Isidro Fardales, one of Radio Havana Cuba’s emblematic journalists also has many reasons to celebrate at the station, where he has been professionally trained. He was recently awarded Gisela Bell Prize for the play of the year, given by the group of national stations branch of the Union of Journalists of Cuba. On the occasion of his award, the Cuban Radio has interviewed Fardales to publish his interview on the Cuban radio web site in order to pay homage to him and his beloved station.
Isidro, how did you take your first steps in journalism?
I entered the Faculty of Journalism in 1970. At the beginning it was just a springboard to get to Diplomacy- a career I have always liked it- since I thought journalism would be useful for me to achieve my goal. I had no back up from my family; my mother was a housewife and my father was a worker who always supported the Communists and the Popular Socialist Party. I directed my interests into that education, so I was selected- after ending high school- to enter the José Marti Military Technical Institute to become an officer.
When I graduated as a journalist I was sent to work at the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), at the Cinematheque of Cuba. They had taken into account that as a University student, I had dedicated myself to making films debates of a political type aimed at showing the reality of the countries through their films. For that reason, they assessed my interest in political issues and sent me to work at Radio Havana Cuba (RHC).
When I got to Radio Havana Cuba and was interviewed by the Director of the station, I confessed to him that I was not interested in radio; however, after the first year had passed I told him: “The radio is in my veins now. Radio Havana Cuba has something special that catches me and makes me dedicate all my life to it because of the message it broadcasts and what it represents.” At that time, by the 70’s, there was a very difficult situation in Latin America. The revolutionary movements of Africa and other regions of the world became daily news and RHC broadcast in favor of those peoples ‘struggles.
I remember my first teacher, Miguel de la Guardia, an excellent journalist. On my first shift at work, he handed me two press releases which took me a long time to write; however, after checking them, he gave them to me full of corrections and changes. I went back to pick up my things ready to leave work, as I though I was no good at my job, but he told me: “You already have the tools; you must use them at work and develop your professional career.”
RHC offered me many opportunities of jobs. I particularly dedicated myself to writing. I worked with demanding bosses and an editorial board that used to revise everything; I felt I was learning in a great school.
I also learned the process of the recording. I think there is no place left at the station, where I have not worked. I have worked in the International room, in Programs department, in the languages departments, where I headed the French department. I use to walk down the corridors of the station and feel that even the walls greeted me; it is over 37 years of dedication to the radio.
For years, you have represented the Cuban radio in much coverage abroad accompanying Commander Fidel Castro and other personalities. How have you prepared, taking into account the rigors of the multiple broadcastings you must have carried out without having an editor?
I immediately noticed changes that were happening on the radio. I have always used technology and looked for my own way of airing, which helped me in much coverage, especially the time I lived in Nicaragua.
Early, in 1993, I learned how to edit, when we still had cassette recorders and nobody spoke about comprehensive coverage, in which everything must be done by only one person. At that time, I was head of the information department and I promoted courses on editing and production. Nowadays, knowledge is a priority, since the world continues to develop and looking for the best way to get quality is needed.
Before, the existence of shortwave broadcasting was an obstacle due to the noise produced through the antenna, so the quality of airing depended on that. Now internet uncovers everything and if some work has been badly edited, the audience is able to perceive it. There are things that sometimes listeners do not understand on the radio, in this case there is no communication.
Working on the radio entails always being alert. On quite a few occasions, I used to return from traveling very early in the morning and went to the Radio Rebelde station and gave my opinion about the work carried out there. Now, we have competition with the emergence of Internet; it has a more immediate effect, but I think that the radio is very important for the Caribbean and the Latin America due to its low cost and proximity.
On January 13, 2010, a day after an earthquake hit Haiti, you went with a group from the press to report what had happened there for the Cuban Radio. I would like you to tell me about that experience.
What it happened in Haiti was very shocking for all Cubans. Hearing of the news was something terrible. The day after the disaster I was attending a course on the new ways to use Internet, Facebook, Twitter at the José Martí International Institute of Journalism. The course had started at 8.30 am and we were talking about the earthquake in Haiti. Around 10:00 am I got a phone call and they asked me if I was ready to go to Haiti. I just asked about the time of leaving; it was to be two hours later.
I went home on my bike; my wife was waiting for me there with a backpack full of things. On my way, I was thinking how to deal with that situation; it was totally different for me. I had worked in Venezuela for a year, but I had never participated in coverage of that kind, since earthquakes in Cuba are not really known.
We arrived in Haiti 24 hours after the catastrophe occurred. We got real shocks, when we got there. First of all, we saw the destroyed buildings from the sky, and those images reminded me those movies made about the Second World War, when the cities had been devastated by bombing.
In the second shock was when we got to the landing trip and saw desperate people on the streets, who were trying to save their belongings, and were afraid to return to a building due to possible further aftershocks, as really happened later; some of them with strong intensity.
In the third place, we saw the airport occupied by a well armed enemy force. They had free movement, planes from the United States flew up and down, there were many military vehicles. It was really sad; an unnecessary display.
Finally-and that was the most painful for us-we had to go all through Puerto Principe’s streets full of debris and corpses to get a place they call the Annex, a building next to the Military Hospital, where some members of the Cuban Medical Brigade lived. In the courtyard, there were two makeshift surgery tables, placed below a cover similar to a tent, where doctors were operating virtually in the open.
