Reporters Without Borders
Cuba - 2002 Annual Report

Repoters Without Borders.

The release of two journalists from prison in 2001 did not herald a softening of the government's attitude towards the media, which is subtly and effectively repressed so as to maintain the state's monopoly control of information. The activity of independent journalists and foreign press correspondents is closely monitored.

Two journalists were freed early in 2001 – Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, who had served half his sentence, and Manuel Antonio González Castellanos, a few weeks before he was due to be released. There is now only one journalist imprisoned in Cuba, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón.

But the regime is not really moving towards press freedom. Since the Constitution says that "under no circumstances" can the media be privately-owned, the state still has a complete monopoly on information. To protect its image, President Fidel Castro's government has instead chosen the path of indirect but just as effective repression of independent journalists, whom it regards as "counter-revolutionaries." Arrests and interrogations of journalists fell in 2001 to 29 (from the previous year's 39) but incidents of harassment rose to around 100 (from 70 in 2000). The state security department (DES), which is part of the interior ministry, remains the chief agent of repression. The year saw an increase in summonses of journalists, who were interrogated and usually threatened with imprisonment or prosecution. Pressure was also exerted on their families with, for example, a nursery refusing a place to the son of Pablo Pacheco Ávila, of the Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes. The authorities also intercepted mail, tapped phones, staged anonymous physical attacks and visited people's homes to obstruct the work of independent journalists or persuade them to go into exile abroad. When they did get entry visas for foreign countries, the authorities tried to extract information from them about dissidents in exchange for granting the required exit visa.

The government also tried to squash any attempt by independent journalists to organise. The Manuel Márquez Sterling Journalists' Association, set up in 2001, was prevented from giving journalism courses to its 40 or so members. But independent journalists still tried to exercise their right to inform and faxed or phoned their articles to members of the Cuban exile community who put them on Internet websites. This was tolerated by the government as it did not threaten its monopoly on news reaching the carefully-insulated mass of ordinary Cubans.

Cubans were not just "protected" from independent journalists. As part of the campaign against "ideological deviance," further action was taken during the year to remove from the roofs of houses satellite dishes able to pick up foreign TV stations. Reception of foreign radio stations was also jammed. In January, a fierce campaign was launched in the government media against Pascal Fletcher, a reporter for Reuters news agency, after he reported on a controversial parade organised by the Spanish embassy. President Castro then accused "certain journalists" of asking to be punished with "expulsion" and called on their employers to show "common sense." Two months later, Fletcher was transferred to a post in Caracas. The incident was seen as a warning to resident foreign journalists at a time when the US media group Tribune Company and the daily The Dallas Morning News were opening a bureau in Havana. Earl Maucker, one of the Tribune Co.'s editors, said it was the result of 10 years of negotiations with the Cuban government.

The control of information extends to the Internet, to which access is strictly regulated. Those who use it must agree to respect "the moral values of Cuban society and the country's laws" and only foreign companies and government institutions have full access. But in September 2001, four post offices in Havana began allowing Cubans to have their own e-mail address and access to the Internet. But access is limited to government-approved websites and known as the "Intranet." All state media – radio, TV and newspapers – put out news approved beforehand by the government's Department of Revolutionary Guidance. The code of conduct for Cuban journalists says their role is to "help promote the constant improvement of our socialist society." Unusually, two state-media journalists went into exile abroad during the year. One of them, Guillermo Morales Catá, had fallen out of favour after criticising government censorship of an official demonstration.

Because of the serious situation in Cuba, President Castro is on the Reporters Without Borders worldwide list of predators of press freedom.

A journalist jailed

The authorities twice refused requests (in April and February 2001) for the release on parole of Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, founder of the independent news agency Linea Sur Press in Aguada de Pasajeros, although normally he should have been granted it in October 2000 after completing half his sentence. He was said to be not yet "politically re-educated." He had been accused of ignoring President Castro's televised speeches. He had been sentenced on appeal on 28 November 1997 to six years imprisonment for "insulting" the president and Vice-President Carlos Lage. He told a Miami radio station that the two leaders were "liars" for not respecting the democratic principles laid down at an Ibero-American summit. He was beaten up by two state security police in Ariza prison on 11 April 1998, transferred on 15 May 1999 to the Medios Propios labour camp in Cienfuegos province and then to others where he was made to do weeding and cut sugar-cane.

He has since suffered back and heart problems. He wrote a letter in June 2001 to journalist and poet Raúl Rivero describing the El Diamante camp where he was being held as a "concentration camp" plagued by "promiscuity, rats, humiliation, prostitution and lack of drinking water."

