World Press Freedom
Like the proverbial Leopard, Cuba is either unwilling or unable to change
its spots. The media situation in Cuba is one of the most restrictive in Latin
America and hopes that the country would change its harsh attitude to the
independent media have been dashed on a number of occasions over recent years.
Unlike other countries in the region, Cuba has developed a siege mentality
towards the criticism of outside agencies. Indeed, it would appear that the
louder the voices of protest the more entrenched the country's authorities have
Since 1986, the authorities have re-fused to allow representatives of human
rights organisations to travel to the island. This attitude has led to a number
of human rights organisations, most notably RSF, sending their brave
representatives to the island in an unofficial capacity. The results of such
activities has meant that vital information concerning the situation in Cuba has
been compiled and provided to the world's media. Unfortunately, these reports
have often been achieved at a cost; particularly, in August of this year when
journalist Martine Jacot was arrested and interrogated by the police for
interviewing members of the independent press.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the Cuban media situation is the
authorities treatment of the independent media. Under Cuban law, only government
approved journalists and media organisations may practice in the profession. As
a consequence, a number of journalists who do not wish to come under the control
of the government have maintained an independent stance but, due to the laws,
are unable to provide news stories to the media inside Cuba. Independent
journalists, therefore, ply their trade by providing stories to media
organisations outside of the country but receive no government recognition and
work under a state of permanent harassment and intimidation.
The Cuban authorities allege that the independent media is made up of "mercenaries"
and "traitors" who seek to earn hard currency by masquerading as
journalists. These journalists are frequently victims of accusations; attacks;
seizure of equipment; house arrest; pressure on their families, friends or
contacts and attempts to discredit them. A repressive law, enacted in February
1999, has also been used to force independent journalists into submission. The
law provides for heavy sentences for any person who, "collaborates, by any
means whatsoever, with radio or television programmes, magazines or any other
foreign media" or "provides information" considered likely to
serve US policy.
In a disturbing case that highlighted the absurd lengths that the Cuban
authorities will go to harass journalists, a Cuban court in the provinces
outside Havana gave a six-month prison sentence on 18 January to dissident
journalist Victor Rolando Arroyo. His crime was the bizarre charge of "hoarding"
or "monopolising" toys. Arroyo had gone to a toyshop in order to buy
toys for underprivileged children in the province of Pinar del Río.
Although he was not jailed immediately, Arroyo was given three working days to
present an appeal. The appeal by Arroyo subsequently failed and he was forced to
serve the six-month sentence. He was released on 19 July.
Another favoured weapon against the independent journalists who exist
outside the government authorised media is burglary. On 31 January, the home of
journalist Juan González Febles was ransacked by unidentified persons who
stole his tape recorder, recordings and several articles.
In addition to invasion of privacy, a number of journalists have been
attacked by unidentified assailants. On 17 January, Mary Miranda from the agency
Cuba Press was assaulted so violently that she lost consciousness. Another
incident occurred on 13 May when Santiago Dubuchet, from the agency Habana
Press, was hit on the head in a park in Artemisa. While lying on the floor he
was verbally assaulted by a crowd who gathered around him.
On 23 February, Ángel Pablo Polanco, director of the Noticuba news
agency, was arrested by two State Security Department agents. According to
information gathered by WAN, the arrest of Polanco would appear to be connected
to articles published on judicial proceedings being taken against Oscar Elias
Biscet, president of the Lawton Human Rights Foundation. Prior to his arrest,
Polanco had been planning to cover the trial, which was scheduled to begin on 25
February. No reason was given for his arrest.Before the visit of Kofi Annan,
secretary-general of the United Nations, to Cuba for the G-77 summit of
developing countries, RSF invited Annan to intervene on behalf of journalists
currently jailed on the island. The press freedom organisation also urged Annan
to make the Cuban authorities aware that the international community was deeply
concerned about the conditions that the prisoners were being held under.
