Mayo 3, 2001

Repoters Without Borders 2001 Annual Report

Repoters Without Borders.


The Cuban authorities cracked down hard in 1999 after a period of relative calm following the Pope's visit in 1998. The year 2000 was marked by continued pressure on independent journalists, who are still officially regarded as "counter-revolutionaries". Three were still in prison on 1 January 2001, making Cuba the only country in Latin America keeping journalists in jail. Although the number of arrests fell slightly to 39, the number of cases of pressure and obstruction of the free flow of news remained unchanged at 70. With equipment seized, pressure on families, police summonses, arrests and severe prison sentences, the government's arsenal of weapons used against the independent press is varied. The state security department (DSE), which is responsible for most of the repression, extended it further last year by arresting journalists, then releasing them a long way from their homes, and by stepping up the number of "interviews" during which journalists are alternately promised privileges and threatened with prosecution in an attempt to obtain information about the independent media. Eighteen journalists - a record number - reached the end of their tethers and left the island.

The main goal of this strategy of harassment is to maintain complete control of the news available to ordinary Cubans. The constitution states that press freedom must "comply with the aims of socialist society" and all the authorised media - radio, television and newspapers - are in the hands of the government. International radio stations' broadcasts are jammed and since 1998 it has been an offence, punishable by a fine, to own a satellite aerial that can pick up foreign TV channels.

Access to the Internet is strictly regulated, and is restricted in practice to foreign companies and government bodies. Web sites are supposed to respect "the moral principles of Cuban society and the laws of the country". Although two cybercafés opened recently, one is reserved for tourists and the other for members of the official writers' and artists' organisation, UNEAC. The only crack in the system is small-scale trafficking of email adresses and passwords for online access.

Independent journalists, banned from publishing in their own country, count on organisations of Cubans living in exile in the United States to publish their reports, usually on web sites. Thanks to this support and to the international recognition they have received since the Ibero-American summit held in Havana in November 1999, the ranks of independent journalists are growing. Cuba now has over 100 working for about 20 news agencies which the authorities still refuse to acknowledge.

Over-critical foreign press correspondents are also subjected to various forms of pressure: carefully orchestrated rumours, pressure on their families, attempts to discredit them in public, comments on articles that upset the authorities, the obligation to renew their accreditation every year. One piece of good news is that two American dailies, the Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News, were given permission to open offices in Havana in early September. Along with the television channel CNN, approved in 1997, and the news agency Associated Press (AP), which opened offices in 1998, they will be the only US media allowed to work in Cuba.

Journalists jailed

Three journalists were imprisoned in Cuba on 1 January 2001.

Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, founder of the independent news agency Línea Sur Press in Aguada de Pasajeros, was sentenced to six years in jail on appeal by the Cienfuegos regional people's court on 28 November 1997 for insulting President Fidel Castro and vice-president Carlos Lage. In an interview with a Miami radio station, the journalist described them as liars and accused them of failing to comply with the democratic commitments made at an earlier Ibero-American summit. Held at Ariza prison, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón was beaten up by two security guards on 11 April 1998. On 28 December that year he wrote an open letter to Fidel Castro, repeating his request to be allowed to leave Cuba for Spain. On 15 May 1999 he was moved to the "Medios propios" labour camp in Cienfuegos province, then to other camps where he was put to work weeding and cutting sugar cane. He was admitted to the Ariza prison infirmary on 17 October 2000, suffering from lower back pain. He also has cardiac problems, but his health is said to have improved while in the infirmary. By October the journalist had served half his sentence and is theoretically eligible for parole.

Manuel Antonio González Castellanos, correspondent of the Cuba Press agency in Holguín, eastern Cuba, was arrested on 1 October 1998 and sentenced to 31 months in jail on 6 May 1999 for insulting Fidel Castro. In the course of a dispute provoked by the police, he had blamed the president personally for the harassment he was suffering. On 3 March 2000 he was moved back to Holguín provincial prison. On 30 June 1999 he had been taken to the city's top-security jail, which is known as the "cemetery of the living". On 26 June 2000 he was beaten by Captain Narciso Ramírez Caballero and put in solitary confinement for ten days for protesting about the confiscation of his personal documents. He is suffering from an umbilical hernia, for which he has refused surgery in prison, and from breathing difficulties. Since March he has been theoretically eligible for parole.

Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández, correspondent of the Cooperativa Avileña de Periodistas Independientes (CAPI) in Morón, Ciego de Ávila province, was arrested on 18 January 1999 and sentenced the next day to four years in jail for "being a danger to society". According to article 72 of the penal code, his behaviour had been "in blatant contradiction with the norms of socialist morality". The sentence was confirmed on appeal, even though he undertook an 11-day hunger strike in protest at his imprisonment. The journalist and his family believe that through the summary trial and severe sentence, the authorities wanted to make an example of him, so as to dissuade other people from going into or continuing with independent journalism. Joel Díaz' prison conditions are particularly harsh. He says that to get rid of the fleas, insects and rats that overrun the solitary cells, the prison authorities fumigate them with the prisoners inside. If the inmates protest, they are given sedatives. The journalist also condemned the lack of medical care in the prison, where about 50 cases of tuberculosis have been reported. In June his parents, recently given permission to visit him every three weeks, had to smuggle out a urine sample so that a regional laboratory could diagnose viral hepatitis and he could receive treatment. He had had a fever for some time. The journalist had his books confiscated in June. They were returned to him five months later.

One journalist was freed from jail in 2000.

Leonardo Varona González, a reporter with the news agency Santiago Press, was released on 29 January 2000 after completing his sentence. He was arrested on 2 October 1998 for protesting against the arrest of his uncle, Manuel Antonio González Castellanos, by writing "Down with Fidel" on the walls of the family home. He was tried with his uncle on 6 May 1999, found guilty of insulting Fidel Castro and sentenced to 16 months in jail. He was held at Holguín top-security prison.

Seven journalists were arrested and held for more than 48 hours in 2000.

Rafael Peraza Fonte of Agencia de Prensa Occidental (APO) was arrested by state security agents on 23 February 2000. He had published news of the prosecution of the chairman of an illegal human rights organisation whose trial was due to start two days later. Rafael Peraza Fonte was kept in custody for 72 hours.

Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Pinar del Río correspondent of the news UPECI, was released after completing his sentence on 19 July. On 24 January the people's court for Pinar del Río province had sentenced him to six months in prison on appeal for "monopolising a market". He was accused of buying large amounts of toys to give to poor children in the province as part of an operation supported by the Cuban community in Miami. While being held in the so-called "5.5 kilometres" prison, Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona suffered humiliation from common-law prisoners, who were encouraged by the guards, and his mail was intercepted. Since his release he has been a victim of continual harassment: on 12 and 13 October he was arrested three times by state security agents, and on each occasion was left several miles from his home after being insulted, assaulted and interrogated.

Birger Thureson of the daily Nya Dagen, Peter Götell, a former journalist with the daily Sundsvals Tidning, and Elena Söderquist of the newspaper Arvika Nyheter were arrested on 29 August after running a seminar the previous day on working conditions for the Swedish press in Cuba and journalistic ethics, which about 20 independent Cuban journalists had attended. The three Swedish journalists were thrown out of the country after spending three days at an immigration department detention centre. The authorities accused them of "encouraging subversion and contributing to the desperate efforts made from the United States to encourage subversion in Cuba". Cuban foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque told a press conference: "We hope that no-one is under the illusion that such activities will be tolerated."

Jadir and Jesús Hernández Hernández of the news agency Havana Press were arrested by police on 15 September as they were on their way to Havana. They were accused of smuggling people out of the country. The allegation was denied by Havana Press, which described the arrest as "intimidation". The journalists were freed three days later. A typewriter and several documents were seized from their home.

Journalists forced into exile

In January 2000 Luis Alberto Lazo of the news agency Nueva Prensa left Cuba for the United States. Seventeen other journalists working for independent news agencies followed later in the year after being victims of continual harassment by the authorities: Juan Carlos Recio Martínez, Orlando Bordon Gálvez and Ariel Tapia of Cuba Press, in February, Armando Añel Guerrero of Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, in March, Lorenzo Páez Núñez, of Nueva Prensa on 20 April, German Castro, Margarita Yero and Adalberto Yero of Cuba Press, in May, Santiago Santana, Oscar del Río and Manuel del Río of APLO, in May, Ricardo Rodríguez Bosch of Havana Press, in June, Mario Viera, director of Cuba Voz, in June, Magdalivia Hidalgo Gonzalez of Libertad, in June, Mary Miranda and Guillermo Álvarez of Cuba Press, in July, and José Antonio Egozcue of Línea Sur Press, on 10 August.

Journalists arrested

Ángel Pablo Polanco, head of the news agency Noticuba, was arrested by state security agents on 23 February 2000 after he published news of the legal proceedings brought against Dr Oscar Elias Biscet, chairman of an illegal human rights organisation. The trial was due to start two days later. Ángel Pablo Polanco was held for five hours.

