Monday, March 28, 2005

Cuban escapees - history in the making

This is a story of blogging it its best. In history class this story is what is referred to as "primary source material," a first person account of something that happens before the story becomes widely known. If there is any spinning, interpreting or ax-grinding going on, it is apparent from the jump. There is no attempt on the part of the writer-reporters to conceal any personal bias as they simply report the facts.

I caught a snip of a discussion on C-SPAN yesterday regrding journalism and opinion. There was a panel that included Arianna Hutchinson and David Brooks. There was a man from Al-Jezeera in the mix. Jeff Jarvis was among the audience. And the discussion made reference to blogging and journalism, trying to make some point about "fact" vs "opinion" as though the two could be somehow separated. As they talked it seemed clear to me that no one every wants to advance an argument (read "opinion") without facts. Likewise, I don't think it is realistic to think there is any way to report just facts without advancing an idea or opinion.

This story is a case in point. There are two posts to be read (each with a comment thread). The reader is invited to read them in reverse order (If blogs were books, the order of events would be organized differently, with background material coming first. It is sometimes important to read posts in reverse order.) and remember that it is not fiction.

Babalu Blog is the preeminent Cuban blog.
Val Parieto recieved an unsolicited email last week that looked so good it made him suspicious.

All sorts of caution bells were ringing. I kept hearing my father saying Be careful, Valentin. You never know what el caballo is capable of doing. What if my father and all the others who have told me to be careful were right. What if this guy wants to meet me to do me some harm. What if the guy is one of fidel's infiltrados, one of his moles that he has planted everywhere, especially here in Miami. For a moment I even had the notion that I would meet with the guy, he would knock me out somehow and I would wake up in one of fidel's jails or something. As you can imagine, I really wasnt sure what to do.

The email was from a woman whose father had a story to tell. The story was being passed to a blogger because the Miami Herald wasn't interested. The story of the email and subsequent meeting of the blogger and the journalist is more timely and interesting than the story itself.

"I'm an independent journalist," he said. "Used to work for the Herald years ago when I lived in Miami."

"I was in the Dry Tortugas working on a piece on scuba diving," the gentleman continued.

"When 14 Cuban refugees washed ashore this past Wednesday. I took a ton of photos."

He went on to tell me about the refugees and their arrival at Fort Jefferson. How they were all practically naked. How they had all arrived and sat calmy at a picnic table. How he wasn't allowed to talk to them until the Park Rangers realized they needed a translator.

"Naturally," he said. "I called my old contacts in the Herald but there wasn't much interest. 14 Cuban refugees washing ashore isnt too newsworthy here, I guess. So I immediately thought of BabalĂș. Would you be interested in the story and the photographs?"

The other post is an account written by Julio C. Zangroniz, the journalist.
There are photos that I could not open, but that is less important than the story itself.

Last Wednesday morning, March 23, just as the sun began to crawl over the horizon and light up the Dry Tortugas –the tiny group of Florida islands about 70 miles west of Key West— those placid grounds normally occupied by campers and vacationers became alive with excitement.

Did you see them… did you see the Cubans? nearly yelled one camper to another as he ran from camp to camp.

A group of 14 Cuban refugees, 13 men and one woman, had walked quietly into the grounds surrounding historic Fort Jefferson, then sat meekly at a picnic table, just as if they were just another group of tourists exploring the remote outpost.


When the ranger noticed a visiting journalist snapping photographs of the group, she came over to warn him about “park regulations concerning the commercial use of photographs taken here.” The journalist assured her that he was visiting the fort at the express invitation of the top representatives of the National Park Service there, and that he would make sure to comply with any and all regulations. But in the meantime, he asserted that he would continue to fulfill his journalistic duties.

The little story that follows is a glimpse into part of America that most people know about but rarely think about, the way that immigrants are handled, in this case by everyday folks working for the National Park Service and the National Guard.

A number of the refugees asked that the ceiling fan be turned down, or off altogether, because they were getting extremely cold, so it was done. Soon after, yet another park ranger showed up with a huge box of clothes. Tell them these are for them, so they can feel more protected.

As I said, this is blogging at its best. The snips I pasted here are only a sample.
To get the full experience you have to follow the links and read for yourself.
This is why I don't take the paper any more.

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