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S A M P S O N I A WAY A Conversation with Amiri Baraka: Civil Rights, Black Arts, and Politics
Civil Rights, Black Arts, and Politics
Amiri Baraka and Sala Udin
S A M P S O N I A WAY Sampsonia Way Magazine www.sampsoniaway.org 408 Sampsonia Way Pittsburgh Pennsylvania 15212 Publisher: Henry Reese Managing Editor: Silvia Duarte Editorial Advisor: Carol Hymowitz Online Media Specialist: Michael Solano-Mullings Editorial Assistant: Josh Barnes
Design: Wolfe Design
“Artists are supposed to do and help the struggle for the advancement of human knowledge.”
During the Civil Rights Movement these two men were fighting to put an end to the practices of discrimination. While Amiri Baraka did it from New York, Sala Udin did it from Holmes County, Mississippi and Pittsburgh. Baraka founded the Black Arts Movement, which advocated independent black writing, publishing, and artistic institutions. In 1966 he set up the Spirit House Players, which produced, among other works, two of his plays against police brutality. Then Sala Udin — a man who, among other things, fought for starting Black Studies at the University of Pittsburgh — used to take young people to those performances. Many of these people went back to change their cities, inspired by the work of “the father of the Black Arts Movement,” as Baraka is known. Almost fives decades later, in June 2011, it was Baraka who came to Pittsburgh to read at the poetry event that Cave Canem and City of Asylum/Pittsburgh hosted on the North Side. Sala Udin, a former Pittsburgh City Councilman, sat down with him to discuss politics, the future of black art, and the consequences of making political art in America. Their lively conversation is sprinkled with personal memories, sharp political commentary, and humor. Because it is a unique opportunity to have two figures of the Civil Rights Movement in the same room to talk about that period and their lives afterward, Sampsonia Way presents this interview unedited and uncut. It is our longest interview to date.
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A WAY BACK Sala Udin: We were just talking about little Ras who’s not so little. I know you must be proud of your son, who is a public school principal, was deputy mayor in Newark, and now has recently been re-elected to City Council. Tell us a little bit about Ras’ entry into the politics of Newark, and how it was an extension of the politics that we started way back. Amiri Baraka: We used to take my sons to all kind of political things —that included my son Ahi who was very little at the time—and Ras was apparently just drawn to that and picked it up. He and our other son Amiri Jr. were into some political organization when they were in high school. They organized all the students to walk out of the schools because there was no Black Studies. It was a long journey to where Ras finally got to be the deputy mayor under Sharpe James for four years, for a dollar a year. Now they’re paying deputy mayors $176,000 a year. Sala Udin: He was a little early. Amiri Baraka: Well it’s another kind of regime that we have now. But it’s been a long time coming. When Ras went to Howard University some students shut down the school over this Bush appointee who would be on the Board of Trustees at Howard. So the students shut the school down, and I went there and the mayor picked me up. They took me to the school, and the president there was so backwards that he had called a SWAT team. Sala Udin: He called a SWAT team? Amiri Baraka: Yes, called SWATs on the students. The students had locked up the administration there. What they did was pull the fire alarm and run out and lock the doors. So he called the SWAT on them. I called people I knew who had children there. I said, “They’re getting ready to do something to your kids.” He backed off after a couple of days.
Below: Harlem, 1960s
Remember that we had started organizing people in the Village. We were trying to create some kind of black consciousness because the Civil Rights Movement was unfolding. But when Malcolm X got murdered, a lot of us young writers and painters moved out of the Village and up into Harlem. Amiri Baraka
Sala Udin: That’s similar to the struggle we had at the University of Pittsburgh, where we took over the computer center and locked ourselves into the Cathedral of Learning. At that time computers were as big as refrigerators. We had axes and hammers and were threatening to dismantle the computers, and it changed their tune. They became much more agreeable to having a conversation about Black Studies. Amiri Baraka: Yeah, I don’t think these students now realize how important it was to do that and that’s why I think that there’s not as tight surveillance by the students and by the faculty over Black Studies. It gets diminished. What the schools did after all that militancy of enforcing the initiation of Black Studies was to bring in instructors who were not revolutionaries and who were simply faculty members who didn’t care what happened. That’s what’s happening all over the country. Sala Udin: And the whole initiation is forgotten. They don’t know how they got there. They think that they’re there because of their degrees and their brilliance. Amiri Baraka: A lot of these Africans they bring in are just intended to be some kind of administrative pawn, but that comes from an era when they thought everything African was militant. Sala Udin: We go back to a time when we brought a lot of young groups to Newark to see Spirit House [a black community theatre that Baraka set up in Newark in 1966]. Since then you’ve been widely known as the father and founder of the Black Arts Movement... Amiri Baraka: Remember that we had started organizing people in the Village. We were trying to create some kind of black consciousness because the Civil Rights Movement was unfolding. But when Malcolm X got murdered, a lot of us young writers and painters moved out of the Village and up into Harlem.
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I had a play downtown and I was getting some kind of money so we rented a brownstone in Harlem and tore out the bottom floor and set up a theater and then we began to send trucks out into the street: Four trucks every night with music and dance and poetry. It had a very strong effect on the people because we thought that if we were supposed to be doing such profound artistic things, we needed to bring that right into the neighborhood. What was interesting was the play Dutchman, my play, which won the Obie Award, became a racist play. Sala Udin: How so? Amiri Baraka: Well because art in an abstract setting is one thing, but art where you’re actually telling people to do things becomes dangerous. Jean Paul Sartre said that as long as you say that something’s wrong but you don’t know what, that’s art. If you say something’s wrong and you know exactly who’s doing it, that’s political protest. So we had to work with that and begin to understand that. But we wrote art that was, number one, identifiably Afro-American according to our roots and our history and so forth. Secondly, we made art that was not contained in small venues. We wanted to come out and get into the streets. That’s why I was happy to see rap because here you can hear people running stuff down out in the street. The third thing we wanted was art that would help with the liberation of black people, and we didn’t think just writing a poem was sufficient. That poem had to have some kind of utilitarian use; it should help in liberating us. So that’s what we did. We consciously did that. We brought artists from all over the area uptown, some of the great musicians of the time. We brought Sun Ra into the community. People were saying Sun Ra’s too out there for the people. But people thought it was dance music, they started dancing to it. There’s a picture in a book of mine called Digging: The AfroAmerican Soul of American Classical Music where we’re getting ready to go out into the street, and I’m bringing wine, and at the top of the steps is Sun Ra. It was very effective and that particular trend spread across the country in Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta.