On 15 July, RSF reported that two officers of the Departamento de la
Seguridad del Estado (DSE) arrested journalist González Alfonso at his
home in Havana. After displaying their arrest warrant, the agents took the
journalist to a house on the outskirts of the city, where they tried to convince
him to cooperate with the DSE. After six hours of interrogation, the agents
returned the journalist to his home.
On 21 July, Luis Alberto Rivera Leyva, director of the Agencia de prensa
libre oriental was arrested at his home by security forces. The arrest took
place on the same day that two opponents were being tried in Santiago and police
only released Leyva from custody after the hearing had been completed. All seats
in the court were taken by members of the communist party and police officers in
plain clothes. As a consequence, those members of the independent press who,
unlike Leyva, had managed to avoid house arrest were unable to enter the court.
During early August, the host of Radio Morón, a small station in central
Cuba, was dismissed after reading over the air a poem by Raúl Rivero
(founder and director of the Cuba Press agency).
An RSF member, journalist Martine Jacot, who was sent by the press freedom
organisation on a mission to Cuba, was arrested and interrogated by police on 17
August. During her ordeal, Jacot had video equipment and several documents
confiscated. According to information gathered by RSF, Jacot was arrested by six
members of the Cuban security forces as she was waiting to board an airplane to
Paris. Jacot had arrived in Cuba one week earlier to interview members of
independent press agencies and families of journalists who are currently
Foreign journalists have also been the target of the Cuban authorities. In
August, three Swedish journalists, Birger Thureson, from the Nya Dagen daily
newspaper, Peter Götell, formally of the Sundsvalls Tidning newspaper and
Elena Söderquist, of Arvika Nyheter, were detained.
On 29 August, officials from the Ministry of the Interior arrived at a house
in Havana where the journalists were renting bedrooms. Prior to their detention,
the three had interviewed several journalists from independent press
organisations. The journalists were held by the Cuban authorities for not having
visas for journalism. According to a government spokesperson, "it's an
immigration affair. They are being analysed."
Reacting to the arrest of the three journalists, the CPJ's communications
director said, "the deplorable treatment of these Swedish reporters shows
that the Castro government is still terrified of any information it doesn't
control. In Cuba today, anyone can be arrested just for talking to an
independent journalist." The director added, "this case highlights the
daily risks that Cuban independent journalists take when they try to cover the
After nearly 40 years of absence, the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning
News announced that they had been granted permission by the Cuban authorities to
open reporting bureaus. According to Reuters, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe
Perez Roque told executives for the newspapers that approval of the news bureaus
was granted in meetings at the Cuban mission to the United Nations in New York,
where Cuban President Fidel Castro had been attending the UN Millennium Summit.
"The Cuba story is one that needs to be told properly", Chicago
Tribune Chairman John Madigan said. "Being there allows you to do that. We
have a lot of interest in events in Cuba and this is another way to bring to our
readers in-depth coverage of subjects important to them."
A report released by RSF in September on the press freedom situation in Cuba
heavily criticised the authorities. The report highlighted the plight of Cuban
journalists, particularly those who are perceived as "dissident" or
independent by the authorities. In particular, the report called on the Cuban
authorities to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and
legalise the independent media organisations. The international press freedom
organisation also called on the countries of the European Union and the ACP
States to support RSF's recommendations. Since 1997, five journalists have been
sentenced to between six months' and six years' imprisonment and over one
hundred arrests and cases of questioning have been reported. In this year alone,
some 15 journalists have been questioned or placed under house arrest and 19
others have gone into exile.
On 15 September, state security agents detained Jesús and Jadir Hernández
Hernández, two brothers who report for the independent news agency Habana
Press, in a small town outside Havana. The two journalists had a typewriter, an
electronic organizer and a manuscript confiscated. They were accused of
smuggling Cuban emigrants to the United States. During intense interrogations
over a period of three days, agents threatened to prosecute Jesús and
Jadir for "contempt" and "spreading false news" and to bring
additional charges under the Law for the Protection of Cuba's National
Independence and Economy.