Two journalists were freed in 2001

Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, head of the Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes (CAPI) based in the central Cuban city of Ciego de Avila, was freed on 17 January when his prison term was shortened without explanation. He had been arrested on 18 January 1999 and sentenced the next day to four years in prison for being "a danger to society." He was held in the Canaleta jail in Ciego de Avila, frequently complained about bad prison conditions and went on several hunger strikes. His family said he had probably been jailed "to set an example" to local youths not to become independent journalists. Two days after his release, he was summoned before a local court and told that the slightest criminal offence would put him back in prison to serve out the rest of his term. But he decided to resume his journalistic activities. He was detained twice in March and August. The first time, he was released after promising to leave the country. In October, he was summoned by the police twice and on 1 November, he was given a "warning" for not working for the state. It was such warnings that led to his 1999 conviction for being "a danger to society."

Manuel Antonio González Castellanos, 44, correspondent in Holguín for the independent news agency Cuba Press, was freed from jail on 26 February. He had been arrested on 1 October 1998 and sentenced on 6 May 1999 to 31 months in prison for "insulting" President Castro under article 144 of the criminal code. During an argument provoked by the police, he had said Castro was personally responsible for the harassment he was subjected to. He was held at Holguín provincial prison and then transferred on 30 June 1999 to the city's top security jail, known as the "cemetery of the living." Nine months later he was returned to the provincial prison. On 26 June 2000, he was beaten by Capt. Narciso Ramírez Caballero and placed in solitary confinement for 10 days for protesting at the confiscation of personal documents. He suffered from an umbilical hernia, which he refused an operation for in prison, and also respiratory problems.

During the year, a cyber-dissident was convicted of having "defamed institutions" in an article published on the Internet website.

Journalists arrested

Antonio Femenías, a journalist with the news agency Pátria, based in Ciego de Avila, and Roberto Valdívia, a contributor to the agency, were arrested on 12 January 2001 by state security police and interrogated for three hours. The previous day, they had met Ivan Pilip, a member of the Czech parliament and a former finance minister, and Jan Bubenik, a former leader of the 1989 Czechoslovak "Velvet Revolution," who were on a private visit to Cuba. After meeting the two journalists, the Czechs were arrested and accused of "association with intent to incite rebellion" and of having met people belonging to "the counter-revolutionary opposition." The Czechs were released a few weeks later. In 2000, the Czech Republic and Poland sponsored a resolution criticising Cuba at the UN Human Rights Commission.

Silvio Herrera Núñez, of the Agencia Fraternal de Periodistas Carlos Piñeiro news agency, was arrested at his home on 26 January by a state security agent, taken to a police station and then to a house outside the city, where he was interrogated and criticised for working as a journalist without a diploma. He was released after seven hours.

The home of Ricardo González, an independent journalist and correspondent of Reporters Without Borders, was closely watched by police on 16 February while several journalists met there to discuss their work. The day before, he had been arrested, interrogated for four hours, told to cancel the meeting, and then released. He was also warned that he might be punished under Law 88, which provides for up to 20 years imprisonment for working with foreign media, for having given interviews to a Miami radio station. Police eventually let him go with a official warning for having met with opposition figures not recognised by the government and with foreign journalists.

Normándo Hernández González (chief editor) and Pablo Pacheco Ávila (reporter) of the Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camaguey (CPIC) news agency and Pedro Argüelles Morán, of the CAPI news agency, were arrested on 8 March while covering a meeting of an illegal organisation. Police gave them a official warning for "involvement with an illegal association" and "taking part in an unauthorised meeting." It was the third time in a month they had been arrested.

Juan Carlos Garcell, of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO) news agency, was arrested by state security police on 29 March as he was about to report on a event organised by dissidents. He was interrogated for several hours before being driven 150 km from his home and abandoned. He was arrested again on 25 July by three policemen who confiscated several articles. A month later, one of them physically attacked him for no apparent reason. Garcell was then barred from using public telephones to send his articles on grounds that he was "a counter-revolutionary who puts out news against the government." During 2000, he had been arrested five times.

Carlos Brizuela Yera, a human rights campaigner and contributor to the CPIC news agency, was arrested on 1 May at his home in Ciego de Avila by a policeman who confiscated papers belonging to him on suspicion that he had produced anti-government posters. He was held for four days and then freed for lack of evidence. Two months later, he learned that he was accused of breaking into the house of the policeman who had arrested him. Despite his protests, he was fined 200 pesos (11 euros) on 7 August. He was arrested again in Havana on 22 August after he had received material from the US Interests Section office there. On 14 November, his fiancée was expelled from a special general meeting of the Union of Young Communists and then briefly detained the next day because of her links with Brizuela Yera, whose mother also was pressured several times to get her to persuade her son to give up his dissident activities.