Above: Book cover, Digging: The AfroAmerican Soul of American Classical Music
BLACK ART Sala Udin: How do you see Black Art today? Amiri Baraka: Well we need to restore its purpose. The thing is you’ve got an Afro-American presidential figure and that disarms a lot of people, even though they still suffer from the same ills. I mean, you see that the Tea Party will pop up. After the Civil War the slaves thought they were free, but then came the Klan. It’s the same thing. You didn’t need the Klan when slavery was going, but the minute you say you’re no longer a slave then you get the Klan and you get Black Codes. So you cannot stop struggling just because you’ve got a black guy walking around saying some stuff. Just because his skin is your color don’t mean his brain is the same as yours; if you’re going to bomb Libya you’re nuts. So it’s a continual struggle to raise the level of social consciousness in the country. Not only for black people but for everybody who needs that change. Sala Udin: Do you still see black artists under the continued influence of Black Art who politicize their art? Amiri Baraka: Some, but you got a whole wave of people who are influenced by this post-struggle art. People who believe that simply to write a poem about themselves or their family is sufficient. That’s not what it is. It’s the whole question of art. Everything that Shakespeare wrote was against the rulers in that particular age. In Julius Caesar he wrote about the relationship between government and the people. The Taming of the Shrew was about the oppression of women and Hamlet is about the development of liberalism. So when you can understand that Shakespeare is dealing with the elimination of the whole aristocratic class in that period you see that all the things he talks about are things that we will have to deal with under capitalism for the rest of our lives. But that’s not the way it’s presented. It’s S E P T E M B E R 2 0 11
presented as some kind of extra-realistic mumbo-jumbo in verse that puts people to sleep so they don’t see the essence of what that is. But that’s what artists are supposed to do — help the struggle for the advancement of human knowledge. Sala Udin: When we came to Newark, on many occasions there were several Pittsburgh artists who were influenced by what they learned and experienced at Spirit House. Now they are revered here. I wanted to name them and get you to reflect briefly on their work: Rob Penny, August Wilson, Ed Roberson, and John Edgar Wideman. Amiri Baraka: Well Rob was actually the most active of our unit. He actually wanted to do the things that we were talking about—use art to advance black life and human consciousness. August was a poet when we first talked. He didn’t write plays yet; he was a young poet talking to me about poetry and I thought that [his movement into the theatre] was a miraculous kind of development. When I first met him he wanted to know why I wasn’t a Beatnik anymore. Next thing I know he had become a Muslim and joined the Nation of Islam —which he stayed with for about that long [snaps fingers]. I think he and Sonia Sanchez got in the Nation of Islam about the same time and stayed about the same time. Thirty minutes. Then they were doing something else. I was very proud of Rob and August and how much they did. They came to Newark a couple of times. Ed Roberson I still know. We worked at the same school. I was teaching and he had an administrator kind of job, but he was writing poetry, and he still is. Sala Udin: Wideman spoke of you and Ed Roberson as early influences. He talks about Ed and includes him in some of his anthology work. Amiri Baraka: Yeah well Ed’s poetry is a very fine, profound kind of poetry and it’s interesting to me. John Edgar Wideman and I have had some discussions—that I really don’t really want to credit as his whole being— on whether or not one should teach icons of Afro-American literature.
And my line was, “You mean you wouldn’t teach Frederick Douglass? You wouldn’t teach DuBois? I don’t understand.” And then he changed his stance because that’s clearly impossible. If you’re going to teach Black Studies you have to teach the great people.
AND THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS
Sala Udin: As we look at the evolution of the political scene up to 2008, you had put forward a compelling argument for progressives that the Barack Obama candidacy represented an opportunity to push forward the agenda for democratic rights and equality. Now more recently you’ve described Obama as a yapping Negro who would take us back to slavery. I wonder what you would say about Barack’s presidency? Amiri Baraka: The problem is that I have to support Obama because I remember the Republicans. I remember Bush, and I see the ones they have lined up over there now. At the same time he has to be criticized about what he’s done. I have to ask Obama, what are you going to get by bombing Africa? Take the oil away from Gaddafi? Gaddafi as a leader is no worse than others that he’s close friends with. So where is the logic of that? And Obama has not learned to struggle like I hoped he would. There’s no way to get anything done unless you’re able to struggle with those long-time lobbies. Even when he was first elected we sent 10,000 newspapers out saying “President Obama, no bailout, nationalize the banks, nationalize the auto company.” I had forums to talk about that. The only way I could justify his actions is that he thought that above all, capitalism — not just petty capitalism, but big time capitalism, monopoly— has to survive for this country to survive. I still thought it was a respite, but there’s been so many times where he’s been able to do things and then backed off, like that thing with [Henry Louis] “Skip” Gates getting busted. Obama said it was stupid, then he backed off it. They arrested a guy, a Harvard professor, on his own doorstep. That’s stupid. And obviously racist. But to back away from that with some kind of “let’s go drink beer together,” that’s what began to turn me away from him. I’ve got to support him to the extent I can, but at the same time I’ve got to criticize him.
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Sala Udin: What should be the posture of progressives relative to the upcoming election? Amiri Baraka: Well you know the right is moving towards fascism. This whole business in Arizona, this whole trading unemployment for refusing to tax the rich. In New Jersey it’s the same thing; Governor Christie will not tax the rich, but we have all kinds of budget cuts. That has to be fought, and Obama has to be held as a bulwark against that; otherwise what are we doing? I think it’s important to fight the fringe, the Tea Party, and understand that a lot of Republicans, and some Democrats, are the Klan in civilian clothes. They just took off the white robes. Like I said, after the Civil War, then you get the Klan. So after Barack’s election, then you get the Tea Party and it’s the same thing. It’s the Sisyphus Syndrome. You roll the rock, they’re going to roll it back down on your head. Like I said last night, there was a guy named George Romero who predicted the coming of the Tea Party in a film in the sixties called Night of the Living Dead. But the irony about that is a lot of the people are struggling against their own interests, you know, “Keep your hands off my social security.” That’s a federal program. But that’s where we are now, between a rock and a hard place. During the campaign of the Weimar Republic, the left split up into pieces and permitted the right to grow. While the left was fighting about whether they were Communists or Socialists, Workers, Syndicalists, Hitler was building. So you looked up and suddenly they had blown up the Reichstag— which reminded me of 9/11—and the next thing you know, they had banned the left from the whole parliamentary thing and began to take hostages. I don’t see the difference between the media, big media, Murdoch Media, Fox, and what the Nazi media was. Everything is to the right, to the right, to the right, and when you see people like [the radio and television host] Glenn Beck for instance, it’s very scary because they don’t represent anything but fascism. Sala Udin: You called for the formation of a representative assembly, a united front, to organize black politics. How do you see that happening today? There is nothing close to the kind of assembly that we put together with the National Black Political Assembly. How do you see that evolving?
