Juvenal Balan is a photojournalist for the Granma newspaper. Author: Roberto Chile
I have matched Juvenal in countless press reports in Cuba and beyond. I have seen how it works. Never hesitate. I visited Pakistan in January 2006, three months after the earthquake that devastated that country in October 2005. Upon my arrival in Islamabad, I found Juvenal, along with the envoys of the Cuban Television Information System, doing full journalistic work, defying adversity and danger. the mission in which our medical staff wrote a beautiful page of heroism and humanity.
Traveling the world, traveling the length and breadth of the island, and doing other Fidel business, I have shared—sometimes painfully—the best visual angle with this photojournalist, colleague, and friend whom I appreciate and admire for his professionalism and human dignity. .
Juvenal Balan, a photojournalist for the Granma newspaper, within a few days – thanks to these and other qualities important for the profession – received the José Martí National Prize in Journalism for his life’s work and long service to the Motherland as a journalist and photographer. With his example and dedication, as well as his images, he shows this every day.
– Tell us about your stay in Pakistan as a Cuban correspondent based on your photo of Cuban doctors from Henry Reeve’s brigade.
– After midnight, when I was about to go to bed, the silence was interrupted by a phone call. On the other side of the tube, I was told that I had to be at Terminal 5 of José Marti International Airport at 5:00 am to board a plane that was leaving with a Cuban medical team to help the Pakistani people after a devastating disaster. the earthquake that hit it on October 5, 2005.
“After a long flight, we arrived in Islamabad. It was difficult to land the plane on the runway because they wanted to redirect it to another destination. In the end, thanks to the experience of the pilots, the Cuban Il-62 landed on Pakistani soil.
“We did not have diplomatic relations with this country, but Cuba’s solidarity aid did reach Pakistan. The first impression we got was that it was a disaster. The airport is overcrowded, planes from all over the world are trying to land to offer help, military helicopters are transporting victims from the earthquake to hospitals. It was chaos. Under these conditions, our doctors arrived on Pakistani territory and immediately began their first steps.
“After reconnaissance of the epicenter site in Balakot, the first field hospital was installed there. Cuban doctors pitched their own tents and slept in them for several months, on sacks, on the ground.
“Days passed, Cuban aid increased. The mountains of the Himalayas were inhabited by our doctors. Thirty-two field hospitals have been equipped with operating theaters and first-generation equipment to assist the casualties.
“The mission was challenging. Language was not a barrier thanks to the universal sign language. Pakistani children acted as English interpreters and this facilitated communication between patients and our doctors, who managed to create their own dictionary of words and expressions in Pakistani languages.
“On December 31, 2005, the weather changed dramatically, the temperature dropped, the ground was covered with snow. This did not become an obstacle for the Cuban contingent, which continued to mitigate the pain and death.
“To share these moments with the largest Cuban international medical mission in history was a challenge for us journalists and at the same time an obligation that we fulfilled with stoicism.
“Being able to see our army at work in white coats in Pakistan was an unforgettable experience. A deep trace is left by the way our women walk with backpacks on their backs, despite the snow, to bring health and life to settlements where there has never been a doctor. Because we have witnessed the altruism and solidarity that only a revolution like ours can offer.”
Before becoming a photographer, you were a soldier. There, in the army, you took your first steps as a photojournalist before joining the Granma newspaper. How much did life and military training give you?
— The army became a bridge that reoriented my professional destiny. There I forged much more discipline, values, honesty. As a military journalist, I ventured into the life stories of historical generations and new generations that were being formed on the defense front. Covering exercises and maneuvers, and then carrying out an international mission as a war correspondent, not only increases professional experience, but also prepares them for life, for the implementation of any project and the solution of any task, no matter how difficult it may be.
“The experience of a military journalist has prepared me to cover hurricanes, natural disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis and, why not, also to dive into other areas that allow you to convey to the one who receives the message the lived reality and spirituality that surrounds him. surrounds.”
What excites you the most in your work? What surprises or upsets you the most?
— I get excited when I see that my work is published, and someone whom I respect for experience and professionalism congratulates me on the results. Also when I receive recognition from those who receive it as viewers. And what annoys me the most is when someone from a bureaucratic or organizational position and without deep knowledge of our profession makes decisions that interfere with the work we do with love, dedication and sensitivity to perpetuate the moments that we live, that pass and do not return. .”.
What is your biggest contribution to Cuban photojournalism?
– I never thought about it. Since I decided that photojournalism will be the meaning of my life, I have tried to do my profession with the highest quality, eating the juice of the teachers of the profession that preceded me and increasing my knowledge both in practical exercises and in theory, because in order to train or guide professionals , you must be an example.
“Perhaps my humble contribution was to contribute a grain of sand to the collective work of witnessing today and tomorrow, part of the history of this heroic people in Cuba and beyond.”
– What moments in your work as a photojournalist were the most difficult and the biggest for you – satisfaction and joy?
“The hardest moment happened when I was in my profession as a war correspondent and witnessed the actions of the caravaneers of the guard detachment of the Venceremos column, or when we flew over the theater of operations in helicopters, or when during the celebration of the anniversary of the character Elpidio Valdes, created by Juan Padron, in fortress of Cabaña, I was trying to take a wide-angle shot and the ceremonial cannon exploded in front of me, but I kept pressing the shutter. Fortunately, I did not receive any injuries, although there were several wounded who were immediately treated and taken to the Luis Diaz Soto General Hospital of the Armed Forces.
“The greatest joy was on the day when I received congratulations from Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro, conveyed by Bruno Rodriguez, then head of the Cuban mission in Pakistan, for the work we have done on the work of our doctors, alleviating pain and death. In addition, the joy is also that I had the joy of living and practicing my profession during the time of Fidel, whom I accompanied in various reports in Cuba and abroad.
“Photojournalism has allowed me to meet colleagues, true masters of Cuban journalism, whom I admire as a person and for the work they have left as a legacy; testify to the life and work of the Cuban people in its various aspects; see people marching through Cuba on May Day; presence at the steel casting in Antillana; make a hedge at a sugar factory or in a cane cut; I have time to think about the work of a teacher who traveled about 10 kilometers a day in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra to give special education to a lonely student in a wheelchair who was seriously injured from birth.
“Photojournalism has also given me the opportunity to get to know part of the world, heroic peoples like the Vietnamese; visit the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for over 25 years in South Africa; visit the birthplace of Maximo Gomez in the Dominican Republic; be covered by the press at the United Nations, where the Cuban delegation always bears our truth; touring places associated with Jose Marti in New York; see the twin towers up close, as well as being in the operating room with a female-led surgical team at the field hospital in Dat in northern Pakistan or in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, commemorating the work of our doctors for the victims of the January 2010 earthquake.
“For these and many other reasons, I thank life for choosing to be a photojournalist in Cuba during the revolution.”
(Excerpts from an interview published in Cubaperiodistas)
Source: Juventud Rebelde