On 9 April, the eve of the heads of state summit in Havana, Jesús Labrador Arias, former correspondent of the Cuba Press news agency in Manzanillo, and Laeticia Gomez Arias, of Noticuba, were arrested. They were released after six hours. It was the second time Jesús Labrador Arias had been arrested in 2000. The journalists, who live together, are victims of constant harassment. In February their neighbours were warned that their phone line would be cut if they continued to allow the couple to use it. On 18 August Jesús Labrador Arias and Laeticia Gomez Arias were set upon in the street and insulted. In September Arias, who has a US visa, received a visit from state security officials. Observers say the authorities often try to get information from journalists who have obtained a visa from a foreign embassy but do not have the Cuban government's permission to leave the country.

Miguel Barzaga Lugo of Agencia Noticiera Cubana (ANC) was arrested by police in Havana on 10 July as he was covering a demonstration by disabled people. He was released after being held for six hours.

Ricardo González, an independent journalist and correspondent of Reporters Without Borders, was arrested by two state security officers at his Havana home on 15 July. He was taken to a house outside the capital where the officers tried to convince him to work for them and was eventually taken home after a six-hour interrogation. On 12 May the journalist had been threatened with arrest if he attended a talk by a dissident.

Martine Jacot, a French journalist on an assignment for Reporters Without Borders, was arrested and questioned for an hour and a half by six security officers at Havana airport on 17 August, as she was about to board a flight to Paris. A camcorder, videotape and documents were confiscated. She had arrived in Cuba a week earlier to meet members of independent news agencies and the families of jailed journalists.

It was learned on 18 September that Juan Carlos Garcell of Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO) had been arrested in Holguín province and taken to a police station. He was threatened with imprisonment if he went on working as a journalist. It was the fourth time he had been arrested in a month. On 15, 17 and 21 August, he had been questioned about a series of reports on his conversations with Cubans working for a Canadian company. The officers threatened to prosecute him for "publishing enemy propaganda". Juan Carlos Garcell was also arrested on 19 May and his identity papers confiscated. In Cuba that amounts to a ban on travel.

Luis Alberto Rivera Leyva, director of the APLO agency based in Santiago de Cuba, in the east of the country, was arrested on 24 September as he was about to visit a jailed dissident. He was freed the next day. It was the fourth time he had been arrested since taking over as head of the agency in March. During the interrogation, Luis Alberto Rivera Leyva was subjected to pressure to force him to stop working as a journalist. He was offered privileges in exchange for "exposing" dissidents and other journalists. At the end of October his tape recorder was confiscated. In early November he was charged with libel over a report on the methods used by state security officials against a former political prisoner. The journalist was summoned by the police and told again that the charges against him would be dropped if he gave up his profession.

José Antonio Renier Fernández of the regional news agency Santiago Press was arrested in Santiago de Cuba by three state security agents on 27 September as he was talking to the representative of a dissident party. He was released the next morning. On 13 July he had been beaten by the security forces while covering a demonstration staged by dissident organisations. Marilyn Lahera of the Cuba Press agency was also assaulted at the demonstration.

Jesús Castillo Morales and Pedro Roque Nistal, contributors to Cuba Press in Morón, Ciégo de Ávila province, were arrested on 28 September, the day after they arrived in Havana. They were freed a few hours later after being threatened with prosecution under law no. 88. Jesús Castillo Morales, a former radio reporter, had gone to Havana to give a journalism course to members of three independent news agencies.

On 4 October Leonel Pérez Belette of the news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro was arrested at his home, searched and taken away in a car. He was driven outside Havana and questioned about the sources for one of his reports.

María Elena Alpizar, correspondent of the Noticuba agency in Villa Clara, central Cuba, was arrested on 7 October as she was about to cover a meeting between several opposition organisations. María Elena Alpizar was set free about 30 miles from her home.

Jaime Leygonier Fernández of Noticuba was arrested at his home by two state security agents on 11 October, then released a few hours later. He had already been arrested on 7 October after some of his reports were published on a web site. On 14 December he was again threatened with imprisonment by state security agents.

On 31 October Cuba Press correspondent Humberto Colás Castillo was arrested by a police officer. He was accused of speaking out against the government and freed two hours later. A state security official said the arrest was a case of mistaken identity.

Omar Rodríguez Saludes of Nueva Prensa was arrested at his home on 9 November, taken to state security headquarters and held for about ten hours. On 22 February he had been arrested and held for several hours for covering the trial of a human rights leader.

Normando Hernández González, head of the news agency Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey, was arrested by state security officials and police officers on 10 November. He had been covering a hunger strike by a group of people protesting against the expropriation of their homes. On 7 December he received a phone call from a state security official ordering him not to attend a human rights demonstration organised by the opposition.