Like I said, after the Civil War, then you get the Klan. So after Barack’s election, then you get the Tea Party and it’s the same thing. Amiri Baraka
Amiri Baraka: Well it’s going to have to happen again. First of all, the only way we can go forward in this country is that coalition, that united front that elected Obama. Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and progressive whites have to maintain that motion because if that fragments, we’d go backwards. That’s the danger of Obama acting so backwards, because what he’s doing is cutting off his own backers. I was actually giving money to the campaign in 2008, but I can’t give money to someone who’s going to bomb Africa. You could never back Great Britain and France against Africa or any other powerless people because they’re bloodsuckers. That’s why when you see these movies about vampires and stuff it’s so popular because they’re talking about themselves, they’re talking about the nature of this economy, the nature of this society. They suck blood from defenseless people. Sala Udin: So rather than building a united front, many of the critics of Obama — especially left critics — don’t do anything as an alternative to their criticism. They exempt themselves from organizing people, and they think it’s sufficient to stand on the sidelines and criticize.
So rather than building a united front, many of the critics of Obama—especially left critics—don’t do anything as an alternative to their criticism. Sala Udin
Amiri Baraka: Well it’s like [American author, actor, and civil rights activist] Cornel West. He called Obama a white man in black skin. This guy taught at Harvard and Princeton. I don’t know many black people who teach at Harvard and Princeton. If you got into one of them you’d be lucky. I was at a Socialist conference and these people were making all these ridiculous statements. I said, “I’m a Communist, I want to know where are the Socialists, where are the Communists in this group?” And Cornel says “I’m a Christian.” So I said: “That’s cool,” but I reminded him, “You know why they killed Christ, don’t you? Kicking the money lenders out of the temple.” Anyway that’s the problem, people feeling that the Black Liberation Movement was a means of getting them into an Ivy League college. The idea that it was to try to change the very nature of the United States is lost on them because they’re perfectly comfortable. That’s why if you look at that book that [Manning] Marable wrote about Malcolm X, the three people pushing the book were Cornel West, Skip Gates, and Michael Eric Dyson. Unfortunately Marable fell into this kind of thinking or analysis that the “left,” the Democratic Socialists, even the CP today, and the Trotskyites, are more progressive. I said no, the Black Liberation Movement had the S E P T E M B E R 2 0 11
most powerful effect on America. Not the CP, not the Democratic Socialists, not the Trotskyites. And Malcolm and all these Black Liberation groups, the Black Panthers, they didn’t want an Obama. But if you don’t understand that, if you’re going to belittle them because they’re not formally Socialist, then you don’t even need Lenin. Lenin said we don’t measure people’s struggle against imperialism by their formal commitment to democracy, but by the effect they have in beating imperialism. If you’re talking about Lenin, don’t talk to me about no left. That’s the problem: You have people who masquerade under some form of social democracy, pretending they’re on the left, but really just dribbling the ball inside regular capitalist America.
A WAY FORWARD Sala Udin: When you look back at all of the contributions that you have made as a writer, playwright, music critic, and cultural critic, how do you see the peaks and valleys of your own contributions? Amiri Baraka: Well, I just wrote a play about [W.E.B.] DuBois called The Most Dangerous Man in America. That’s what the FBI called DuBois. But that man was 82 years old and had a cane. In the play he explains what they have done to him when they indicted him as an agent of a foreign power for talking about peace and condemning the hydrogen and atom bombs. They indicted him as an agent of a foreign power at 82 years old. He explained that once that happened, publishers that sought his writing no longer did that. They began to stop his speaking engagements. He said, “I was a man that every Negro in the United States wanted at one time.” He became a pariah. So I could understand that. I said yeah that’s what they will do. If you do something that the powers don’t like, they make you invisible. That was the first case against McCarthyism, and at the end, even though DuBois had Vito Marcantonio as his attorney, the last Communist in the Congress. But when he had won, he said: “Now the little children will no longer see my name.” You can write what you want to, and say what you think needs to be said, but in the end they’ll hit you back.
AMIRI BARAKA Amiri Baraka, born in 1934, in Newark, New Jersey, is the author of over 40 books of essays, poems, drama, and music history and criticism. He is a poet icon and revolutionary political activist who has recited poetry and lectured on cultural and political issues extensively in the USA, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. With influences on his work ranging from musicians such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Sun Ra, to the Cuban Revolution, Malcolm X and world revolutionary movements, Baraka is renowned as the founder of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s. Though short-lived, it was a movement that became the virtual blueprint for a new set of American theater aesthetics. The movement and his published and performance work, such as the signature study on AfricanAmerican music, Blues People (1963) and the play Dutchman (1963), practically seeded “the cultural corollary to black nationalism” of that revolutionary American milieu.
Sala Udin: Have they done that to you?
SALA UDIN Sala Udin, whose legal name is Samuel Wesley Howze, is a former Pittsburgh City Councilman, where he represented the 6th district. Udin traveled south with the Freedom Riders, and during the 1960s, worked primarily in Holmes County, Mississippi, for the benefit of the Civil Rights Movement. It was there that Udin rallied for school desegregation, farmer cooperatives, and voter registration. Upon returning to Pittsburgh, Udin helped to establish a branch of the Congress of African People. Udin is also known for his acting in the play Jitney and the friendship he had with August Wilson.
