition. He will appear before a judge for the third time on Sept. 18.
Tremenda Nota is profoundly troubled that a journalist with Valdés’ history, after requesting asylum due to persecution suffered in the course of his work, has been deprived of liberty for more than five months.
Other effects of persecution are psychological. At least two reporters and an editor for Tremenda Nota have required treatment for post-traumatic stress, a result of the arrests, interrogations, and surveillance they have faced. We have not published details of these stories to protect the privacy of the journalists affected, particularly those who continue to live in Cuba, where they face constant and ongoing pressure against independent journalism.
Such persecution is not unique to our team. On Wednesday, Sept. 11, Cubanet reporter Roberto de Jesús Quiñones Haces was imprisoned in the province of Guantánamo, making him the first journalist in recent years to be indicted and prosecuted for his work. With no guarantee of a fair trial, Quiñones was condemned to a year of prison and “correctional labor” for the crime of “contempt,” a penal concept often used against civil activists and political dissidents.
This imprisonment represents a turning point in the government’s attitude toward independent journalism. Since Cuba’s Black Spring of 2003, the arbitrary detentions of independent reporters have been limited to relatively brief periods.
The prosecution of Quiñones, together with official warnings to other journalists to cease their work, highlights the danger of reporting in Cuba for any independent journalist.
Based on its duration and extent, the harassment against Tremenda Nota appears to be a concerted strategy to destroy our publication. Similar systematic attacks have been directed against other independent media publications.
In the case of a magazine for women, the Black community, and the LGBTI+ community, the government’s strategy can only exacerbate the disadvantages suffered by these marginalized groups, denying their freedom of expression and free access to information.
This policy contradicts the official discourse about the construction of an inclusive country. It robs the debate of diverse voices the government itself has committed to support, only because they speak from a platform beyond the authorities’ control.
The actions of the government against Tremenda Nota is inescapably connected with homophobia, transphobia and the patriarchal tone of the Cuban Revolution.
Even while there is no guarantee of the free exercise of independent journalism in Cuba, Tremenda Nota will continue writing and filming the stories of women, LGBTI+ people, migrants, the black community and other groups who are marginalized by the prevailing discourse, by history, or by power.