Towards the end of the year, prominent Cuban journalist, Raúl Rivero
stated that the Island's authorities were refusing his wife permission to leave
the country. Raúl Rivero, a former state journalist who is now a critic
of President Fidel Castro's government, told Reuters he believed the refusal to
grant his wife, Blanca Reyes, an exit permit was a deliberate move to harass him
and his family. "I think it's to isolate me, to pressure me", he said.
RSF was a primary source for the above article.
1999 World Press Freedom Review
Any hopes that the ninth Ibero-American Summit, held in Havana on November
15 and 16, would bring a whiff of freedom to the Caribbean island similar
to that experienced during and immediately after the landmark visit of Pope John
Paul II in January 1998 were quickly dashed as at least 260 dissidents
were temporarily detained in November and December alone and President Fidel
Castro's Communist regime continued its persecution of Cuba's independent
Some of the heads of state who attended the Ibero-American Summit, including
Spain's José María Aznar, met with members of the country's
beleaguered independent press, who are viewed as political dissidents and not
allowed to publish in Cuba or abroad, in a display of solidarity and support. In
a final declaration, the heads of state from Latin America, Spain and Portugal
called for the strengthening of fundamental freedoms. "This document
contains the foundation on which respect for freedom of expression in Cuba can
be built," said Tony Pederson, president of the Inter American Press
Nevertheless, four journalists Bernando Arévalo Padrón,
Manuel Antonio González Castellanos, Leonardo Varona González, and
Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández are currently serving
prison terms in Cuba, while dozens of others were arrested, detained, harassed
or threatened throughout the year.
Bernardo Arévalo, founder of the Línea Sur Press agency, was
sentenced to six years in prison on October 31, 1997, for "insulting"
President Castro and Vice-President Carlos Lage. Manuel González,
correspondent for the CubaPress agency in Holguín, was arrested on
October 1, 1998, for "insulting" the head of state and the police in
an argument provoked by State Security agents and sentenced on May 6, 1999, to
two years and seven months in prison. Leonardo Varona González was also
arrested in October 1998 and sentenced in May to sixteen months in prison for "insulting"
the head of state.
Díaz Hernández, executive director of the Cooperativa Avileña
de Periodistas Independientes, was arrested on January 18, 1999, and sentenced
the following day to four years in prison after he was convicted of "dangerousness"
under Article 72 of Cuba's Penal Code, which states: "Any person shall be
deemed dangerous if he or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes
demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of
socialist morality." Under the law, any police officer can issue a warning
for "dangerousness." At the discretion of the prosecuting authorities,
any person who has received one or more warnings can be convicted of
dangerousness and sentenced to a prison term of up to four years. A warning can
also be issued for associating with a "dangerous person."
On February 16, the National Assembly of Peoples' Power (ANPP) adopted a
restrictive new press law, the "Ley de Protección de la
Independencia Nacional y la Economía de Cuba" (Law for the
Protection of the Cuban National Independence and Economy), which allows for
sentences of up to 20 years in prison. The new law, which went into effect on
March 15, provides penalties of two to five years in prison and a fine for those
who collaborate with the media with the intent to "contribute to or
facilitate plans against the Cuban government." The law prohibits the
possession, reproduction and distribution of "subversive" materials
and the participation in meetings or demonstrations of a "subversive
character." It also sets penalties of seven to 15 years' imprisonment for
those who provide information, directly or via a third party, to the United
States government. This penalty can be raised to eight to 20 years' imprisonment
when the crime is committed with the participation of two or more persons, when
it is carried out with the intent to gain financially, or if the guilty party
gained access to the information through illicit means.
During 1999, Fidel Castro's intelligence apparatus, the State Security
Agency, arrested, detained or placed under house arrest independent journalists
attempting to report on trials in progress, anti-government meetings,
demonstrations and other developments in their country. The majority were
released after short periods of up to several days in prison.