Amiri Baraka: Oh yeah, even just money-wise. Last year I lost $16,000 in terms of speaking and stuff. I went to Princeton, and they said: “It’s going to be hard for us to have you at Princeton because we have to spend an extra $10,000 on security,” like people are going to come and shoot me. But it’s a normal thing if you understand what you are doing and who you are opposing. People are always coming up to me, “Didn’t you have a play on Broadway?” Why should I have a play on Broadway? I mean you think that people want somebody to come up to them and say, “You need to die,” and then they say, “Let’s put this on Broadway.” It’s a choice you have to make, it’s a choice you make and you have to live with it. Sala Udin: What projects are you working on now? Amiri Baraka: Well the play on Dubois I just finished two weeks ago. That took up my time for the last few months. I’ve got a book called Revolutionary Art that I’ve been waiting on for two years from Third World Press; I don’t know what the publisher’s doing. He sent me two sets of proofs, I marked both of them and still no book. We are also doing things in Newark: We have a project called Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District. That’s an old district in Newark where the abolitionists lived and used to preach against slavery. Right next to that was the black music center, so we’ve sort of annexed that area and we’re building houses down there. For the last five years we’ve had big music festivals. Matter of fact it’s coming up again next month, and we’re organizing a tribute to James Moody who’s a Newark musician. Tomorrow [June 26] we’re having a celebration for Juneteenth, the day when word that slavery was over reached Texas three years after the fact. It should be interesting. We’re just trying to do things now to support Ras and his struggle because he’s the most progressive person on that city council. He’s always involved and struggling against these backwards forces. Politics for some people is nothing but a gig. It’s not about advancing anything in the consciousness.
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Persecuted Cartoonists: Steady Hands and Brave Hearts
by Barbara Collier
South African cartoonist Zapiro responded to the threats that followed his cartoon of prophet Muhammad visiting the psychologist by drawing himself on the therapist’s couch. While maintaining the right to draw, he dissociated himself from the “juvenile Islamophobic Facebook campaign,” the Islamophobia of the U.S. war on terror, and the European bans on the burqa and minarets. SAMPSONIA WAY
“Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who suppress the truth.”Wole Soyinka, Nigerian poet, dramatist and Nobel Prize winner. The political cartoon is arguably the most powerful format of that terror. More art than speech, the best editorial cartoons are lie-piercing tools in the fight for human rights. With scalpel-sharp wit, they carve away at political power where it holds unhealthy sway. And with their accessibility to a broad swath of followers — illiterate as well as educated — cartoons can become the banners of democracy. However cartoonists provoke the anger of repressive regimes. The profession requires a steady hand and a brave heart. In many parts of the world, cartoonists fight for their basic right to freedom of opinion. In perhaps the most infamous brouhaha in contemporary cartoonpublishing history, in September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten attempted to open up debate about a hands-off-Islam demand by the religion’s adherents. The paper published 12 editorial cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, which is prohibited under Islamic law. The deed stirred worldwide Islamic protests and retaliations, including the torching of Danish embassies and the attempted murder of one of the artists. Just like Jyllands Posten, there are many publications and cartoonists who have faced pressure from local authorities. But unlike the Jyllands Posten case they don’t make international headlines. Sampsonia Way asked writers who have collaborated with the magazine to recommend a cartoonist from their country. From Zimbabwe, it was recommended we contact Tony Namate; from Cuba, Alfredo Pong; from Venezuela, Pedro (left) León Zapata; from Burma, Aw Pi Behind the ballot box and the red ballot (the color of Kyeh (APK); from South Africa, Chávez’s party) is the phrase Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro). We “From Here to Eternity.” asked them about their careers Pedro León Zapata and challenges and, while editoriillustrates Chávez’s eagerness to change the constitution ally we can’t vouch for every one of their so he can maintain power opinions, we applaud their efforts to indefinitely. express them and be heard.
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Tony Namate recently published a book of his cartoons, The Emperor’s New Clods: Political Cartoons from Zimbabwe, which the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists’ Kevin Kallaugher says, “punctures the pomposity of the powerful on behalf of the poor and the powerless.” A picture on Namate’s Facebook page, taken in 1999, shows him at his Daily News desk drawing a cartoon. In April 2000 a homemade bomb was thrown at the paper’s office, and in 2001 a series of bombs were planted in the building, blowing up the printing press. In 2003 the paper, known for its critical views on President Robert Mugabe, was denied a permit and subsequently shut down. Namate now draws for the online periodical New Zimbabwe and also addresses the problems of other African countries. VJ Movement’s website says of Namate, “His work is often open to different interpretations—an ambiguity he says not only protects him but also reflects the complicated politics of his country. He trusts in his readers’ capabilities to distill his message.”
Tony Namate SAMPSONIA WAY: How did you begin as a political cartoonist?
SAMPSONIA WAY: What challenges have you faced in response to your cartoons?
NAMATE: I grew up on American comics and British funnies that my father used to bring from work. I liked the drawings more than the text. Then, when I was in high school in the 1980s, I became addicted to Mad magazine. In high school literature courses I read Julius Caesar and Orwell’s Animal Farm. The resemblance of my country’s political situation to what I read shaped what was to become my political outlook.
NAMATE: I’ve been doing cartoons for over 20 years now, and I have had some close shaves. I’ve been threatened by government ministers and have been chased by a Zanu-PF mob because I “make fun of the President.”
“I realized the power of cartooning and haven’t looked back since.” Tony Namate (below)
Shoot to Kill A South African policeman shot and killed a three year old boy in November, 2009. He said it was “in self defense...” Namate explained that there has been an outcry at the growing number of civilian casualties ever since the Zuma government announced a “shoot-to-kill” policy towards criminals.
SAMPSONIA WAY: Have you ever come close to giving up your work because of the difficulties imposed on you? NAMATE: Political cartooning is a labor of love, but yes, there have been times when I thought of giving it up. I have no problem with reactions from politicians; in fact, I welcome their reactions. If their reactions are brutal, then my response is equally brutal. But making a living out of cartooning is not easy because the client base in Zimbabwe is so small and polarized. If you make cartoons for one paper, you can’t make them for another. And payment is a take-it-or-leave-it situation.
One Afternoon in Southern Somalia This cartoon is a dig at the African Union which insists, “African solutions to African problems.” “It’s all hot air, of course,” Namate says.
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Alfredo Pong escaped Cuba for Vancouver, Canada, in 1991, where he began to draw his first political cartoons. By 1994 he had been hired by the newspaper El Nuevo Herald in Miami, where he continued cartooning for several years. Then in 1998 he connected with the online publication La Nueva Cuba. These days his work is published on websites in the U.S., Brazil, Canada, Spain, Sweden, and Venezuela, and his personal blog can be accessed at cubahumor.com. Reporters Without Borders has deemed Cuba “one of the world’s 10 most repressive countries, as regards to online free expression.” Pong, who has admitted that he suffers an incurable case of “Castrophobia,” is among many exiled journalists who continue to fight for a free Cuba. SAMPSONIA WAY: How did you begin as a political cartoonist? PONG: I think I started drawing before I could talk. It’s impossible to think of myself as a child and not see me drawing on anything I could find. Then, when I was 8 years old, I was in an art competition in which you used your fingers as paint brushes. I drew a picture of our national hero Fidel Castro and won first prize. Ironically, I had drawn a portrait of the young leader who would later become our tyrant in chief. (right)
Cuba, 1977 – 1989 La Autocritica In 1986, Castro’s regime initiated an “error rectification” campaign, which sought to undo free-market reforms made in the early 1980s. According to Pong, all the public relations efforts were disingenuous because all criticism was rerouted to mid-level officials, while the core of the government avoided any responsibility.