Images of the earthquake in Haiti were horrific. A lot of wounded and dead people were brought in and gathered up. They were carried out as if they were couches or sacks; children were also included. I could not forget that smell of death.
It was a long day. While we were taking some rest along with the first medical team, the other one was operating, since patients came constantly, and even more from a distance; it was like a wave of people. They knew the Cuban doctors were there and everyone was looking for medical assistance. Journalistic work had to be replaced by human assistance; journalists also had to provide medical assistance.
I recall Dr. Yiliam Jimenez, head of the medical mission, talking to citizens in English for them to get away from those makeshift surgery tables. I realized it would not work, so I helped her to communicate with them in French. Finally, we cleared the place, from where we had to leave many times to look for new stories to tell.
Coverage was carried out over four months under extreme conditions; there was no water or electric power and telephone coverage was paralyzed. The Cuban embassy provided us with an electric generator for us to use a PC for some hours. That way, we could write our first press releases, release stress and start to fulfill our commitment there.
Inn what technical conditions did you carried out the work, and deal with language difficulties?
Well, we had some problems with the PC given by the embassy; for instance the sound editor did not work, so we use a wireless connection to download free software on the Internet and had the basic elements to do our job without being worried about viruses.
I had no conditions to work the audio and started to write the first chronicles. It was a little uncomfortable because I used to write in an informative language -that used for reports- and the chronicles were almost forgotten for us, however that technique allowed me to write things that can not be written in an interview or any kind of information like details of the experiences lived by the Haitian people and the Cuban doctors.
Working in Haiti, also gave me the opportunity to write not only in Spanish but also in other languages. I realized that I could write works in the Creole dialect as well as speak with well-prepared persons in French and Spanish when the Haitian doctors who studied in Cuba returned to their country, or when we joined those who were already working in Haiti after graduating in Santiago de Cuba.
Other opportunities to practice foreign languages were the arrival of the US doctors who also studied in Cuba, since we interviewed them in English, on the Bolivians’ arrival, we did the work in the Quechua dialect, carrying out of works in Arabic language with a Saharawi and a Lebanese student, as well as works in Portuguese during the visit to Haiti of the former President of Brazil Lula Da Silva.
Another opportunity was the short stay of the Head of State of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, to whom his Haitian counterpart, Rene Preval spoke in French, knowing that the Ecuadorian President has a good command of that language.
All of those experiences with languages allowed me to carry out coverage in several languages for the Radio Havana Cuba station, which broadcasts in nine languages.
Seeing that despite the deprivation in which the Haitian people lived in those days of much sadness, they were able to continue living and tried to do it the best way encouraged to me. Going all over the destroyed areas I found a beauty salon on each block. It also drew my attention how the Haitian women took care of their clothes, even when they sat on the floor of the market to do their jobs.
Those details told by way of chronicles showed how incredible things happened amidst so much pain.
Another attractive aspect was to try to get closer to those people’s beliefs, whose spirituality is very varied. On Sundays, they dressed with elegance to attend their church in order to think of a better world.
Undoubtedly, those are stories that convey things to the younger generation, and that has always been your main priority.
I work with youngsters deliberately. They have a great academic curriculum, so when they carry out their practice at the station they are not restricted; they carry out coverage, write for the web site, write press releases and carry out works with sound.
When I returned from Haiti people asked me a lot about it. I put special emphasis on the command of languages like Creole. What I carried out was the largest coverage by the Languages Department of RHC in history.
On the occasion of meeting between Preval and Esteban Lazo, the member of our Political Bureau, there was not a list for the press and access was very limited. The interview was going to be carried out in a cubicle prepared as a presidential office, since the whole government building had fallen down.
Thanks to my command of the language I could get to the assistant of the presidential office and then ten journalists were allowed to enter.
Journalists must be intrepid; and I am telling you that I am not a languages expert, but just a daring person. We had difficult moments with the presence of the US soldiers in Haiti in two occasions. First, we were not allowed to enter the military hospital, where Cuban doctors were working; and I told them in English that they had not been invited to that country, and they were not the owners.
The second time happened when they closed the access to several streets with some trucks and explained that they were on maneuvers. Then, I told them that food distribution was not any kind of maneuver and that in the same way they were doing their job, we must do ours.
Isidro, at the beginning you told me about your parents. I think the family you have created deserves a place.
Certainly, they have been the backbone of my professional development. I have four children. My parents are both elderly, 89 and 88 years old. My mom was always a housewife, but she has been of great help for my father, who has taught me dedication to work, punctuality, the strength of social commitment; and he has showed me that with facts, helping people in any circumstances, without telling me a word, reading to me, or giving me a book.
I believe in human beings and I think that ethical values, commitment and conscience are above everything. So I am grateful for the education I have received from my parents, especially honesty. Having received the Gisela Bell Award for the work of the year from the UPEC branch delegation of the Cuban national radio stations has exceeded my expectations. In my opinion, excellence at work must be shown day by day, since there are many people who have sacrificed much more than us, as in the case of our five heroes.
The most important thing is to carry out a comprehensive work, with quality and efficiency in order to support the work of the revolution. Practice what you preach at work and appealing to the human conscience have always been my proposals for everyone.
A translation by: Silke Paez Carr