CPJ'S mission confirms dire situation for imprisoned
journalists and their families
New York, July 18, 2003-Renowned Peruvian journalist
Gustavo Gorriti traveled to Cuba last week on
behalf of the Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ) and confirmed the dire situation for independent
Cuban journalists and their families, who are
suffering from harassment, humiliating prison
conditions, and psychological pressures.
The mission was prompted by the Cuban government's
crackdown this spring on the independent press
and the opposition. In all, 28 journalists were
arrested, convicted, and given prison sentences
ranging from 14 to 27 years. The detentions of
these political dissidents and journalists, who
are often accused of being "counterrevolutionaries"
at the service of the United States, began on
March 18 and continued for three days. Police
raided and searched the journalists' homes, confiscating
books, typewriters, research materials, cameras,
computers, printers, and fax machines.
The journalists' one-day summary trials were
held on April 3 and 4 behind closed doors. The
journalists remained imprisoned in several jails
administered by the State Security Department
(DSE) until April 24, when most were sent to jails
located hundreds of miles from their homes.
Based on his stay in Cuba, Gorriti noted that
"while Castro boasts that no forced disappearances,
no physical torture are inflicted on repressed
opponents ..., the intense, widespread harassment,
pressure, and jail conditions exerted on those
opponents undoubtedly amount to psychological
Gorriti visits with imprisoned journalists' families
During his stay in the capital, Havana, Gorriti
visited the families of imprisoned journalists
Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Ricardo González
Alfonso, Raúl Rivero, and Héctor
Maseda Gutiérrez to convey CPJ's concern.
Upon his arrival in Havana on July 8, Gorriti
visited Miriam Leiva, an independent journalist
and the wife of Espinosa Chepe. Gorriti said he
was surprised to hear Leiva, who is allowed to
see her husband every three months, describe Espinosa
Chepe's severe and worsening cirrhosis; his horrible
prison conditions; the immense difficulties she
faces trying to visit him; and the belief that
he could soon die as a result of these conditions.
Espinosa Chepe's cirrhosis (a condition that
had been under control before his arrest, according
to Leiva), along with other ailments that have
been exacerbated while in jail, has placed him
in and out of hospitals during the last four months,
Leiva said. And despite his poor health, Espinosa
Chepe was put in solitary confinement at Boniato
Prison, one of the worst prisons in Cuba, on July
4. Nine days later, he was sent back to the hospital.
Leiva told Gorriti about Espinosa Chepe's arrest,
trial, and her subsequent ordeal in trying to
secure minimal medical treatment for her husband.
Leiva recounted Espinosa Chepe's interrogation
at Villa Marista_the DSE headquarters in Havana_and
the difficulties she has confronted in trying
to seek information about her husband's health.
On July 9, Gorriti met with Àlida Viso,
an independent journalist and the wife of González
Alfonso, the president of the journalists' association
Sociedad de Periodistas Manuel Márquez
Sterling. González Alfonso is in Prison
Kilo 8, located 320 miles (512 kilometers) away
from Havana, and is allowed a "conjugal visit"
every six months and a "family visit"
every three months. Food, medicines, soap, and
other personal items can be delivered every four
months, but no visit is allowed then. "You
travel the length of Cuba to give the personal
package to a prison employee, and then head back
and hope that the scheduled visit, weeks or months
away, won't be canceled by the prison authorities,"
Also on July 9, Gorriti visited Blanca Reyes,
the wife of journalist and poet Rivero. Reyes
recounted that, when Rivero was arrested, people
from the neighborhood came out of their homes
to see what was happening, and when rumor spread
that police were taking Rivero, protests were
heard. To avoid confrontation, the police quickly
took Rivero away. Reyes told Gorriti that Rivero
has lost a lot of weight in prison.
Later that evening, Gorriti visited Laura Pollán,
the wife of Maseda, an activist with the Democratic
Liberal Party and an independent journalist, who
was sent to La Pendiente Prison in central Villa
Clara Province. Pollán, who is allowed
to visit her husband every three months, told
Gorriti that Maseda has been diagnosed with scabies
and other skin rashes triggered by the appalling
conditions in the prison. Pollán said that
prison authorities would not allow her to bring
clean sheets and medicines.
In the crackdown on independent journalists
and dissidents, Gorriti concluded that the Cuban
government may be trying to use the jailed journalists
as bargaining chips with the United States to
achieve an exchange for the five Cuban spies who
were arrested and sentenced to stiff prison terms
in the United States two years ago.
This, noted Gorriti, "helps explain the
efforts, the pains the Cuban regime went through
in trying to depict the dissidents and journalists
as 'mercenaries' and 'spies.'"
© 2003 Committee to Protect