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“I suffer an incurable case of ‘Castrophobia.’”Alfredo Pong SAMPSONIA WAY: What motivated you to use your talent as a means of protest? PONG: I belong to a generation that was the recipient of every socio-political and economic experiment of the new Cuban utopia, so I witnessed the decline and disintegration of the country we had inherited, the separation of families, the loss of all the material wealth that had been earned and accumulated by at least two generations of Cubans, the annulment of private property, and the right to choose a future for yourself. In short, I witnessed the total loss of individual freedom in the name of a new collective and mandatory way of living. In Cuba I never published a political cartoon. I knew the publishing circles and almost all the official cartoonists, but I wasn’t willing to pay the price, which would have meant giving up all autonomy and working according to the official “script” of the regime. Instead, I drew comic strips clandestinely, for my own amusement, occasionally sharing some of them with a select group of friends. When I managed to escape Cuba in 1991, I began to get all that off my chest: The frustration of spending my whole life without being able to denounce the things I had seen, without having the freedom to express my point of view, and always having to look over my shoulder.
which was supposed to be released during the International Book Fair in Miami, but it was sabotaged during printing, so it couldn’t be ready for that. Also, none of my cartoons have ever been seen in Cuba because the government blocks all blogs or websites with content that is critical of the regime. I have also received a number of online attacks in different forms. SAMPSONIA WAY: Have you ever considered stopping your work because of these difficulties? PONG: Well, I don’t get paid to do this. I live off my work as an architect. Nobody pays me, nobody tells me what to do, and I don’t use ideas other than my own. That gives me a great deal of independence and freedom with my cartoons. I am the only person responsible for what I say, which makes me very happy. I would love for my colleagues in Cuba to be able to enjoy that freedom one day. (below)
The revolutionary slogan ‘Comandante en Jefe, Ordene’ means ‘Commander in Chief, give us your orders.’ In Spanish, the word ordene means to give orders, but Pong added a mark on the top of the n, and changed the word to ordeñe, which means to milk a cow.
SAMPSONIA WAY: Have you ever come close to giving up your work because of the difficulties imposed on you? PONG: Since the beginning, they have tried to pressure me in all kinds of ways, some very subtle, like trying to block my participation in international graphic humor competitions, or sabotaging the publication of a book that was published in Brazil, which was a collaboration with political analyst Jorge Hernández Fonseca. We put together a book with his work and mine, S E P T E M B E R 2 0 11
Pedro León Zapata Pedro León Zapata isn’t afraid to pick fights — even if his opponent is Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s authoritarian President. The Caracas-based artist, winner of the Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas, has been a regular contributor to the popular Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional for nearly 50 years through his column, “Zapatazos.” Interviewed by Elizabeth Farnsworth on PBS in 2002, he said, “How can you explain what is happening in Venezuela if even we Venezuelans can’t understand it? What is happening in Venezuela doesn’t have a logical explanation... In astronomical terms, El Comandante Chávez is a black hole... For me, cartoons are the perfect form for expressing fully all that happens to me inside as a consequence of what is going on outside.” Farnsworth describes Zapata as “a man with a strong appreciation for black humor and the absurd.” In the 1940s, Zapata moved to Mexico to study with the muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Over the many years since his return to Venezuela, he has become a nationally known political gadfly and unique artist — painter, muralist, illustrator, playwright, radio host, actor, and musician — revered for both his humor and his implacable challenge to Chávez. In 2000 there was a confrontation with the Venezuelan leader, who publicly challenged Zapata about these cartoons, asking whether he had been bribed to publish them. Zapata answered the President with another question: “Mr. Chávez, did you accept money to refer to my cartoons, thus inducing so many people to rush out and buy the newspaper?” Zapata is featured on Chávez’s list of “counter-revolutionaries”— a collection of artists, journalists and other “public enemies” the President recommends go into self-imposed exile. Although we asked him about his conflict with Chávez, Zapata preferred talking about his public reception.
This cartoon, published in October 2000, provoked Hugo Chávez’s ire. Via TV, Chávez asked Zapata: “How much money did you get for this?" Zapata’s cartoon uses a military expression—“firme y a discreción”—and refers to Chávez’s military government and a society that submits to its authority. (right)
Chávez compiled the names of everyone who signed a 2004 referendum asking for his recall. Based on this list, the government fired thousands of people. Because Congressman Luis Tascón (from Chávez’s Party) spread the list via internet, it became known as Tascón’s list. According to Zapata, this cartoon represents Chávez’s party members as toads with epaulettes and military boots. In Venezuela, sapo (toad) is a pejorative term for informants or tattlers.
“One doesn’t become a cartoonist, one unbecomes oneself.” Pedro León Zapata (below)
With this cartoon Zapata contrasts the high price of crude oil around the world with the poverty suffered by most Venezuelans.
SAMPSONIA WAY: How did you become a cartoonist? ZAPATA: One doesn’t become a cartoonist, one unbecomes oneself. I would have liked to have another profession, but for many reasons I couldn’t. For example, I wanted to be an architect, but people praised my cartoons so much that I took that path. SAMPSONIA WAY: What challenges have you faced as a response to your cartoons? ZAPATA: People really like my cartoons, at least they say so. The only challenge I face is to please the readers without being indulgent. SAMPSONIA WAY: Have you ever come close to giving up your work because of the difficulties imposed on you? ZAPATA: I haven’t found a great deal of difficulty in my work, just affection. Nothing has yet made me think about quitting my job as a cartoonist. S E P T E M B E R 2 0 11
After Burma suffered the loss of more than 138,000 lives and damage estimated at $10 billion in Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, the Burmese military regime held a referendum to retain its power. The cartoon depicts a man in trousers (a symbol of a military person) carefully righting his chair (a symbol of power) while ignoring the plight of victims being blown about in the cyclone.
