Attacks on the press in 2006 / CUBA
to Protect Journalists.
Facing intense international interest in
President Fidel Castro's hospitalization
and the transfer of power to his brother,
the Cuban government severely restricted
information about Castro's illness in the
name of state security and selectively blocked
foreign journalists' entry into the country.
In a July 31 proclamation aired on Cuban
television without advance notice, Castro
announced that he had undergone emergency
surgery for intestinal bleeding and would
temporarily hand over power to his brother,
Raúl. A second message by Castro,
released on August 1, dispelled any doubts
as to how the Cuban government would handle
news of his illness. Castro labeled his
health condition "a state secret,"
and officials refused to disclose the severity
of his illness, its cause, its prognosis,
or even the hospital in which he was being
From there on, the 80-year-old Castro's
appearances were few and carefully managed.
After 40 days in September and October in
which no information at all was released,
the government finally circulated images
and a brief interview with Castro that sought
to combat rumors about his failing health.
Government statements said vaguely that
he was recovering, but they offered no details;
photos showed a gaunt and pale president.
At one point, officials said he would return
to office in December, but that timetable
was postponed indefinitely in the fall.
The information, scarce and imprecise as
it was, fueled speculation that Castro might
not return to power in full capacity.
Foreign journalists flocked to Cuba to
report on one of the year's top stories,
but many, including Washington Post columnist
Eugene Robinson, were rebuffed, ostensibly
because they did not have proper visas.
CPJ documented at least 10 cases in which
the government barred entry to foreign journalists
carrying tourist visas. Under Cuban immigration
law, foreign reporters must apply for specialized
journalist visas through Cuban embassies
abroad. CPJ research shows that Cuban officials
have historically granted visas to foreign
journalists selectively, excluding those
from media outlets deemed unfriendly. Cuban
law further specifies that foreign journalists
who travel to the country on a tourist visa
"should abstain from practicing journalism."
The government also canceled the visas
of at least four foreign journalists who
had received approval to travel to Havana,
according to CPJ research. Several Reuters
reporters who managed to get into the country
on tourist visas were told to leave. And
Ginger Thompson, a reporter for The New
York Times, was tracked down and expelled
after her paper published a non-byline story
from Havana. The Miami Herald succeeded
in getting some of its reporters into Cuba
on tourist visas. They went undetected for
several weeks, filing stories that surveyed
Cubans about their thoughts on the transfer
of power and the nation's future.
Contrary to some predictions that the regime
would crumble in the absence of Castro,
the episode showed that the ruling elite
could retain a tight grip on power. A government
headed by Raúl Castro, younger than
his brother by five years, was expected
to eventually institute some economic reforms
but continue to suppress the press and political
In a report marking World Press Freedom
Day, May 3, CPJ named Cuba one of the world's
10 Most Censored Countries. CPJ's analysis
noted that the Cuban Constitution grants
the Communist Party the right to control
the press, and it recognizes the rights
of the press only "in accordance with
the goals of the socialist society."
The government owns and controls all media
outlets and restricts Internet access. The
three main newspapers represent the views
of the Communist Party and other organizations
controlled by the government.
The media operate under the supervision
of the Communist Party's Department of Revolutionary
Orientation, which develops and coordinates
propaganda strategies. Those who try to
work as independent reporters are harassed,
detained, threatened with prosecution or
jail, or barred from traveling. Their relatives
are threatened with dismissal from their
jobs. A small number of foreign correspondents
report from Havana, but Cubans do not ever
see their reports.
Independent Cuban journalists, who file
stories for overseas news Web sites, continued
to cover news that the official media ignored.
During 2006, independent journalists reported
extensively on outbreaks of dengue fever,
a mosquito-borne viral disease, that were
occurring throughout the island. Meanwhile,
authorities and the official media refused
to recognize the existence of dengue fever
in Cuba for much of the year, focusing instead
on government efforts to eradicate the mosquito
that transmits the disease. Finally, in
October, the Cuban Ministry of Health informed
the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
about dengue outbreaks in four Cuban provinces.
Health officials claimed the number of cases
had declined significantly-without providing
PAHO with figures for the total number of
Cuba continued to be one of the world's
leading jailers of journalists, second only
to China. During 2006, two imprisoned journalists
were released, but two more were jailed.
One of them-Guillermo Espinosa Rodríguez,
who was sentenced to two years of home confinement-had
covered an outbreak of dengue fever in Santiago
Of the 24 journalists who remained imprisoned,
22 were jailed in a massive March 2003 crackdown
on the independent press. Their prison sentences
on antistate charges ranged from 14 to 27
years. Many of them were jailed far from
their homes, adding to the heavy burden
on their families. Their families have described
unsanitary prison conditions, inadequate
medical care, and rotten food. Some imprisoned
journalists were being denied religious
guidance, and most shared cells with hardened
criminals. Many were allowed family visits
only once every three months and marital
visits only once every four months-a schedule
of visits far less frequent than those allowed
most inmates. Relatives were harassed for
talking to the foreign press and protesting
the journalists' incarceration.
Country summaries in
this chapter were reported and written by
Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría,
Research Associate María Salazar,
Program Consultant Sauro González
Rodríguez, and Washington Representative
Frank Smyth. The Robert R. McCormick Tribune
Foundation provided substantial support
toward CPJ's work in the Americas in 2006.
on the PRESS in 2006 / CPJ