Dorka de Céspedes, of the Havana Press agency, was arrested on 22 August as she was about to cover an event organised by civil society groups not recognised by the authorities. She was taken from where the protest was to be held and threatened with imprisonment by a dozen state security police before being released. On 4 November, state security police warned her mother that her daughter risked three years in prison.

María Elena Alpizar, of the news agency Noticuba, was stopped in the street on 29 August while on her way to cover the trial of a regime opponent. Police forced her to get into a car, drove her 10 km and then abandoned her. She had been picked up in similar circumstances on 16 January and dumped 90 km from her home.

Mario Enrique Mayo, of CPIC news agency, was arrested on 4 October. During her interrogation, she was threatened with prosecution for "usurping public functions" because she was not officially recognised as a journalist. She was also accused of publishing abroad a story about a case of leprosy in Cuba before being released three hours later.

Jésus Zuñiga, of the magazine Carta de Cuba, Maria del Carmen Leyva Carro and Eduardo Pérez, of the website Cuba Free Press, and Jesús García Leyva, of the Cuba Voz news agency, were arrested on 26 October as they were preparing for a meeting that had been forbidden by the authorities. They were held for three hours and threatened with imprisonment for "illegally practising journalism" and having "links with anti-Castro political movements."

Normando Hernández González, Carlos Brizuela Yera and Joel Blanco García, of the CPIC news agency, as well as Léster Téllez Castro and Misley Delgado Bambino, of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña (APLA) news agency, were hit and briefly detained by uniformed and plainclothes police on 25 December while covering the opening of an "independent" library in the central Cuban town of Florida. A network of independent libraries set up by private individuals provides books that are officially banned by the authorities.

Four journalists exiled

Guillermo Morales Catá, a journalist with the state-controlled TV stations Canal 2 and Canal 6, left for Spain in early May 2001. He said he had sharply criticised the government's information policy at a meeting on 17 December 2000 of the Union of Young Communists at the Cuban Radio and TV Institute, accusing the authorities of lying to the population and imposing censorship. He said he was summoned the next day by three state security police who tried to persuade him to retract what he had said and do a public self-criticism. He was summoned twice more over the next few weeks and got anonymous phone threats. After giving interviews to several Spanish media, he received new phone threats. After he left for Spain, members of his family were pressured, he said.

Luis Acosta, a former journalist with the state-owned radio station CMHW and the state-owned TV station Telecubanacán, in Villaclara province, applied in early June for political asylum in the United States, which he had reached via Mexico. "He was suffocating in Cuba and had been personally and professionally humiliated," said his wife Teresita de Paz, who was already living in Miami. She said he had been sacked by CMHW as a sports journalist for criticising the equipment of a motorcycling racing team. The radio's management also accused him of criticising the policy of the ruling Communist Party. As he was trying to leave Cuba in a small boat on 24 December 2000, he was intercepted by the Cuban Coastguard. His attempt to leave led to his programme on Telecubanacán being dropped and his transfer to other work.

Luis Alberto Rivera Leyva, head of the APLO news agency, left for the United States on 31 July. He had been arrested four times in 2000 and then again on 31 March 2001 as he was covering the eviction of a woman and her two children from their home. He was prosecuted for criticising the methods of the state security police but then told the charges would be dropped if he agreed to stop being a journalist. The political police also offered him rewards if he gave them the names of other independent journalists. "Everything is done to stop us covering the news," he wrote in an article posted on the Reporters Without Borders website in February 2001.

Gustavo Cardero, a journalist formerly with the Noticuba news agency, left secretly by boat for Florida on 21 August along with two other dissidents. They were intercepted three days later by the US Coast Guard and taken to the US naval base at Guantanamo (Cuba). Cardero had obtained a US entry visa the previous year but the Cuban authorities had refused to give him a visa to leave. His wife and family were already in Miami.

A journalist attacked

Unidentified people threw bottles at the apartment of Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, of the UPECI news agency, and that of his mother on 6 October 2001. Posters were also put up in the neighbourhood calling the journalist a "traitor" who would have to "pay dearly for the evil he has done." Arroyo Carmona said the attacks were probably the work of the Rapid Response Brigades, government supporters responsible for monitoring the activities of regime opponents.

