Exiled Cuban Journalist Omar Rodríguez: “The whole detention was a “mafia action to trade us” for the Cuban spies in prison in the U.S.”
Cuba’s ‘Black Spring’ Still Haunts Journalists
By David Soler, Global Journalist
Years after their release, two Cuban journalists look back at lost years.
In March 2003 the world’s attention was transfixed on Iraq as the United States prepared to launch a divisive military assault on Saddam Hussein’s government. Meanwhile just 90 miles from U.S. shores, Cuban President Fidel Castro seized the opportunity to launch an assault of his own on internal critics–an offensive that drew little attention from an international community focused on the prospect of war in the Middle East.
On April 2, as U.S. forces neared Baghdad, Cuban reporter and photojournalist Omar Rodríguez Saludes returned to his home in Havana late. There, Cuban police were waiting for him. They searched his house, finding a 2002 New York Times’ article highlighting his work as one of about 100 independent journalists working in the Communist nation. “I remember they shouted with surprise: ‘Look at this!’” says Rodríguez. “For them that was as if they found a bomb.”
Rodríguez was one of 75 journalists, human rights activists and political dissidents arrested in a sweep that became known as Cuba’s “Black Spring.” For Rodríguez and others rounded-up, the arrest was a life-changing event. All would languish in prison for years after show-trials on charges of undermining the government. “This is following Sept. 11th, the world is focused on the U.S. intervention in Iraq,” says Ted Henken, a Latin American studies researcher at Baruch College in New York. “The suspicion is that it was done because no one was paying attention.”
Rodríguez, a former shipyard worker who loved photography, was recruited into journalism in the early 1990s by Raúl Rivero, a poet and former correspondent for Cuban state media who broke with the regime in the late 1980s and became a leader of Cuba’s fledgling independent press. Rodríguez would walk and bicycle about the countryside taking pictures “trying to show the contrast between the government’s narrative and the real destruction” of Cuba’s economy and political freedoms.
Since independent news media is banned inside Cuba and Internet access is a luxury for the rich even today, Rodríguez’s news agency, Nueva Prensa Cubana, mainly distributed his photos and reports to a U.S. audience of Cuban exiles. “Our job was to show our reality to the outside world,” he says.
Feature continues here: Was “Black Spring” A Failed Attempt at a Spy Swap?