On January 6, State Security agents detained Jorge Olivera, director of
Havana Press, and Havana Press correspondents Jesús Díaz Loyola, Lázaro
Rodríguez Torres, and María del Carmen Carro Gómez. The
officers raided the Havana home of Estrella García Rodríguez,
which serves as the headquarters of Havana Press, and arrested the journalists,
as well as García and political dissident Javier Troncoso, who were
brought to the Second Unit of the Revolutionary National Police (PNR) in central
According to the journalists, they were detained so that they could not
cover the trial of political dissident Lázaro Constantín Durán,
who was sentenced to four years in prison in December 1998. Constantín's
appeal hearing was set for January 7. After several hours, Olivera and Carro
were released, along with García and Troncoso. Loyola and Rodríguez
were transferred to the headquarters of the Technical Department of
Investigations and held overnight.
On January 13, State Security agents detained CubaPress correspondent Odalys
Curbelo Sánchez for several hours and warned her not to cover any
demonstrations. The same day, State Security agents detained María de los
Angeles González Amaro, director of the Unión de Periodistas y
Escritores Cubanos Independientes, and detained her for two days in order to
prevent her from covering a planned march commemorating the birth of Martin
Pedro Argüelles Morán, Ciego de Avila correspondent for
CubaPress, was summoned before the local chief of the Revolutionary National
Police (PNR) on January 15. He received a warning for "dangerousness"
because he was not working for a state company.
On January 18, Hirán González, CubaPress correspondent in the
province of Cienfuegos, was summoned to the headquarters of the PNR in Aguada de
Pasajeros, where he was told that he would be put in prison if he kept on
passing news to Radio Martí, the US government radio station that
broadcasts into Cuba from Miami. González was threatened with a trial for
Six journalists working for independent news agencies Jesús
Joel Díaz Hernández of the Cooperativa Avileña de
Periodistas Independientes, Nancy Sotolongo Léon, a correspondent for the
Unión de Periodistas y Escritores Cubanos Independientes (UPECI),
Santiago Martínez Trujillo, a photographer for UPECI, Angel Pablo Polanco
of the Cooperativa de Periodistas Independientes, Maria de los Angeles González
Amaro, director of UPECI, and Pedro Argüelles Morán, a correspondent
for CubaPress were arrested in a crack-down between January 18 and 27.
Díaz Hernández was arrested on January 18 and sentenced the
next day to four years' imprisonment for "dangerousness." Nancy
Sotolongo Léon, Santiago Martínez Trujillo, and Angel Pablo
Polanco were detained just prior to a January 25 procession marking the first
anniversary of the visit of Pope John Paul II to the island. González
Amaro was detained on January 26 after defying a warning by State Security
agents not to cover the procession. She was released, along with the other
three, on January 29. Argüelles Morán was arrested in Ciego de Avila
on January 27 in order to prevent him from covering the celebration of the 146th
anniversary of the birth of the Cuban writer, José Martí, on
January 28. He was released on January 29.
A Dutch radio journalist, Edwin Kopman, was expelled on January 28 after
being accused of giving money to a "counter-revolutionary group."
On February 24, Jesús Labrador Arias, a correspondent with CubaPress
in Manzanillo, Granma province, was arrested in his home by State Security
agents. The previous day, officers had "advised" the journalist to
refrain from covering demonstrations being organised by unauthorised human
At least 15 journalists were arrested by State Security agents in order to
prevent them from reporting on the March 1 trial of four members of the "Internal
Dissidents Working Group," Vladimiro Roca, Marta Beatriz Roque, Félix
Bonne, and René Gómez. The "Group of Four," as they are
called, were arrested on July 16, 1997, and charged with "sedition."
At least 11 other journalists were placed under house arrest during the trial.
In addition, security forces blocked foreign journalists and diplomats from
attending the trial.
Among those arrested were Raúl Rivero, director of CubaPress and
Cuba's best-known dissident journalist, Efrén Martínez Pulgarón,
Marvin Hernández Monzón, Odalys Curbelo Sánchez, Juan
Antonio Sánchez, Orlando Bordón Galvez and Hector González
Cruz, Tania Quintero all of CubaPress Lázaro Rodríguez
Torres and Jesús Díaz Loyola of Havana Press, Nora Nayo and José
Edel García Díaz of Centro Norte del País, and Mercedes
Moreno, Omar Rodríguez Saludes, and Luis Alberto Lazo of Agencia Nueva
In March, Raúl Rivero was again detained by the police, who warned
him that he could be the first individual punished under the new press law. On
April 27, Mario Julio Viera González, director of the Cuba Verdad press
agency, was visited by a State Security agent, who said Viera could be charged
for "insulting" the president in an article he had published on the
Internet. He, too, was warned that he could face a heavy prison sentence under
the new press law.