On 30 November Isabel Rey Rodríguez, correspondent of the independent news agency Cuba Press in Villa Clara, central Cuba, was arrested by state security officials who drove her far out of town, forcing her to walk home. In October the police had already threatened her neighbour that his phone line would be cut if he continued to let her use it.

Santiago Dubouchet of the Havana Press news agency was arrested by state security officers on 2 December. For the second time in two days, he was driven outside Havana, interrogated and accused of "counter-revolutionary activities". He was then released several miles from his home. He had been a victim of pressure or aggression on three previous occasions in 2000 because of his work as a journalist.

Journalists attacked

On 17 January 2000 Mary Miranda of Cuba Press lost consciousness after being assaulted by a stranger. Three weeks earlier she had been arrested and beaten while in custody.

Haydée Rodríguez Rodríguez, 67, who works for the Santiago Press agency, narrowly escaped being run down by a government vehicle on 8 September as she was leaving her home in Santiago de Cuba. She said it was a deliberate act, and that it was the fourth time such an incident had occurred.

Bottles were thrown at the home of María Elena Rodríguez, a journalist with the news agency Cuba Verdad, on 5 December. In February she had received several threatening phone calls. She and her husband received two police summonses in 2000. On 20 November she was refused access to her son's medical records, which she had asked for with a view to having him operated on abroad.

Journalists threatened

Gustavo Cardero of the news agency Noticuba received two phone calls accusing him of being a counter-revolutionary on 6 February 2000. Three hours earlier, stones had been thrown at his car.

A stone with a message wrapped round it was thrown at the door of Olegario Delgado, correspondent of Cuba Press in Cienfuegos province, on 29 February. The message warned him that if he did not stop working for the American Radio Martí (which has been financed by the US Congress to broadcast to Cuba since 1982), "we will do the same thing to you as we did to Bernardo Arévalo Padrón".

Pressure and obstruction

The home of independent journalist Juan González Febles was broken into on 31 January 2000 and a tape recorder, tapes and several articles written by the journalist were stolen.

On 25 February Miguel Barzaga Lugo of Agencia Noticiera de Cuba, Gustavo Cardero of Noticuba, Amarylis Cortina Rey and José Antonio Fornaris of Cuba Verdad, Omar Rodríguez Saludes of Nueva Prensa, María de los Angeles González Amaro of UPECI, Jorge Olivera, head of the Havana Press agency, and Oswaldo de Céspedes of the CPI were put under house arrest while the trial of the leader of a banned human rights organisation went ahead. Foreign journalists were not allowed to enter the courtroom with cameras during the trial, and María Elena Rodríguez of Cuba Verdad was turned back at the courthouse entrance.

The daughter of María de los Angeles González Amaro of the UPECI news agency was expelled from Havana University on 5 March on the grounds that she was not taking part in compulsory political activities. The journalist's other daughter had been expelled from the university in 1997.

The authorities announced on 12 April that the campaign to seize the satellite aerials that allowed Cubans to pick up foreign TV channels, dubbed "No to ideological diversion", was to continue. The aerials, banned since November 1998, are put together by technicians who sell them for 60 dollars (65 euros). The seizures were carried out by members of the official Rapid Response Brigade, which "invited" owners to take the aerials down voluntarily while warning that those who refused would be fined 1,500 pesos (75 euros).

The Cuban immigration department refused to allow Ohalys Víctores of the news agency Cuba Voz to leave the country on 17 April, "in the interests of the state". On 14 February the American Interests Section had granted the journalist a visa and political refugee status.

Raúl Rivero and Tania Quintero of Cuba Press, Manuel David Orrio and Lucas Garve of CPI, Jesús Zuñiga, an independent journalist, and two journalists living in exile, Juan Antonio Sánchez and Hector Peraza, were described as "counter-revolutionary leaders" during a TV broadcast on 22 April. Three days later the statement was repeated in a supplement to the official weekly Juventud Rebelde.

On 24 April two state security agents burst into the home of Mary Miranda, where members of the independent news agency Cuba Press were meeting. After ordering Lázaro Etchemendía, Mary Miranda, Marvín Hernández, Miguel Vargas and Raúl Rivero to show their identity papers, the two men fined Hernández 450 pesos (about 13 euros), accusing her of not being in Cienfuegos, where she lives. It was the second time that the journalist had been forced to pay a fine for the same reason.

