Oslo Journal, Part IV

American photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair (Vimeo)


Roberto tells us a little about what his paper has been able to accomplish, between the jailings of its workers:

Hablemos Press was the first to report in June 2012 about the cholera outbreak in an eastern province, while my country’s official propaganda brags about having the best healthcare system in the world. . . .

We were the first to report about the imprisonment of Ladies in White activist Sonia Garro and activist Madeline Lázara, when, according to my country’s government, blacks in my country should be eternally grateful to the revolution.

We were the first to show videos of the crackdown and imprisonment of dozens of homosexuals while Raúl Castro’s daughter tours around the world talking about the revolution’s achievements on gender issues.

We should have just a sense of what is meted out to Roberto and his colleagues — just a little taste:

By working in this noble profession, my correspondents and I are labeled “mercenaries,” “worms,” and “counterrevolutionaries,” and we are subject to regular detentions and mob violence led by the government.

For me, the most touching part of Roberto’s talk is this:

While many of us did not have the opportunity to attend university and study journalism, we are guided by the same principles that are taught in the best journalism schools in democratic countries all over the world: the quest for the truth, for freedom; honesty, criticism of power, and objectivity in the way we report the news.

And his conclusion, his summing up:

Journalists in free countries dream about prestige. They dream about working in the biggest media outlets. They dream about their books becoming bestsellers. They dream about world fame. They dream that their breaking news and exclusives will be the most watched. They dream that their outlets will get the highest ratings. And they dream of receiving the best critiques from viewers and readers.

In Cuba, we independent journalists dream of only one thing. We dream of freedom of expression, opinion, and circulation. We dream of not being persecuted. We dream of freedom.

When he leaves the stage, Roberto withdraws from his pocket a Cuban flag, which he waves a bit. This is a patriot, Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez. Not the Castros — they are international Communists.

Roberto puts me in mind of some people I haven’t thought of in a long time — the young people associated with Jóvenes sin Censura, or Youth Without Censorship. One of these “youths,” Liannis Meriño Aguilera, wrote a piece called “To Be an Independent Journalist Is to Flirt with Death.” At any rate, I wrote about them in 2007: “Youth with Unfathomable Courage.”

I have a sitdown with Berta Soler and Roberto. Let me give you a little of what the latter says.

He was detained at the airport in Havana until just before the plane took off. They wanted to make him fear that he wouldn’t be able to leave the country at all.

Without international pressure, he says, or implies, he and his cause would be sunk.

Roberto is very much in favor of the U.S. “embargo” — and complains that it is leaky. “It should be enforced for real.”

He says that, some time ago, he made a decision that he would not flee the island. He would work and suffer instead, even if it meant the death of him. “Every time we leave,” he says, “we make the country weaker.” He says that Cubans must think about coming generations: What kind of country will they have? Any better?

Earlier in this journal, I mentioned a Palestinian journalist — very brave — who chastised Palestinians in Norway for leaving Gaza. I understand her. I understand Roberto.

I have known human-rights activists who have done miraculous things in their countries. I have also known activists who have done miraculous things in exile — for their countries.

Anyway, a subject to be returned to . . .

Before dinner, attendees at the forum will have some entertainment: a comedian and a singer. (Or two singers. Sorry, can’t remember.) The comedian is Aron Kader, an American. Garry Kasparov, the chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, introduces him. “Dictators hate humor,” he notes.

Kader is a very funny guy. Gifted. He has a Palestinian Muslim father and a Mormon mother. So, he has a lot of material. He points out that dictators tend to be male — in fact, they always are (to the best of my knowledge). As Kader says, “you can’t be a dictator without a d***.”

You can’t like everything that comes from a comedian, of course. Kader does a riff about “the chosen people.” In essence, he knocks the Jews for considering themselves chosen.

“Chosen people” is not a widely understood phrase or concept. Most people, I gather, think it means, “Ha, ha, we’re No. 1! God loves us best! Eat that, losers.” But you know what may be the oldest Jewish joke there is, right? “Jehovah, couldn’t you have chosen someone else?”

Kasparov is a person I admire a great deal. Let me tell you what I’ve told him: He could have basked for the rest of his life in his chess glory. He could have hopped from continent to continent, being received as a sage, hero, and star. He could have “lived the life.” Instead, he has stuck his neck out, for his fellow Russians and others.

He reminds me a little of Sharansky — who, after the Gulag, could have spent the rest of his life as a Jewish and human-rights hero. He could have had a life similar to Elie Wiesel’s, I suppose. Instead, he decided to engage in politics: which alienated him from roughly half the people. He was willing to be disliked, instead of universally adored (not counting the KGB).

After dinner, a young Danish woman offers me a tin of what I take to be mints or chocolates. Instead, they are little tobacco pouches. She tucks one into her mouth — which is quite a sight: this lissome Dane, with some chaw between her “cheek and gum.” Tobacco-chewers, I always thought, are supposed to look like Carlton Fisk.

Thanks for joining me, dear ones — we’ll roll on tomorrow.