Cuban authorities denied Raúl Rivero permission to travel abroad in
September to receive a Maria Moors Cabot Prize from Columbia University's
Graduate School of Journalism for his "independent reporting in the face of
harassment, arrests, and threats from the government." Rivero applied for
an exit and re-entry permit from the Interior Ministry after he received the
invitation from Columbia University in June, but was informed on September 23,
the fourth anniversary of the founding of his news agency, CubaPress, that his
application had been denied. Officials have repeatedly told Rivero that he can
leave Cuba as long as he does not try to return.
Osvaldo de Céspedes of the Cooperativa de Periodistas Independientes
was arrested by State Security agents on August 12 as he was about to talk to a
US-based radio station. He was released after five hours of questioning and
ordered to stop working as a journalist.
In a five-hour television address on November 2, Fidel Castro accused Cuban
dissidents of plotting to disrupt the Ibero-American Summit and also
acknowledged for the first time the existence of independent journalists in Cuba
by singling out 17 of them by name and calling them "counter-revolutionaries"
in the pay of the United States.
Ángel Pablo Polanco of the Cooperativa de Periodistas Independientes
and Omar Rodríguez Saludes of the Agencia Nueva Prensa were arrested in
Havana on November 10 while they were preparing to cover a demonstration
organised by human rights organisations. At the same time, Aurora García
del Busto of the Cooperativa de Periodistas Independientes, Ohalis Victores of
Cuba Voz and José Antonio Fornaris of Cuba Verdad were placed under house
Santiago Santana, director of the press agency, Agencia de Prensa Libre
Oriental, in Santiago de Chile, was also detained on November 10, and released
two days later. The authorities confiscated his airline ticket to Havana, where
the journalist intended to cover the Ibero-American Summit. At least 100
opponents of the regime, including human rights activists and journalists, were
detained or placed under house arrest in early November as part of the
government's clampdown on dissidents ahead of the Summit.
In November, the US government boosted the power of Radio Martí's
broadcasts to the island from 50,000 watts to 100,000 watts in an effort to
overcome Cuba's jamming of the radio station. The Miami-based Radio Martí,
intended to broadcast unbiased news to the Cuban people, was estimated to be
reaching less than ten percent of Cuba's 11 million people.
1998 World Press Freedom Review
Fidel Castro's Communist regime and its intelligence apparatus, the State
Security Agency, continue to clamp down on Cuban journalists attempting to
report independently on developments in the country. The authorities routinely
harass, threaten, arrest and imprison journalists, often with a goal of "persuading"
them into leaving the country. Although two US media organisations - CNN and the
Associated Press - are now allowed to operate bureaux in the country, visiting
foreign correspondents are also harassed, threatened or even expelled. Many
international journalists were denied visas to cover the five-day visit of Pope
John Paul II to the island in January, 1998, the first papal visit since the
While some 3,000 journalists, roughly half of them from the United States,
were accredited to cover Pope John Paul's historic visit to Cuba from January 21
to 25, many international reporters who had written critical stories about Cuba
in the past were denied visas. According to CPJ, those denied visas for the
papal visit included reporters from the Miami Herald and the Miami-based
Spanish-language Telemundo television network; David Adams of the St. Petersburg
Times; Rodolfo Pouza and Matilde Sánchez of Argentina's América TV
and Clarin newspaper, respectively; Mario Pérez Colman of Costa Rica's La
Nación; and former Newsweek correspondent Peter Katel. In Miami, where
some 800,000 Cuban exiles live, none of the 12 reporters and photographers
assigned by the Miami Herald to cover the visit received visas.