State security agents went to the homes of Manuel David Orrio of the news agency CPI, Manuel Vazquez Portal of Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, Omar Rodríguez Saludes of Nueva Prensa and Ricardo González, an independent freelance, on 8 May. The journalists were warned that they would be arrested if they attended a talk organised by a dissident group. On 9 May Mercedes Moreno of Nueva Prensa was unable to get into the building where the talk was being held because it had been cordoned off by police.

Two state security agents went to the home of Héctor Maseda of Grupo de Trabajo Decoro on 15 May to order him not to attend a talk to be given by a dissident organisation the next day.

In mid-May the home of Mercedes Moreno, head of the Nueva Prensa agency, was put under police surveillance. Her husband, Gregorio Rodríguez Pavón, a former political prisoner, was arrested twice in the same week, and one of her sisters received frequent threats.

Police went to the home of Ohalys Víctores of Cuba Voz and Oswaldo de Céspedes of CPI on 22 May and threatened to arrest them if they attended a meeting of a group of dissidents due to take place the next day. On the same day state security agents went to the institute where Lucas Garve of CPI teaches French to put pressure on him to stop working for the independent press.

Reinaldo Cosano Alén received a letter from the customs department on 25 May telling him that several copies of the magazine Carta de Cuba, published by the Cuban community in exile and sent to him from Miami via the courrier company DHL, had been confiscated. In previous weeks the authorities had also seized copies of the magazine addressed to journalists José Antonio Fornaris of Cuba Verdad, Tania Quintero of Cuba Press and Manuel Antonio Brito of BPIC. In 1997 Reporters Without Borders protested against DHL allowing Cuban customs to open packages addressed to individuals.

On 29 May Jorge Olivera, head of the news agency Havana Press, was ordered to pay a fine of 200 pesos (11 euros) under the terms of decree no. 117 on travel inside Cuba. The journalist was officially registered at his mother's address whereas he was living with his wife. It was the second time since the start of the month that he had been fined for the same reason.

It was learned on 27 June that Odalis Zayas Miranda, chairwoman of an unofficial organisation in Pinar del Río, western Cuba,had been arrested and held for a week for being in possession of two copies of Vitral, a magazine produced by the Roman Catholic Church that was tolerated but not officially authorised. Odalis Zayas had to pay a fine of 500 pesos and was threatened with prosecution. She had already been arrested several times as she was taking of copies of the magazine to Havana. The latest arrest came as the publisher of Vitral, Dagoberto Valdés, had been officially charged with "activities against the Cuban state".

On 7 July two state security agents threatened Carmelo Díaz Fernández, head of Agencia de Prensa Sindical Independiente de Cuba (APSIC), with imprisonment if he carried on sending reports to the Miami-based Radio Martí and the Venezuelan magazine Desafíos.

The mother of José Antonio Fornaris of Cuba Verdad was interrogated at her Havana home by state security agents on 9 July. They accused the journalist's family of disturbing public order by throwing a bottle out of a window. The next day the journalist's mother was arrested in the street by a police officer who threatened to fine her over the previous day's incident. On 27 November bottles were thrown at the journalist's home by strangers.

It was learned on 8 August that Ramón de León González, head of programmes at the government-run Radio Morón in Ciego de Avila province, had been dismissed after reading a poem by independent journalist Raúl Rivero on the air.

Two state security officers posing as journalists entered the former premises of Cuba Press on 9 August and took away several boxes of its files, documents, magazines and equipment. The news agency had been forced to move on 20 July after journalist Mary Miranda, who rented the apartment, went into exile in the United States.

On 15 September independent journalist Iria Rodiles, who writes under the name of Ernestina Rosell, was summoned by state security agents and interrogated for four hours.

The two-year-old daughter of Dorka Céspedes of Havana Press was turned away from her day nursery on 3 October. The head of the nursery said she was obeying orders from the state security department, which had complained about the journalist's counter-revolutionary activities.

It was learned on 16 November that Blanca Reyes, the wife of Raúl Rivero, had been refused permission to go to the United States to visit members of her family. On 14 May the journalist's brother, Félix Humberto Rivero Castañeda, had been sent back to Toronto, where he lives, when he arrived in Havana. The immigration department allowed him to see his mother briefly, but did not let him give her the gifts and medication he had brought with him.

Police prevented Oswaldo de Céspedes of CPI and freelance journalist Juan González Febles from attending a meeting organised by members of the opposition on 27 November.

Amarilis Cortina Rey of Cuba Verdad was set upon in the street by five state security agents on 13 December. They asked to see her identity papers, questioned her about her work for the agency and prevented her from attending the public trial of a political opponent. Police had already gone to her home four times, claiming that they had orders to arrest her because of her work. She had refused to go with them because they did not have a warrant.

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