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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.