Aw Pi Kyeh Aw Pi Kyeh (APK) chose this pen name because it means “loudspeaker” in Burmese. His cartoons dare to shout out loud about the military junta that rules Burma. In 2007 he was banned from publishing inside Burma after he supported monks in their peaceful protests during the Saffron Revolution. Following that, colleagues who even mentioned his name in an article were suppressed. In June 2011, the Burmese site Mizzima.com compiled the views of several well-known Burmese on the fighting between the national troops and the Kachin Independence Army, after both sides suffered heavy casualties. Aw Pi Kyeh commented, “The president said they would try to be a good government. What does good government mean? Is fighting good?” After 30 years of cartooning, Aw Pi Kyeh says he will not quit. He continues to illustrate despite the ban on his work, and he has turned to new channels of distribution such as Facebook.
SAMPSONIA WAY: How did you begin as a political cartoonist? APK: I have loved cartoon drawings since I was 9 years old and began copying them. Then I discovered editorial cartoons in newspapers: Not only pictures, but ideas! So I began sending some of my own cartoons about current events to newspapers, but without success. When I reached university, though, my work achieved campus-wide fame. In 1980 editors of magazines began to print my cartoons, and I was given a monthly platform. But at that time in Burma, editorial cartoons were published strictly for propaganda. As soon as I was seen as having new ideas, I was not asked to draw regularly, and in fact I was appointed as an engineer in a factory that was far away from Yangon, where there was no post office. So in 1988 I resigned and became a full-time freelance cartoonist. SAMPSONIA WAY: What challenges have you faced as a response to your cartoons? APK: The crucial challenge is censorship. The Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) reads all published books, newspapers, and magazines and censors any pages they don’t like. Publishers and editors need to tear out or ink over those pages. All my cartoons were chosen to be published in magazines, but some were censored. Whenever a page with my cartoon on it is torn out, the cartoon on the back is
also tossed out. The editors must allow the PSRD to check their publication again after the deletions. It can take more than a week and delay distribution. So I am a major headache for my editors. Though they would like to publish my work, I am the cartoonist most prone to censorship. I’ve had about 300 of my cartoons cut out of publications in my career. SAMPSONIA WAY: Have you ever come close to giving up the work because of the difficulties imposed on you? APK: No. After I resigned from my engineer job, I was determined to be a freelance cartoonist for the rest of my life. I have tried to survive economically, even with a wife and three children. When my cartoons were censored, sometimes I was not paid, so I have also done cartoon illustration, computer graphics, and animation related to cartoons. From time to time, I worked as an external supervisor for some NGOs in creating information, education, and communication materials. Now I draw cartoons not only for criticism but to inform and educate the Burmese people. Cartoons are an easy, effective tool for this purpose. I am particularly interested in using my cartoons to promote environmental issues, disaster management, and early-childhood development. I would never give up my cartoon work because I have so many goals to achieve that censorship will not impact.
“About 300 of my cartoons were censored in my life.” Aw Pi Kyeh (left)
This cartoon illustrates how the winner of the 2010 election in Burma was chosen even before “the race” began.
“Shhh, this is my relative!” APK says that the figure quieting the dog represents the new government, and the shadow of the thief represents those who work with the government towards dishonest ends. S E P T E M B E R 2 0 11
Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro), born in Cape Town, South Africa, fulfilled his military requirement before becoming active in the anti-apartheid movement, the United Democratic Front. In 1988, on a Fulbright scholarship, he studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City with premier comic artists Art Spiegelman and Harvey Kurtzman. Today Zapiro is a noted editorial cartoonist with a busy schedule drawing for South Africa’s Mail & Guardian and Sunday Times. He has published 16 book compilations of his work and received the 2007 Courage in Editorial Cartooning award from the Cartoonists Rights Network International, which monitors and supports the well-being of political cartoonists who find themselves in trouble because of the power and influence of their professional work. For several years, he’s been an invited speaker at the World Economic Forum in Davos. According to the Daily Maverick, “He didn’t censor himself before the apartheid government (and he was jailed for it), he doesn’t censor himself to appease big business, and he certainly doesn’t censor himself to please the African National Congress — he is one of those who takes most seriously Section 16 of the South African constitution, the part where freedom of expression is enshrined.”
This cartoon conveys the sense of loss of many South Africans in 1999, when their beloved President Mandela retired. (below, right)
In September 2008, Zapiro depicted South African President Jacob Zuma about to rape Lady Justice with the help of his allies. Zuma, who had previously been accused and acquitted of rape, was about to receive a judgment on whether a corruption case against him would proceed. Enormous pressure was being put on the judiciary; anarchy was threatened if the accusations were upheld by the court. The cartoon provoked intense worldwide debate.
Jonathan Shapiro 24
photo: Karina Turok SAMPSONIA WAY
In response to the Everybody Draw Muhammad Day Campaign of May 2010 — designed to protest the chilling effects on free speech Muslim death threats have had in targeting artists who depict or parody the prophet — Zapiro drew a cartoon showing Muhammad visiting his psychologist and asking why his followers don’t have a sense of humor. Zapiro sees himself as asserting his right to free speech.
“I was detained without trial in 1988.” Jonathan Shapiro SAMPSONIA WAY: How did you become a cartoonist? ZAPIRO: From the age of 8 or 9, I knew that cartooning was my favorite thing. At 4, I remember reading [Carl] Giles. But the big ones for me were Peanuts and Tintin, which I discovered at about 7 and 8. Those cartoons are still two of my great inspirations. Schulz and Hergé are geniuses. At 13, I started to make a book based on the Tintin action films to impress Hergé and get him to let me be part of his team. Then I decided, no, I wanted to do my own stuff. At the age of 15, there was some pressure to “be something,” and, of course, there was that ogre, the army. I thought I’d better do something “proper” to stay out of the bloody army. Architecture seemed a good marriage of arts and science. I got into Cape Town University easily enough, but I realized architecture was not where my heart was. Although I thought of being a cartoonist from a young age, it was only when I became a political activist in my mid-20s that I really became a cartoonist. Drawing cartoons for political organizations is what really got me started.
