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Orlando Luis Pardo: “I was afraid when I had no voice, when I started talking, I lost the fear.”

Orlando Luis Pardo : “I was afraid when I had no voice, when I started
talking, I lost the fear.”
Posted on September 9, 2013
Interview by Emilio Sanchez Cartas – from Los Andes Internacionales

The restless, multifaceted Pardo Lazo graduated in biochemistry from the
University of Havana, but left the field after 10 years. Since then he
has been working as a photographer and writer.

Pardo, who published several books in Cuba, is currently one of the
leading independent bloggers. He maintains two blogs (Post Revolution
Mondays and Boring Home Utopics) and founded the magazine “Voices,” the
first digital publication on the island. The magazine, devoted to
literature and opinion, is printed in very small quantities, and is
posted on-line as a PDF and distributed throughout the island via CD and
flash drive.

Emilio Sanchez Cartas: The United States presents you as a dissident
blogger. Interestingly , years ago you said you said you didn’t feel
yourself to be a journalist, “neither by vocation nor spirit.” So
perhaps you started out hating to be a journalist and ended up being one…

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo: I greatly respect the profession of journalist.
When I say I want to have a column, I’m referring to having a space of
freedom where I can exercise my opinion, with certain editorial
standards, but without the hard or scientific data, statistical.

I wouldn’t work in favor of consensus: it would always be a journalist
of provocation, seeking to navigate upstream. It would be a more
creative column, but grounded in reality, because I believe in the
transformative power of writing. I like to exploit the social impact of
writing from a position of provocation, always trying to pluralize thought.

ESC: How do you evaluate the impact of digital technology in the social
and cultural life of Cuba?

OLPL: The Cuban government has just opened a hundred Internet access
points, but with extreme vigilance, no guarantees. They are trying to
portray an image of openings, but the truth is that a citizen can not go
to a public company and contract for an internet account.

Therefore, there is no internet access in Cuba, although there are
officials who do have this privilege; there are certain tourist hotels
that offer the service in dollars and also a black market in the
Internet. With all these limitations, the Cuban blogosphere still has a
good number of blogs.

They began as a form of personal expression, perhaps as catharsis, but
now I think there is a civic impact. Recently, many of us have been able
to travel, to join the United Nations Correspondents Association, to
appear in U.S. newspapers. We have talked and they have recognized us as
interlocutors, active and thoughtful voices of Cuban civil society.

In addition to “Voices,” there is a photojournalism contest; spaces of
debate like “Citizens’ Reasons” and “State of Sats” [Estado de
Sats],which are filmed and posted on the web; projects of street
artists, graffiti artists, independent audio visuals; the Rotilla
Festival, dedicated to music, organized by the Matraka Group for ten
years on a beach, until the Cuban government intervened and hijacked it;
the Endless Poetry Festival, of the Group Omni Zona Franca, all month in
December, house by house in eastern Havana. All these projects are
outside the Ministry of Culture and will survive, because they don’t
depend on the State.

ESC: At this level of writing, what are the most interesting and
challenging blogs?

OLPL: I recommend reviewing three portals. HavanaTimes.org, where a
score of people post, some of them from exile; Bloggerscuba.com,
although it disappeared as a portal, you can find individual blogs:
Paquito el de Cuba, by Francisco Rodriguez; Negra tenía que ser, by
Sandra Alvarez; and La Polémica Digital, by Elaine Diaz.

And, my website, where the blogs are more controversial,
Vocescubanas.com. There are the three visions. In the case of
Vocescubanas, there collaborators who from anywhere in the world would
opinion columns in newspapers or television programs, or be political.

ESC: Ten years ago there was the view that Cuba’s independent press,
although very critical of the regime, was not known for quality
journalism. Have you evolved? Where is the product of journalism on the
island? Where is the questioning of the Cuban reality?

OLPL: There is no journalism. It could be erased at the stroke of a pen
by the Faculty of Communication and its journalism courses, because in
practice the product doesn’t exist, except outside of Cuba. We have
occupied that space; some bring better tools, with skill in argument.
Others do it almost without tool, but always reporting, from the news,
what foreign news agencies do not want to cover.

That has a tremendous merit and a huge recognition. We have the
experience of the Blogger Academy. In 2010 for almost half a year we met
twice a week to talk about programs, journalistic and photographic
techniques, issues of civil society and the law, anthropology. We have
made an effort, because where we can’t go is to the University of
Havana, as the government has set up a kind of “cultural apartheid,”
where we have no room for those who disagree.

ESC: And the independent press, including bloggers and traditional
journalists, is it in good condition today?

OLPL: It is in good condition, but in a committed way. Today there is an
explosion because certain areas abroad welcome our reports. We lack a
press that is edited and published with local efforts. We lack a
newspaper — the dream of Yoani Sanchez — which can’t be legal, because
the government does not support it; we lack also a radio station.

For now, some of us bloggers are covering this absence, but that could
change any day with the absence of some; if some die and others are
exiled, and then it would be the end. So it is a movement that needs to
be supported, strengthened, empowered, from the outside. We need
international solidarity.

ESC: In Cuba, to be a journalist or independent blogger involves risks.
You yourself have been imprisoned. What has been your experience of fear?

OLPL: I was afraid when I had no voice; I had published several books of
fiction, I was a member of the Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) and
yet I was very afraid. As I began to speak, I lost the fear. Now I have
no fear. Fear of what ? The only thing that can happen is death.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba in 2012, I was put in jail, it can
be repeated at any time. The official journalists are very frightened
perhaps, as are the ministers. Me, no; for me they will come once. Is
that when you cross a line, and you are free. And self-censorship? Not
at all. There are people who self-censor.

I worked the issue of marijuana, the Cuban Rastafarian community’s use
of grass, and about the imprisonment of a Rastafarian priest, who is
still in prison, Hector Riscart, the Ñaño, director of the musical group
Herencia (Heritage). I investigated, did interviews. Someone advised me
to stop. I did not, because I considered it a matter of civil law. Many
people get panicky over the issues of the subculture issues,
pornography, racism. I ‘m willing to talk about everything, and I think
I ‘m going to be very alone.

8 September 2013

Source: “Orlando Luis Pardo : “I was afraid when I had no voice, when I
started talking, I lost the fear.” | Translating Cuba” –

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