Pressure and obstruction

At the beginning of January 2001, the phone line of Ángel Pablo Polanco, head of the Noticuba news agency, remained cut off for several days despite his protests.

Jaime Leygonier Fernández, of the Noticuba news agency, was stopped by a state security agent in front of a Havana court on 8 January where the trial of a regime opponent was due to be held. The agent told him only members of the accused's family were allowed to attend the trial.

Pascal Fletcher, a Havana reporter for Reuters news agency and the British newspaper The Financial Times, left Cuba in March for a new post in Caracas, two months after being the target of a fierce campaign in the official media. On 6 January, the daily paper Granma had accused him of having "a poisonous attitude towards the Cuban Revolution" and said he had "close ties" with the US Interests Section office in Havana. Three days later, he was attacked on television for having a "provocative, biased and treacherous attitude" after writing a story about a controversial parade organised by the Spanish embassy. These attacks were taken by all foreign correspondents in Cuba as a warning. President Castro charged in a televised speech on the night of 17-18 January that "certain agencies" were "not being at all impartial" and criticised "some of their staff" (who he did not name) for "defaming the Revolution." He accused them of asking to be punished with "expulsion," but said he preferred that "the agencies themselves show enough common sense to call them to account."

An interior ministry official stopped Oswaldo de Céspedes, of the Cooperativa de Periodistas Independientes (CPI) news agency, on 15 March as he and his family were about to board a plane for the United States as political refugees. The official said his exit visa was no longer valid. Under Cuban law, the journalist's furniture and apartment was confiscated 24 hours before his scheduled departure.

In late March, police and telecommunications workers began forcing owners of satellite dishes in Havana to dismantle them and hand them over. The dishes, which enable people to receive foreign TV programmes, were banned in November 1998. They are regularly seized and their owners threatened with fines of 1,500 pesos (82 euros) as part of a campaign against "ideological deviance."

Ohalys Victores, of the Cuba Voz news agency, was summoned by civil registry officials on 30 May and interrogated by two state security police who threatened him with jail and refusal of an exit visa if he did not stop sending articles abroad. In February 2000, the US Special Interests Section office in Havana had granted him a visa to go to the US as a political refugee.

State security police warned Idelfonso Hidalgo González, of the Libertad news agency, in Las Tunas province, on 4 June that he risked up to two years in prison if he persisted in sending news out of the country, and threatened to beat him up.

Adela Soto Álvarez, of the Nueva Prensa news agency, was summoned to a Havana police station on 14 June. The person who had signed the summons was not there, so she was allowed to leave.

The sister of Marylin Lahera, of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO) news agency, who was visiting her from the United States, was interrogated on 28 June by a state security agent who asked her why she had come to visit, what her job was in the United States and if she had any links with anti-Castro organisations.

Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez was dismissed on 17 July from his job as an editor at two government-owned stations, Radio Ciudad de La Habana and Radio Cadena Habana, where he was responsible for the news programme Síntesis. On 15 June, he had started working in addition with an organisation not recognised by the government. The management of the stations said he did not have an attitude "in line with the ideological principles of the Revolution."

Graciela Alfonso, of the Cuba Press news agency, was stopped by state security police as she was covering a banned meeting of dissidents in Havana on 20 July. Police broke up the meeting and told the journalist to go home.

Jesús Álvarez Castillo, correspondent of Cuba Press in the Ciego de Avila area, was interrogated for two hours by state security police on 1 August mainly about his relationship with the head of the agency, Raúl Rivero. In June, the journalist said his phone line was regularly cut off to stop him sending articles to the Nueva Prensa Cubana news agency in Miami.

Normando Hernández González, head of the CPIC news agency, was summoned by a state security agent on 10 August and during interrogation was threatened with prosecution if he continued working as a journalist.

Milagros Beatón, head of the APLO news agency in Santiago de Cuba, was summoned on 29 August by the state security police along with her daughters, aged 10 and 13. During their interrogation, the police promised Beatón an exit visa to go and visit her husband in exile in the United States if she agreed to stop sending articles to the Florida-based Cubanet website, hand her fax machine over to the authorities and close the news agency.

As a doctor, she is banned by law from leaving Cuba. She is the third head of

APLO in less than 18 months. Her two predecessors were forced to go into exile after considerable pressure. APLO is the only independent news agency in Santiago, Cuba's second city, at the eastern end of the island.

