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National Journalism Laureate. A Man of the Written Word: Rolando Pérez Betancourt
His explanation is that he was never officially 'named typesetter as a permanent employee by the experienced people in the trade, who touched each others elbows or winked at each other, acknowledging the 15-year-old boys progress at the print shop of the newspaper 'Hoy.

To become a good printer, like his brother, and earn a more or less decent salary would have been a dream come true for Rolando Pérez Betancourt. His mother deserved it. Ever since he can remember, she worked really hard to support her two sons.

The adolescent who dropped out of school and began to work as a newspaper vendor got his big opportunity in November 1960: "I belong to a generation who grew up on the streets and later seized all the opportunities offered unconditionally by the Revolution."

Working 14 and 15 hours a day and "with some of the most amazing news going through me: the Havana bombing, Fidel proclaiming the 'Homeland or Death revolutionary slogan, the mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs, my great joy and my agitation while searching in the boxes for letters to inform readers about the revolutionary victory over the mercenary forces." And then, his satisfaction at showing the paper to his mother and saying: Look, I printed this headline and this one too, and she was really proud that her son was able to put together the whole paper by himself! But after a while, this was no longer enough for Rolando and so, one night he knocked at the door of Blas Roca, the director of the newspaper.

- Blas, I want to be a journalist.

Very early in the morning, he used to sit in front of the typewriters with his hands still stained with ink, when there was no one else there. And while at the bus stop, waiting for the bus, he made up the most diverse headlines as if he was covering the news.

When the newspapers Revolución and Hoy merged and gave birth to Granma newspaper, he was already working as a designer and was also writing for the sports section.

He has written hundreds of features and articles for Granma. "By the mid 1960s, I traveled around the country, climbed mountains, sailed, went into the sugar cane fields and I was impressed by the social transformations I found. I could not stop writing. I also realized that along with my writings to defend the Revolution and highlight the new values it promoted, I had yet another, equally important mission, that of warning readers and our society in general of the inevitable mistakes made while accomplishing such a gigantic work in which the human being is the main actor."

In 1976, Rolando was writing for the daily section on history 'Sucedió hace 20 años (It happened 20 years ago). In it, he wrote about the political, economic and social situation in Cuba in 1956 and 1957. He combined journalism and research with literary techniques toward the historic truth. He has nothing to do with the 'new journalism practiced in the United States, but several Latin American magazines hold him up as an example of an efficient journalistic method used in our region. Later, his articles were compiled in two volumes by Ciencias Sociales publishing house.

With more than 45 years working as a journalist and a vast work that stands out for its quality, Rolando has also been working as a film critic for more than 30 years and his section in Granma 'Crónica de un espectador is the longest-running of its type in the history of Cuban journalism. He is a critic with high ethical values that many recognize and even gets some people upset.

Along with his work as a journalist and film critic, Rolando also finds time to dedicate to his great passion: literature. He is the author of outstanding novels like 'Mujer que regresa (Woman Who Comes Back) in 1986 -- the first in Cuba to deal with the issue of migration. In another of his novels 'La última mascarada de la cumbancha (1999), the plot develops at the time of the incidents at the Peruvian embassy and Mariel here in Havana. Both novels were published by Letras Cubanas publishing house and the latter was also published in Mexico.

I met Rolando 36 years ago. I still remember the first time I saw him in a picture on his desk, coming out of the sea wearing a diving suit. That was the time when he and renowned photographer Korda looked for underwater archeological treasures in Cuban coastal waters. Together, we shared countless experiences. We share the same ideology. We both have been active members, first of the Young Communist League and now, the Communist Party. We are both addicted to the Granma newspaper, which we feel is a part of us.

Despite being a prestigious critic, he is primarily remembered for his work on the TV programs 'Tanda del domingo, 'Cine vivo and 'Noche de cine back in the 1980s and now, 'La séptima puerta, and not for his written works.

The evening hours fly by, and so do the years that he cant get used to. "I have a problem with years -he admits and smiles - they pass without me noticing them and so, I have to play the role every time my 10-year-old grandson Erik calls me: 'Grandpa, grandpa. When I turn to look at him, I never know whether to respond kindly with something like 'tell me, my grandson or just blurt out 'dont call me grandpa, buddy."

Rolando still dives, works out, studies: "it surprises me every time I read a book and find a new word. I tell myself something Id like very much to believe: that Im just a boy who is learning."

Ive got three final questions:

What does Granma newspaper mean to you?
How do you feel after having been granted the National Journalism Prize?

"Granma newspaper is linked to my whole life. I have worked in one place only. It was first called Hoy and now, Granma. I grew up, loved, suffered, had three children and two grandchildren, I defined my principles and developed my political convictions, met many exceptional people, felt happy and also at times frustrated -and all that while working here. I keep up to date with what is going on in the world. And let me say, a journalist must always be learning, and as much as possible. A journalist that is not well informed about what is going on in the world today is done for.

"Im grateful for the prize, which a see as a new commitment. Regarding dissatisfactions, who doesnt have any? I remember now a very old one, linked to an aspect of Cuban journalism that we havent been able to understand quite well yet: we need to learn to look into ourselves and speak openly what we think, so that we can contribute further to improving our society. Cuban journalism has contributed a lot to our national sovereignty and the anti-imperialist nature of our revolution. We should now find ways to pay that old debt we owe to our people and to ourselves."


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