Saturday, July 24, 2010

Cuba: The Battle for Hearts and Minds

A stray cat peers into an apartment building in Havana's Vedado neighborhood.

I am wrapping up a trip to Cuba. I've been working on several journalism projects, the most important of which is a series of articles about U.S. policy toward Cuba and the political opposition.
I am grateful to the Pulitzer Center in Washington, which helped finance this trip.
Among my goals over the past few weeks has been to find out what Cuban dissidents think of U.S. policy and whether they are getting any of the millions of dollars the American government has set aside for pro-democracy programs in Cuba.
Cuban officials have shown tolerance as I've traveled around Havana interviewing dissidents, pro-democracy activists and bloggers.
I have not tried to hide what I'm doing. I met Yoani Sanchez, for instance, at a public park yesterday. I know that Cuban security agents are very good at what they do. I think they generally know who meets with dissidents and other people they regard as enemies of the socialist government. I haven't wanted it to appear that I'm trying to sneak around and put anything past the security agents. That's why I think it was a good idea to meet Yoani in a public place.
My goal is to cover the evolution of Cuba over the long haul. I am not looking for big, sensational headlines. I'd rather write stories that are balanced, giving a variety of points of view.
I am not trying take sides or meddle in Cuba's internal affairs. My hope is to better understand whether U.S. pro-democracy programs are having an impact.
Some dissidents told me they welcome help from abroad. Others said they don't accept money from the United States or from U.S.-financed groups.
I also interviewed Cuban experts on the so-called counterrevolution. These experts included Reinaldo Taladri, Jesus Arboleya and others who provided great insight into the Cuban government view of U.S. policy.
I also spoke to Aleida Godinez, a.k.a. Agent Vilma, who infiltrated dissident groups and testified against a top leader of the political opposition in 2003. She said U.S. taxpayers who are financing Cuban dissidents are wasting their money, not building a democracy.
Before leaving for Cuba, a colleague sent me an e-mail asking if I had taken on more of a Miami point of view since I haven't actually lived in Cuba since early 2005. Did I understand less and less about the reality on the ground in Cuba? he asked.
Maybe so, I told him.
You read a lot of the blogs and you get the sense that Cuba is about to explode. But once I got here, it didn't look like that at all.
The economy is ragged and people scramble to make ends meet. But I don't see any signs of civil unrest. I attended two Damas de Blanco marches in Havana and they went off without incident. They were orderly, almost subdued.
There is much I have not seen. I went to Camaguey this week, but haven't had time during this trip to spend much time outside Havana. I've read reports that opposition protests are more spirited in some interior towns. But I don't know if that's true.
Tomorrow I head to Santa Clara. Raul Castro is scheduled to speak the following day, the 57th anniversary of the attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba.
It'll be interesting to hear what he says and see how the crowd reacts.
Once I get back to the U.S., I plan to continue doing interviews to learn more about the more than $100 million the American government has spent on Cuban pro-democracy programs over the past five years. This is a complicated subject that requires - and deserves - much more investigation.
While in Cuba, I've concentrated most of my effort on reporting and interviewing - not writing. But I have sent more than a half dozen hurried reporter's notebook entries to the Pulitzer Center blog, called Untold Stories. They'll be published in the coming days.

1 comment:

Mambi_Watch said...

Whoa! I can't wait to read your articles from Cuba! And the Pulitzer Center is a great place to show your work. Congratulations again Tracey.