The landmark visit of the Pope, who made references to human rights abuses
throughout his stay, brought a whiff of freedom to the Caribbean island. The
Catholic Church was allowed to publicise information regarding the papal visit
and had unusual access to the official media, the Pope's Masses were broadcast
live - although massive blackouts coinciding with these broadcasts were reported
across the island - and for the first time since the revolution state television
had some harsh words of criticism for Cuba's one-party system, whose
shortcomings are usually discussed by Cubans in private.
However, Castro's regime has continued its campaign of persecution against
Cuba's 40-odd journalists working outside the state-owned media, who are
generally viewed as political dissidents and do not publish or broadcast in
Cuba, but mainly send their material to the United States for use in foreign
publications and on the Internet. According to IAPA, three journalists - Bernado
Arévalo Padrón, Lorenzo Páez Nuñez, and Juan Carlos
Recio Martinez - were serving prison terms, while at least two others, Mario
Viera and Manuel Antonio Castellanos, accused, respectively, of libelling a
senior foreign ministry official and showing contempt for the President, had
Bernado Arévalo Padrón, correspondent for the independent news
agency, Línea Sur Press, began serving a six year prison term in Ariza,
Cienfuegos, on June 15, 1998. He was sentenced on October 31, 1997, for showing
"lack of respect" for President Castro and a member of the Cuban State
Council, Carlos Lage, in a story he had published in which he revealed how a
helicopter transported meat from a farm in the town of Aguada de Pasajeros to
Havana, while the inhabitants there went hungry. On April 11, Arévalo,
who had been suffering from health problems since his confinement to a filthy
cell in Ariza prison, was assaulted in the Ariza prison by two State Security
agents, suffering numerous injuries to head and body. According to RSF, State
Security agents had been threatening Arévalo Padron that he would not
leave the Ariza prison alive. In January, the representative of State Security
in Ariza Prison had told Arévalo's wife that the only way Arévalo
could get out of prison was by arranging for a visa allowing him to leave Cuba.
When journalist Jesus Egozcue Castellanos tried to visit Arévalo on March
10, security officials detained him for an hour, searched him, and destroyed
letters he was bringing to Arévalo. Egozcue was barred from entering
Ariza Prison and warned that he would be detained if he returned, CPJ reported.
Lorenzo Páez Nuñez, a journalist with Buro de Prensa
Independiente de Cuba, is serving an 18-month sentence in Cinco y Medio, Pinar
del Río. He was convicted of defamation on July 12, 1997, for a story on
police misconduct during festivities marking the end of the sugar harvest. His
trial lasted only a day and he was denied the right to an attorney.
Juan Carlos Recio Martinez, a reporter with the independent Cuba Press
Agency, is serving a one year sentence of forced labour at an agricultural
co-operative in Villa Clara. He was convicted of participating in "activities
against state security" and sentenced on February 13, 1998 after failing to
notify the authorities of a written statement he had received in October 1997
from opposition activist Cecilio Monteagudo Sanchez which called on Cubans to
abstain from voting in the upcoming elections.
Despite the creation of several independent news agencies since 1995, the
authorities have shown no signs of relaxing their stand against the island's
independent journalists. The Communist regime controls all that is published,
while access to the Internet is also strictly regulated. Typewriters must be
registered; owning a fax machine or photocopier without authorisation is
punishable by imprisonment. The Government does not allow criticism of the
revolution or its leaders. Laws against anti-government propaganda and insults
against officials carry penalties of three months to one year in prison, with
sentences of up to three years if President Castro or members of the National
Assembly or Council of State are the object of criticism. Charges of
disseminating enemy propaganda, which includes expressing opinions at odds with
those of the Government, can bring sentences of up to 14 years. In December
1997, the National Assembly of Popular Power approved the Law of National
Dignity, which establishes that "The weight of the law will fall on anyone
who, in a direct or indirect form, collaborates with the enemy's media ... with
jail sentences of three to ten years" and is aimed directly at the
independent agencies who send their material abroad.
