Articles such as this one make me feel so insignificant. By Jay Nordlinger writing for National Review Online:
One day toward the end of last year, Liannis Meriño Aguilera took her mom to the hospital. And it seemed to State Security a good time to seize Liannis and threaten her. They took her to the psychiatric ward, telling her to cease her reports on the country’s health-care system, or face awful consequences. A psychologist warned her that she could be labeled mentally ill — adding that people who tell the truth about the country simply have to be crazy.
Liannis will not quite concede this point. “No,” she says, “those of us who denounce the government and tell the truth are very clear in our thoughts. We want human rights to be upheld, and we want democratic change.”
As you may possibly have surmised, Liannis Meriño is an independent journalist in Cuba, making her one of the bravest people on earth. She is the director of Jóvenes sin Censura, or Youth Without Censorship, a news agency. Liannis has written a piece called “To Be an Independent Journalist Is to Flirt with Death.” And that is what these people do every day.
While I sit around and make jokes about Castro's ever-impending death, this young woman, 23 years old, risks her life and limited freedom to tell the truth about Cuba.
Liannis began this work because, as she says, “in a totalitarian system, the people don’t have access to information, and the regime can do or say anything it wants. It doesn’t want anything brought to light.” She explains that, “between Cuba and the world, the regime has built a wall. And we have not been able to penetrate that wall to communicate with the world. The government wants people to think Cuba is a paradise. That is not the case.”
The young woman has been detained or jailed many times, and I ask whether she is afraid of something worse. She says, “Yes, sometimes — but the desire to work for my country, and to inform people, is bigger than any oppression. I see what the civic movements are doing, and that inspires me to keep going. If I have to go to prison, it will be unjust, but not in vain.”
Liannis is not the only young journalist risking everything for the truth:
All the journalists in prison have demonstrated huge courage, and their cases should be known — well-known. One of the most remarkable is that of Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta. He is in Kilo 8 Prison, in the province of Camagüey. Like many others, he is kept in the most vile of conditions: surrounded by violent criminals, denied medical care, perpetually abused. One day in December, he took the extreme step — this is hard to understand outside the context of a totalitarian society — of sewing his mouth shut. The news was reported by a member of Youth Without Censorship, Luis Esteban Espinosa.
Some days later, Luis Esteban himself was arrested. He was beaten up by State Security, but, luckily, not imprisoned. He was merely detained for a couple of hours — and warned to quit his independent activities, lest a worse fate befall him.
But Luis Esteban has not quit, and I talk to him the same day I talk with Liannis Meriño, and via the same means. Luis Esteban is all of 20. Over the phone, he sounds impossibly youthful, but, as with Liannis, his voice burns with conviction and determination. He began this work at 18. He feels a particular commitment to “keep an eye on what happens to political prisoners,” so that the world does not forget them entirely. He has very few materials, but extremely supportive parents.
There are many others, young and old, many in prison:
There are now about 25 journalists in prison. And anyone who remains on the outside is constantly harassed, constantly disrupted, doing that dance with death.
Jay ends his piece wondering, as I do, if he would be able to do what these young people are doing. Would he have the "spine":
I always feel a bit strange, when I get off the phone with such people, and resume the comfortable life. I wonder what will become of them — and whether I would have the spine and heart to act as they do, in similar circumstances. In preparing this piece, I talked to a woman who was trying to say how much she admired Youth Without Censorship: “They’re so brave, so amazing, so good . . .” After sputtering for a bit, she said, with some embarrassment, “I’m sorry, I don’t have the words.” I know exactly how she feels.
But I can say this — I can share an observation. When independent journalists, dissidents, and other such people talk, one theme keeps coming up: love. They talk about their love of country, love of their neighbors, love of God. An independent journalist named Aini Martín Valero recently gave an interview to an American journalist, Marc Masferrer. She said, “I write my articles, news, chronicles, etc., with much love, because with my reports, I help people understand the Cuban reality.”
It may not be normal to link journalism and love, but such a link exists.
Jay might question his spine and his heart but he has done something important, he wrote this article. He introduced us to some very special young people.