In early September, the authorities refused to give exit visas to six journalists working for news agencies who had US entry visas. They were Oswaldo de Céspedes (CPI), Milagros Beatón (APLO), Ohalys Víctores (Cuba Voz), Jorge Dante Abad (Lux Info Press) and Manuel Vásquez Portal (Grupo de Trabajo Decoro). Jadir Hernández Hernández, correspondent of the Havana Press agency in Güines (50 km southeast of Havana), who has a US entry visa as a political refugee, was interrogated six times in September. The authorities seemed to be putting pressure on them to extract information about independent journalists and opposition activity.

In mid-September, the home of Fabio Prieto Llorente, correspondent of the Havana Press agency on the Isla de Pinos, was being watched by state security police. He was also followed whenever he left the house. On 28 January, he had been visited by three state security police who forbade him to cover events organised by the opposition to mark the birthday of Cuban national independence hero José Martí.

On 21 September, two state security police banned Carlos Castro Alvarez, of the Cuba Press agency, from leaving his home on pain of being arrested. He said they were trying to stop him covering an official demonstration. He was also told to stop working as a journalist. In late March, soon after lodging an official complaint about two physical attacks on him, he got an anonymous letter threatening to "rip out his tongue." Alvarez' wife was also under police surveillance.

Oscar Ayala Muñoz, of the CAPI news agency in Ciego de Avila, was visited on 3 October by a state security agent who threatened to arrest him if he covered a meeting of an illegal human rights organisation the next day. While the meeting was being held, he was prevented from leaving his house.

Alida de Jésus Viso Bello, of the Cuba Press agency, went to a police station in the early evening of 3 October after receiving a summons. Her interrogation did not begin until 2.30 am and for more than two hours she was threatened with prosecution because of her journalistic activities.

On 29 October, a state security agent burst into the offices of the Manuel Márquez Sterling Journalists' Association which gives courses for independent journalists. He ordered Raúl Rivero, head of the Cuba Press agency and a journalism teacher, to leave. Shortly afterwards, journalists Carmelo Díaz Fernández, Pedro Pablo Álvarez and Víctor Manuel Domínguez were expelled from the premises. On previous days, police twice demanded that the Association's head, Ricardo González Alfonso, shut down the courses being given. A state security agent visited the home of Dorka de Céspedes on 23 October to warn her against involvement with the Association. Police had gone to the homes of four journalist members of the Association – Graciela Alfonso, Dorka de Céspedes, Aimée Cabrera Álvarez and Jorge Olivera – on 14 October. The Association pointed out that nothing in the country's criminal code forbids teaching.

In late October, the Cuban consulate in Guatemala City refused a visa to a journalist from the Guatemalan daily Siglo XXI who wanted to go to Havana to cover the trial of three Guatemalans accused of "terrorist activities" and facing death sentences.

Blanca Reyes Castañon, wife of Raúl Rivero, head of the Cuba Press agency, was summoned by police in Havana on 8 November on suspicion that she was involved in foreign currency dealing. "The authorities have summoned me on several occasions and the last time, they threatened that if I didn't obey them, I'd be arrested," she said. "When I got there, a policeman asked me how much money I received from abroad, if my husband got money from El Nuevo Herald [a Spanish-language paper in the US] and if we distributed money to dissidents. At the end, they suggested I leave the country with my husband." She was also threatened with prosecution for illegally buying US dollars. Her husband said he thought it was a way of exerting pressure on him.

Independent journalist María del Carmen Carro and two opposition militants, Leonardo Bruzón Ávila and Midalia Rosado, were told by customs officials on 9 November that parcels addressed to them had been confiscated because they contained items "harmful to the country's interests."

José Caraballo, a photographer of the CAPI news agency, was summoned to the police station in Ciego de Avila on 12 November where he was accused of being an independent photographer. He was fined five pesos (0.3 euro) for having refused to answer a previous summons. At an earlier summons on 2 November, he had been accused of forging papers and threatened with jail for matters dating back several years.

Jorge Olivera, of the Havana Press agency, was fined 200 pesos (11 euros) on 13 November for having slept at his wife's apartment, which was not his official residence. A few days earlier, he had been expelled from the Seventh Day Adventist Church apparently after pressure on the church by state security police.

Pablo Pacheco Ávila, a contributor to the CAPI news agency, was refused a place at a nursery for his son in the city of Ciego de Avila on 21 November. At the end of August, police had begun tapping his phone.

Angel Lahera Bazán, a contributor to the CPIC news agency, was harassed and threatened in mid-December by state security police in the central Cuban town of Santa Cruz del Súr who demanded that he stop supplying information to the agency.

President Fidel Castro has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.

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