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‘It Takes Courage to Do Independent Journalism in Cuba’: Former Political prisoner

"Hay que tener valor para hacer periodismo independiente en Cuba": expreso político, EFE

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By Jorge I. Pérez

Cuban political prisoner Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces, who is about to release two books in Miami, one of them a collection of poems entitled Escrito desde la cárcel, told EFE his admiration for those who practice independent journalism in Cuba and his concern about what the new penal code has in store for them.

Exiled in the US since 2021 and contributor to the Miami news portal Cubanet since 2012, Quiñones, twice imprisoned in Cuba, presents this Friday in Miami a revised and expanded edition of his poetry collection Escrito desde la cárcel, as well as a book of short stories, La chica de nombre eslavo.

This is the first time that this 65-year-old lawyer-turned-journalist and resident of Virginia has had his books presented in the United States and, as he says in an interview with EFE, he feels “hopeful” to meet with people he loves at the event, which will take place at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami.

Quiñones expressed his admiration for those who continue to exercise independent journalism in Cuba. In addition, he says he is “concerned” about the coming into force of a new Criminal Code introducing a provision that allows for the prosecution of those who receive money from abroad. It is a “warning” to journalists who work outside the official media, he says.

“It takes courage to do independent journalism in Cuba, it is very difficult, I admire those who continue to collaborate and write from there,” he stresses.

According to him, it cost him “many arrests and imprisonment” to exercise the “fundamental human right” to freedom of expression.

When asked if he would return to Cuba, he said he will not give the government the “pleasure” of banning him from his own country, which he considers a “gross violation” of human rights.

Having learned that an EFE journalist, the delegate in Nicaragua Luis Felipe Palacios, a Nicaraguan citizen, has not been authorized to return, Quiñones Haces says that Daniel Ortega’s government is “replicating the codes of repression established in Cuba since the 1960s” to prolong the permanence in power of “a family dynasty”.  

Regarding whether the independent press reaches the people in Cuba, he stresses that thanks to the Internet “the siege is opening up”, but “you have to buy (Internet) data and many do not have the money for that, because they have to spend it on food.”

Scarred by imprisonment

"It takes courage to do independent journalism in Cuba": former political prisoner, EFE
Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces, exiled in the United States since 2021 and contributor to the Miami news portal Cubanet since 2012. (EFE)

Quiñones is currently working on a book about political imprisonment in Cuba.

“I believe I have many things to say and write, now I am engaged in recounting my testimony about the prisons. I managed to pull out the sentences, my personal diaries and documents related to prison,” he stresses.

“Those have been very dramatic and painful moments in my life, but also of spiritual growth,” says the author, born in the province of Cienfuegos.

Quiñones was arrested in September 2019 while covering for Cubanet a trial against evangelical pastors who had decided to homeschool their children and was sentenced to one year in prison.

In addition to that year in captivity, he served another four years, between July 2, 1999 and August 12, 2003, on charges of “participating in an illegal trade.”

“It is something I could not have committed because I was not a public official,” he stressed.

When he was first convicted he set out to “come out of prison more educated and be a better man.”

A book of poems with a hard journey

According to the author, the book of poems Escrito desde la cárcel, the third edition of which is published by the Miami-based Neo Club Press, has had “a hard journey.”

He wrote the first 27 poems of the book when he was first imprisoned and sent them in 2001 to a contest of the magazine Vitral, of the Catholic diocese of Pinar del Río.

“I won the contest and then added 35 poems” to the book, which he later sent to “an official publisher” with another title because he felt that “Escrito desde la cárcel” was going to be “too aggressive.”

“To my amazement,” he says, “it was published. It had a small circulation and then I found out it was turned into pulp.”

The new printing includes 67 poems, five of them new and written during Quiñones’ last imprisonment. They speak “of family, love, prison, my relationship with God, the homeland, a reflection on the Cuban reality, a varied thematic spectrum.”

“I got out of prison in very bad shape, they arbitrarily suspended many visits, they harassed me, they did not grant me parole despite the international pressure. I never agreed to stop being a journalist for Cubanet,” explains Quiñones, who was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International (AI).

“If I had stayed in Cuba, I would be in prison again,” he says.