SAMPSONIA WAY: What challenges have you faced as a response to your cartoons? ZAPIRO: I’ve been involved in a large number of controversies around my cartoons, beginning with the very first political pamphlet I ever did, which was banned by the apartheid government in 1983. Other bits of graphics and cartoons I did were also banned. I was interrogated by the security police about one of them and was detained without trial in 1988. The same year an apartheid cabinet minister ranted in parliament about cartoonists, apparently attacking me and a colleague. Many of my cartoons about political, religious, and sexual issues have been controversial and have sparked debate in newspapers and other media. But nothing I’ve ever done has come close to creating the kind of media frenzy and public debate sparked by my September 2008 Sunday Times “Rape of Justice” cartoon. SAMPSONIA WAY: Have you ever come close to giving up the work because of the difficulties imposed on you? ZAPIRO: For me the problems that I sometimes face are part of the job. My best way of dealing with this is to keep doing hard-hitting cartoons and not get intimidated. I have no plans to stop doing cartoons. S E P T E M B E R 2 0 11
See, Hear, and Tell, but watch out How we do journalism these days in Guatemala… By Claudia Méndez Arriaza
Cover: The U.S. State Department estimates that at least 75 percent of the drugs distributed in U.S. territory are trafficked through Guatemala. The confiscation of drugs and money (as in the cover photo) are events covered by the local media. Photos: Sandra Sebastián
Left: After a gunfight between rival drug organizations, the glass of a storefront over an ad is shattered.
Drug trafficking, and the violence it engenders, is Guatemala’s latest threat to freedom of speech. In her exclusive letter for Sampsonia Way, elPeriódico’s Claudia Méndez Arriaza uses her inside-the-newsroom perspective to compare the risk of being a journalist today with the risks of reporting during Guatemala’s bloody civil war (1960–1996). She also discusses the necessary precautions for staying alive while reporting on drug-trafficking in one of the most violent cities in Latin America.
Long before I became a court reporter for elPeriódico de Guatemala, the career of many of my country’s journalists had been terminated. Some abandoned the newsrooms for less complicated jobs; others vanished from their desks and typewriters — only to show up in the morgues as further victims of political violence, or as one more desaparecido on the long list of casualties in Guatemala’s civil war. Just type these five words into Google: “periodistas asesinados conflicto armado Guatemala” and the search engine will retrieve hundreds of thousands of pages. It is the same with any search, you might say. But there is a difference in this case: This is not just a search for the right restaurant or hotel; these are pages about reporters assassinated during the war; this is the history of journalism in my country. And sometimes an internet search will show you what you don’t want to know. For example, in April 2000, a Spanish journalist was about to travel to Guatemala to work as a trainee for Prensa Libre, one of the country’s largest newspapers. When she tried to show her family the paper’s website, the computer screen showed the latest breaking news: A photographer had just been shot down while covering a violent demonstration. The journalist’s mother begged her not to travel to Guatemala, but she did, and that is how we, her Guatemalan peers, heard about that story. We could only laugh.
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While doing my own Google searches about assassinated Guatemalan journalists, I found a website that compiles facts and figures I’d never seen all in one place. Reading this page, I learned that during the 36-year-long Guatemalan civil war 342 journalists were assassinated and 126 were illegally arrested or disappeared. That makes an average of at least one attack on the press per month, consistently, between the years of 1960 and 1996. The statistics come from the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM), a group of the victims’ relatives that emerged during the war. The website also says that there was no investigation into any of these deaths, nor has there ever been a trial for the case of a journalist who disappeared during that time. Nonetheless, the same website explains that there is no longer a “política de estado,” or “state policy,” in Guatemala on violations of freedom of expression. Peace Accords were signed in 1996 at the end of the civil war, and after that it is fair to say Guatemalan journalism became a very different story. The dark days faded into the light of a new era when a generation of journalists emerged from universities and filled the newsrooms with reporters in their twenties: Young men and women who faced the challenge of starting their careers while writing a new chapter in the history of their country. Crimes That Never Happened... Since the Peace Accords were signed, there have been threats. There have been illegal raids on the houses of several journalists. There have been threatening calls meant to frighten journalists into silence. There have been advertisers that vanished from our pages and, in an economy as small as Guatemala’s, sometimes one advertiser can speak for ten businesses. Freedom of expression is still vulnerable from all perspectives, yet it is hard to compare the number of journalists who have been killed or threatened during the last 15 years with the number of deaths during the war. Cerigua (Informative Report Center of Guatemala) is a news agency which describes itself as an alternative media in Guatemala. It also runs “Observatorio de los Periodistas” a project focused on freedom of expression for the press. Ileana Alamilla, the director of Cerigua, explained to me that since 2003 the observatory has worked to compile and make public every case of violated freedom of expression in Guatemala: A total of 394 from 2003 to 2010. Cerigua clarifies that the figure includes verbal and physical aggression, attacks, threats, harassment, persecution, intimidation, defamation, reporters harmed by bullets, and even allegations from reporters of attempts to limit
During the 36-year-long Guatemalan civil war 342 JOURNALISTS WERE ASSASSINATED and 126 were illegally arrested or disappeared. That makes an average of at least ONE ATTACK ON THE PRESS PER MONTH, consistently, between the years of 1960 and 1996. Claudia MĂŠndez Arriaza
Above: Drug trafficker killings are characterized by the high number of bullets fired. Such killings often occur in daytime and in the crowded areas of Guatemala City.
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their access to information. The hard number comes later: Out of those 394 cases, the number of assassinated journalists is 20. What has not changed in Guatemala since the war is the judicial system’s response. It is rare to hear that any of the crimes Cerigua documents make it to the courts for a trial. Impunity is severe here and sends a radical message: An unpunished crime is a crime that never happened. So the weakness of the institutions and the fragility of the so-called Rule of Law undermine the peace process that was started in 1996. I’m not only speaking about freedom of expression here; I’m also talking about Guatemala’s effort to build a democracy.
Right: Captured drug traffickers are afraid to testify against their organizations, and even when they do, reporters may be too intimidated to cover the story.
“The war is not with the press...Cut the bullshit before the war is against you.” The civil war is over, but another armed conflict has arisen: The battle against the traffic of illegal drugs. Guatemala is located in such a strategic position that the U.S. State Department estimates that at least 75 percent of the drugs distributed in their territory are trafficked through my country. We can argue about the figures, but the signs here are very clear. I began to write this letter a few weeks after a horrible massacre of 27 peasants, which occurred in a farm in La Libertad, Petén, a northern department located 507 kilometers away from Guatemala City. Only days after that, a young district attorney was slaughtered in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, 219 kilometers to the north of the capital city. All of these victims were beheaded. ElPeriódico is based in Guatemala City. You must travel 4 hours to get to Cobán and 8 to get to La Libertad. But fear travelled faster after the killings and, like a dark and heavy blanket, it covered the newsrooms based in the
city. I won’t ever forget the face of the youngest reporter in elPeriódico, who also happened to cover the police. I was his editor that day; he came to my desk and said, “I’m not going to sign those stories, please take out my byline.” His reasons were obvious: I saw miedo, the fear in his face, and he seemed so vulnerable. Shy and funny, young and skinny, with long hair that draped over his forehead. Still a college student, who’d been working at elPeriódico for less than 4 months, he had covered the events of one of the more violent cities in Latin America: A place with 17 to 20 crimes daily, in a city of 3 million inhabitants.
