The ‘rebels’ behind Puerto Rico’s longest running newspaper

Yarimar Gonzalez discussing Claridad's work. (Bill Healy/MEDILL)

By Gwen Aviles
Medill Reports

Housed in a cozy office on Calle Borinqueña in San Juan, Claridad—Puerto Rico’s longest running newspaper—has a staff of a mere 10 people. But the paper’s lack of personnel is eclipsed by its resolve.

The political publication, which was founded by the socialist party nearly 59 years ago, has been advocating for Puerto Rico’s independence since its advent.

“We believe in the independence of Puerto Rico and we’re very verbal about it,” said Yarimar Gonzalez, Claridad’s administrative director.“We’re not shy about expressing that.”

Claridad’s political transparency and dedication to exposing governmental corruption has not come without sacrifice, however. The paper does not receive money from large organizations—as some others in Puerto Rico do—and therefore relies on donations, profits from its online store Claritienda and money made from the festival its staff organizes every year.

Particularly in the 1970s, Claridad faced repression from those in power unsatisfied with its coverage. Yet the paper kept fighting, going as far as refusing to pay the IRS during that same decade because its writers believed that independence was soon to come, Gonzalez said.

Almost 40 years later, Claridad’s commitment to Puerto Rico’s autonomy endures. Even the lack of electricity and suitable working conditions brought on by Hurricane Maria were unable to diminish the team’s dedication.

“We are rebels at heart,” said the paper’s director, Alina Millán Ferrer.

Though Claridad was not printed for eight weeks after the hurricane—resulting in an approximately $60,000 loss for the paper—its staff never stopped producing content. It operated out of a credit union nearby their office that had WiFi, and continued to post articles to its website.

“The hurricane was only an environmental problem,” said Gonzalez.

As she and many other Puerto Ricans see it, Hurricane Maria simply exacerbated problems caused by Puerto Rico’s position as a colonized island since it was acquired by the United States in 1898. “In the 19th century, the colonists were the pirates,” Gonzalez said. “Well, we have pirates now, only they wear suits and ties. They have led us here without any resources and have destroyed the basis of every country, which is the education system, the security, the health system.”

Claridad’s work is representative of Puerto Ricans’ resilience to persevere through these difficult times. The paper is not only creating community and facilitating collaboration by highlighting the voices of Puerto Ricans in pursuit of systemic change, but it is rewriting the myths outsiders have perpetuated about Puerto Rico.

“There are many people in the United States who don’t know anything about Puerto Rico. They think they can get here by taking the I-1 in from Florida to the Caribbean,” said Rafael Acevedo, the editor of Claridad’s cultural magazine. “We need more media in Puerto Rico because more information about the island means more capacity for understanding it.”

By persisting in its coverage, those at Claridad are determined to fulfill this need.

“We don’t have to change a lot,” said Gonzalez. “We have to repeat what we’ve been saying for 59 years.”

Photo at top: Yarimar Gonzalez discussing Claridad’s work.
(Bill Healy/MEDILL)