Cuban journalist Yariel Valdes Gonzalez started his career in Santa Clara as a reporter for the state-owned newspaper Vanguardia. He came to the United States in 2019.
Cuban journalist Yariel Valdes Gonzalez in ICE custody
Photo: Yariel Valdes Gonzalez Facebook

On March 27, 2019, Yariel Valdes Gonzalez said goodbye to friends and family on the border of Mexicali, Mexico, minutes before delivering himself to the US Immigration Services to ask for political asylum. Like many Cubans every year, he bet his dream to enjoy a life in which he felt free to do his job without political harassment.

However, the path was not straightforward and he made that decision in a moment of harsh treatment toward immigrants in the US. What made him believe it could be easily done, actually turned out to be the opposite and Yariel spent eleven  months in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody suffering mistreatment and discrimination. Despite the strong evidence, authorities hesitated acting on the veracity of his case.

I understand that they must be very careful with those who they allow to cross their borders, but I disagree with their methods

Yariel Valdes Gonzalez

Countless times, when the darkness in his prison cell devoured his hours, when the bad news about suicides, deportations, and authorities appealing his case became a nightmare that hit on his soul, he continued writing. Like anxiety-expelling therapy, turning his fears into words and releasing all that negativity made him stronger. “I guess one never gets rid of this need of communicating life and that time I felt like my life was the center of reality,”-he states right now while celebrating the results of that work.  The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (a.k.a GLAAD) announced that Yariel was nominated to their annual media awards in the category of outstanding print article.

Cuban journalist Yariel Valdes Gonzalez
Photo: Yariel Valdes Gonzalez Facebook

The achievement is not in vain. The four chapters of the chronicles, that were published in the Washington Blade, are a heart-breaking testimony of humanity where honesty becomes the main dish of the prose. Fancy words and baroque narrative are needless when the realness of the description is powerful enough to make you feel as desperate and lonely as Yariel felt  so many times. He created  the articles with such sensitive words that remind us of the emotional strength flavored with a sense of kindness in The Diary of Anne Frank, —differences aside, of course. 

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Yariel had to deal with several delays to advance on his case, particularly the hesitancy of the authorities who questioned him several times. He had to deal with hunger, homesickness, poor living conditions, and the breakup with his boyfriend. Yariel felt such a sense of isolation that, at some point, his brain betrayed him with suicidal thoughts. 

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“There are a few people I know won’t dare to do so, yet many think so. I myself have reached such a point of despair that I have found myself thinking about these atrocities more than once. The very fact that my brain considers them as an option terrifies me and is indicative of how much this is affecting me”, he writes in chapter 3.

Locked Up in the Land of Liberty covers the struggles of a persecuted Cuban journalist – awaiting for his parole to be granted with an ironic twist: to run away from authoritarianism and seek his desire for freedom, he first had to face imprisonment. 

Cuban journalist Yariel Valdes Gonzalez
Photo: Yariel Valdes Gonzalez Facebook

During his self-deliberation, he stated: “I certainly never thought America was like this. The champion of human rights, fighter of injustices throughout the world, closes its doors to those confined within its borders.” And then he came to a crucial conclusion: “I understand that they must be very careful with those who they allow to cross their borders, but I disagree with their methods”. 

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But, who is Yariel? The 31-year-old journalist started his career in Santa Clara as a reporter for the state-owned newspaper Vanguardia. He also worked as a photographer and news anchor for several local media outlets in his hometown. Tired of censorship, Yariel switched to independent media like El Toque, Oncuba, Tremenda Nota, and Cubanet for which he was punished by the Cuban authorities with interrogations, harassment, and prevented from traveling abroad, among other things, as he has described in the articles . In 2019, Yariel could leave for Mexico and so his journey to the US started. 

Two years have passed since he was released and, grateful for the new life that has been given to him, he managed to start a job in Telemundo News, one of the biggest Latino broadcasting companies in the US. He has devoted his career to the coverage of LGBTQ issues and that is how he commenced his contribution to the Washington Blade in 2019 by reporting about the situation of this community as immigrants on the Mexico-US border. There is no regret in any choice Yariel has made and no sadness in his eyes.

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Luis Orlando León Carpio is a Cuban journalist living in Denmark and Czech Republic, where he is completing a master's degree in Journalism, Media and Globalization as an Erasmus scholar. He has worked as a reporter, editor and content producer for Vanguardia newspaper and Tornapunta magazine in his hometown, Trinidad. He has also contributed as a freelancer at El Toque, OnCuba & Tremenda Nota among other international publications. Telling the right stories, no matter what they are about, is the way he finds to make the world a little bit better. He holds a BA in Journalism from the Universidad Central Marta Abreu de Las Villas in Santa Clara, Cuba. Fun fact: he also loves to sing!

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