The civil war is over, but another armed conflict has arisen: The battle against the traffic of illegal drugs. Guatemala is located in such a strategic position that the U.S. State Department estimates that at least 75 PERCENT of the drugs distributed in their territory are trafficked through my country. Claudia Méndez Arriaza
I thought it was normal for him to ask for his byline to be removed, being so young, but the next day when I read the daily papers I was shocked to see that no journalist in Guatemala had signed their stories — not even the follow-up stories related with the massacre were signed. One of the largest and most traditional papers here also decided not to include any of those events on the cover of their editions. Instead the killing of the prosecutor was a secondary note on page 10. Then my question was: In which country in the world is a prosecutor beheaded, his body left with a written threat at the entrance to the governor’s office in his town, and it becomes a secondary story on page 10 in the country’s oldest paper? In Guatemala. The prosecutor had been part of a team that seized an important shipment of cocaine. The beheaded farm peasants, according to the threat, were working on a farm owned by a key contact of a criminal organization.
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“Watch out. Things are going to get worse, and our lives are in the middle.” Carlos Menocal, Interior Minister of Guatemala and former journalist
During the raids that followed the killing of the prosecutor, authorities found huge signs printed on blankets. Besides the usual threats and some explanation for the killings, was a warning against the press: “La guerra no es con la prensa así que llevémosla tranquila. Bájenle a tanta mamada antes de que la guerra sea contra ustedes…”; “War is not with the press, so let’s take it calmly. Cut out the bullshit before the war is against you...” Were those the lines that frightened the young reporter? Were those the lines that drew fear on his face? Were those three lines enough to end our enlightened decade of freedom of expression? “Watch out. Things Are Going to Get Worse.” Silvino Velásquez is a veteran reporter. He and I found ourselves in a meeting organized by former journalist Carlos Menocal, who is now the Interior Minister of Guatemala. How did that happen? How did a reporter became a Minister? That’s another story; but what happened during the meeting is another sign of just how vulnerable journalists in Guatemala still are. I interviewed Silvino Velásquez to write this letter. I was trying to make him compare the behavior of the press during the war with our conduct during this new era of drug trafficking. “Éramos más valientes antes” he said, “We were braver before.” I asked him what he meant. After he thought it over, he explained that in the eighties, directors and editors would never have demoted an important story to page 10 as a secondary note. I asked him what the consequences were for journalists back then and he mentioned that he lost 25 colleagues. As I heard him, I thought to myself, that would be like losing the newsroom of elPeriódico. I don’t want that. No story is worth a life. No story. The purpose of the meeting with Carlos Menocal that Velásquez and I attended was for Menocal to explain some of the actions that he and his team were taking toward managing the violence in Guatemala. But, by the end of the session he addressed us all and said, “Watch out. Things are going to get worse, and our lives are in the middle.” No longer speaking to us as Interior Minister, Menocal was talking as a journalist. He made it clear when he said, “I know that not all of you have life insurance; it’s important that you claim it.”
I am not the only one in danger; today many Guatemalans leave their homes in the morning, praying to return alive at night, and I wonder when is this culture of violence and fear going to end? Claudia Méndez Arriaza
Claudia Méndez Arriaza is an editor
and reporter for elPeriódico in Guatemala. She is also co-host of the television program “A Las 8:45.” In May she was named a 2012 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Latin American Nieman Fellow, through which she will attend Harvard University for a year. While there Méndez Arriaza will study law and the politics of emerging democracies.
The Unwritten Protocol for Covering Drug Trafficking As a safety precaution, I monitor reporters when they are away from the office. In November a journalist from my team took a trip to find out why a man facing charges of transporting tons of cocaine to the United States had at least two hundred peasants demonstrating to support him and reject his imprisonment. When she visited his farms she found out that the demonstrators were his employees. During her trip we exchanged text messages constantly. Every time she moved from one place to another, I had to know. Her work became a great piece that explained how the absence of “The Rule of Law,” or “The State” — abstract terms that mean so much — made it easy for some men, like the subject of her story, to gain a social base. If a man has given his community a school, an ambulance, a health center — if he gives money to the mothers of children dying from hunger — then it’s easy to become a popular man loved by the people, and it’s logical that people will get frustrated if the person who represents salvation for them is imprisoned. It was not company protocol to text the journalist during her trip; it was a safety measure designed just for the occasion. Although, recently, while working with Greg Brosnan, a documentary filmmaker for London’s Channel 4, I learned that my older improvised methods could quickly become protocol. Brosnan was working on a very sensible documentary about violence in Guatemala that explains how this tiny country found itself in the middle of a voracious drug war. I was hired as his contact person in Guatemala and soon the time came when he had to travel to the “red zone” of Petén and Cobán to interview people about the beheaded attorney and peasants. I was going to stay in the capital city, but as a precaution I had to be in contact with him. There were two specific hours in which I definitely had to speak with him and then e-mail his headquarters to report that he was fine. Of course I called him more than I was supposed to. I thought that he was really at risk. As with the young reporter in elPeriódico, I was either texting or calling just to be sure that everything was fine on the other side of the line. I fear the day that I call a journalist and get no answer, and I ask myself: Is this the way we should do journalism in Guatemala? I wonder sometimes if it is normal to think of danger when you think about your job. I still sign my articles. I keep saying to myself and others that I will recognize whenever there is a threat ahead. But I am not the only one in danger; today many Guatemalans leave their homes in the morning, praying to return alive at night, and I wonder when is this culture of violence and fear going to end? S E P T E M B E R 2 0 11
Issue 8 of Sampsonia Way, a literary magazine supporting persecuted writers and journalists and covering freedom of expression issues around...
Published on Sep 14, 2011
Issue 8 of Sampsonia Way, a literary magazine supporting persecuted writers and journalists and covering freedom of expression issues around...