Fidel Castro figured prominently in Abraham Jimenez Enoa’s early years. His grandfather worked as a bodyguard for El Comandante and Che Guevara.
Jimenez Enoa’s relatives were senior military officials in the Cuban government, and he lived a comfortable life in the heart of the communist establishment. A long time ago, Che gave a precious television set to Jimenez Enoa’s grandparents for their wedding.
But Jimenez Enoa, now 33, turned his back on his family history to forge a career as a freelance journalist, and it cost him dearly. In November, the Cuban government gave him an ultimatum: leave or be imprisoned.
In January, he left.
As he adjusted to a new life in Barcelona, Spain, Jimenez Enoa said the price was worth paying for reporting what he believed to be the truth.
“I was placed under house arrest. My phone was tapped. I was then arrested, handcuffed, strip searched and questioned by security agents. Then they secretly filmed me and put my image on television, claiming I was a CIA spy,” Jimenez said. Enoa told VOA.
“Later they called me and told me that I had to leave the country, otherwise they would put me in prison and ‘eliminate’ my family and my wife’s family.”
The officers never explained what they meant by “finish.”
The International Press Center in Havana and the Cuban Embassy in Madrid did not respond to VOA’s request for comment on this story.
voice in exile
Jimenez Enoa’s story is extraordinary but far from isolated. Several Cuban journalists in exile are carving out a new life for themselves in Spain, the United States or parts of Latin America.
Many left the country after being imprisoned or persecuted. Others fled censorship. Media harassment intensified in 2021, following mass anti-government protests.
According to Prisoners Defenders, a Madrid-based non-profit organization that focuses on human rights in Cuba, seven journalists were imprisoned in Cuba as of September 29. Four others were not in detention but were under house arrest or otherwise restricted in their movement.
For Jimenez Enoa, a small compensation for being kicked out of his homeland was receiving a 2022 International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Paying tribute to Cuban exile, CPJ said it “recognizes that a new generation of Cuban journalists who only a few years ago saw a glimmer of hope for their independent projects now face to the harsh reality of new restrictions and censorship that make reporting in Cuba more dangerous than ever.”
But he might not be able to accept the award in person. The ceremony is in November in New York, but his appointment at the US Embassy in Madrid to apply for a visa is not until next year.
In his Barcelona apartment, Jimenez Enoa keeps some memories of his old life: a book on the beginnings of the Castro revolution and a photo on the wall of a Cuba libre, the famous frozen cocktail made with rum, lime juice and cola. .
He originally wanted to be a sports reporter on TV or radio. “I didn’t say my words carefully, I spoke too quickly, so I decided to write,” he said.
In 2016 he founded El Estornudo, – The Sneeze – an online magazine that reports on prostitution, poverty, human rights and other taboo topics for Cuban state media.
“We started reporting the hidden truth about the country, and that’s when the oppression started,” he said.
“They put me under house arrest. They pestered me on the street. They tapped my personal phone. It lasted until I left the country.”
For members of his family, who had spent their whole lives believing in the revolution, it was difficult to accept that Jimenez Enoa had turned his back on his roots.
In 2019 he started writing an opinion column for the Washington Post, but that only increased the crackdown in Havana, he said.
“It was the first time a Cuban had a column in the Post. They arrested me. They took me to the police station handcuffed and with my head buried in the wagon on the way,” he said. declared.
“They started to interrogate me. They were very upset with the Washington Post. They secretly filmed me, and later they edited my words and then ran an article on TV saying I was an agent. of the CIA.”
It was the worst thing for his family. Her father, a lieutenant-colonel in the Ministry of the Interior, had to take early retirement, her sister lost her job as a captain in the army and her mother had to quit her job in a tourist company.
For a while, Jimenez Enoa said, they were distraught and didn’t want to talk to him.
Since then, they have reconciled with his work and speak to him by messenger every week, even though he lives 7,900 kilometers away.
Despite everything, Jimenez Enoa is missing in Cuba. Adjusting to life in the West with his wife and 2-year-old son was difficult, as was the transition from communism to capitalism.
“In Cuba, having an egg is normal. But here, it’s normal to have 25 types of cheese, 26 types of ham and 36 types of milk. Advertising is very aggressive. I have to get used to a lot of things,” he added. said.
As he finds his way to his adopted home, one comfort is that he is not alone in his plight.
Wendy Lazcano Exposito is a reporter for Diario de Cuba, a news site that reports on events that state media won’t cover.
The 29-year-old arrived in Spain nine years ago after realizing that a career as a freelance journalist in her own country was impossible.
Lazcano Exposito said readers come mainly from America and Europe because it is difficult to access his newspaper from Cuba.
“We’re stuck in Cuba, and you need a VPN [virtual private network] number to reach us inside Cuba. It’s hard to get,” she told VOA from her apartment in Madrid.
His diary allows the families of Cuban prisoners to tell their stories and express their concerns. Cubans share her and her fellow journalists’ reporting on the country on social media, she said.
“In a way, we know more about what’s going on in the country than about the people inside,” she said.
His family immigrated to Spain in search of a better life.
“I thought about being a journalist in Cuba, but it was very complicated. There is no freedom. They are all state employers,” she said.
“Two journalists from my newspaper, after last year’s protests, had to leave the country. Being a freelance journalist means they can charge you, they can seize your work materials, your camera, your computer. They can shut down the internet. They can also make life difficult for your family,” she said.
“Nobody wants to be a hero. Everybody wants to live their life.”
Jimenez Enoa also doesn’t want to be a hero – or the next famous Cuban revolutionary. His mission is not to bring down the government, he said.
“I’m not against communism. I’m a leftist. I just wanted to write the truth about what was happening in my country.”
Alfonso Beato contributed to this report.