Throughout the year, State Security continued to harass independent
journalists (and their relatives), accusing them of operating illegally and
confiscating their tape recorders and office equipment, often with a view to
goading them into leaving the country. One new way of putting pressure on
independent journalists, reported IAPA, was to force landlords not to renew
their leases or simply to evict them without any justification.
On January 30, Jorge Luis Arce Cabrera, correspondent for the Cuban
Independent Press Bureau, the Buro de Prensa Independiente de Cuba, and Jesus
Eofcoue Castellanos, a correspondent for Línea Sur Press, were threatened
with imprisonment by a State Security official at Arce's home in Cienfuegos, CPJ
reported. Lieutenant Orebis Montes de Oca reportedly told Arce and Eofcoue that
they would be arrested and imprisoned if they wrote stories that "tarnished
the image of Cuba." The authorities were upset that Arce had attended the
Pope's mass in Havana, as he had been only permitted to travel to Havana in
order to arrange for a visa to leave the country. On several occasions since he
began working as a journalist in 1994, Arce has been detained or beaten.
On March 12, Rafaela Lasalle, director of the independent news agency,
Oriente Press in Santiago de Cuba, was summoned to a tribunal on crimes against
state security and accused of "enemy propaganda".
On May 17, Ariel Tapia, a journalist with Cuba Press, was summoned by the
interior ministry's Single System for Vigilance and Protection (SUVP) for an "interview."
According to RSF, the head of the SUVP had told a meeting that there was "in
the neighbourhood an individual who belongs to the ranks of independent
pseudo-journalists financed by imperialism."
On June 17, Cuban authorities refused to grant journalist Raúl Rivero
permission to leave Cuba temporarily, IAPA reported. Rivero, who is head of the
Cuba Press Agency and vice-president of IAPA's Cuba branch, had received an
invitation to travel to Spain, but immigration authorities refused to authorise
permission for the journalist to go. In the weeks following his appointment as
regional vice president, the authorities regularly cut off the journalist's
Foreign news correspondents were ousted from the Cuban national legislature
on July 21, IAPA and Reuters reported. President Castro expelled the journalists
from the National Assembly after they went there to cover the opening of the new
congressional session. "There is a press which shares our noble ideas and
another which shares the ideas of imperialism, of capitalism," Castro said,
explaining why the foreign correspondents should leave. While foreign media are
traditionally allowed only into the opening and closing parts of the National
Assembly's sessions, the state-run local media are allowed to stay for the
entire session. It was suspected that Castro may have been thinking of a recent
US newspaper story, which claimed that he had been treated for hypertensive
encephalopathy, an illness which paralyses brain functions.
On September 5, Héctor Trujillo Pis, a Cuba Press correspondent in
Caibarién, was summoned by several State Security officials for a "conversation,"
RSF reported. After five hours, the officers threatened to have him prosecuted
for publishing "enemy propaganda and false information."
On September 16, journalist Juan Antonio Sánchez Rodríguez was
released after six days in detention. His arrest without charges or explanation
followed the government round-up and later release in September of 13 Cuban
dissidents - the biggest round-up of dissidents since the papal visit - a move
many claimed to be intended as a warning against open acts of defiance. Sánchez
Rodríguez also spent ten days in jail from July 28 to August 7, 1997.
On October 1, Manuel Antonio González, a correspondent for Cuba
Press, was arrested by State Security agents in San Germán, Holguín
Province, for having "insulted Fidel Castro," CPJ and RSF reported.
González was arrested after he made negative statements about the
President to State Security agents who had stopped and questioned him as he was
returning from a friend's house and local journalists suspected that he was
deliberately provoked in retaliation for reports filed from Holguín about
the activities of political dissidents. Following his arrest, an estimated 2,000
people gathered outside González's home and screamed insults, while State
Security agents broke into his home and beat and arrested two of his relatives.
According to local sources, many of the protesters were farm workers who were
forced to participate in the demonstration. González faced a sentence of
between one and three years in jail.
Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez Amaro, who works for Cuba Press and is
chairperson of the Union of Independent Cuban Journalists and Writers, was
summoned to the National Immigration Office on October 2. According to RSF, she
told to leave the country and seek asylum
abroad or the interior ministry would take measures against her and her
In November, a number of foreign lifestyle magazines, including Hola and
Cosmopolitan, which were sold in Havana through a few state-controlled
news-stands, suddenly ceased to be available. Although sold in hard-currency and
therefore inaccessible to most Cubans, the glossy publications had a small but
enthusiastic readership among Cubans. The authorities explained that only
publications "not damaging to our culture and ideology" could be
On November 27, at the start of the trial of journalist Mario Viera at
Havana's Provinical People's Court, opponents and supporters of Castro's
government traded blows and insults, Reuters reported. The trouble began when
sympathisers of the journalist, who was not in custody before the trial,
gathered around him outside the court chanting "Mario is telling the truth!"
At least three of Viera's supporters were arrested in the scuffle, which lasted
for about half an hour and led to the suspension of the trial. A cameraman for
CNN, Rudy Marshall, who was one of several foreign journalists present, was
shoved and punched by a government supporter when he filmed the arrests. Viera's
lawyer said he was informed by court officials that the trial had been suspended
indefinitely because of the fighting.
1997 World Press Freedom Review
FIDEL Castro's Communist regime continues to clamp down remorsely on the
small, but courageous, number of journalists attempting to report independently
on developments on the Caribbean island. These reporters are regularly arrested,
jailed, physically attacked or otherwise threatened in raids on their homes. The
heads of three independent news agencies - all of which are considered illegal
by the authorities - have gone into exile. And although Castro allowed the
American cable television network, CNN, to set up a permanent bureau in Havana -
the first such permanent US media office on the island since 1969 - visiting
foreign correspondents continue to be harassed, threatened or even expelled.
House arrests, raids and the confiscation of documents - and even the most
basic of writing instruments - have become almost daily occurrences in Cuba,
with the authorities seemingly more determined than ever to silence independent
journalism once and for all. More than three dozen journalists were arrested
during 1997, and at least nine jailed for varying periods. Three have been
deported, following a trend: expulsion is one of the most efficient ways of
ridding the island of a dissenting voice.
This year's first clampdown occurred on January 7, when the state security
forces detained Rafaela Lasalle, president and founder of the independent news
agency, Oriente Press, in Santiago de Cuba. One of the agency's reporters was
detained the following day. No reason was given for either arrest, but local
journalists suggested that they were part of a wider crackdown on political
opponents and independent reporters in the east of the country.
On January 14, Nicholas Rosario Rozabal, chief correspondent of the
Independent Press Agency of Cuba (APIC), was beaten up by two men at Santiago de
Cuba railway station while waiting for a train to Havana. Nine days later, he
was arrested by police having just arrived in Havana by air. He was held
incommunicado. The Cuban authorities detained three dissidents involved in
trying to produce independent economic reports. Marta Beatriz Roque, director of
the Association of Independent Economists, and two independent journalists -
Tania Quintero and Juan Antonio Sanchez - were held on January 22 near the Czech
Embassy in Havana. All three were released the following day. Olance Nogueras
Rofes, a journalist with the Bureau of the Independent Press in Cuba (BPIC), was
arrested by state security police in a raid on the Havana home of another BPIC
journalist, Luis Solar Hernandez, on April 23. The police also confiscated
books, videotapes and documents. On June 23, Hector Peraza Linares, a
correspondent for another independent news agency, Habana Press, in Pinar del
Rio, was arrested by state security and held until September.
In a particularly unpleasant incident, days after searching the apartment of
Ana Luisa Baeza, of CubaPress on July 6 and confiscating her typewriter,
tape-recorder and books, the authorities threatened her 22-year-old daughter,
Lubia, telling her that she would be accused of being a prostitute if her mother
did not abandon independent journalism.
Lorenzo Paez Nunez, of BPIC, was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for
defamation of the National Police on July 12.
On Sepember 4, another Cuban dissident was also jailed fore 18 months on a
charge of "disrespect for authority." Hector Palacio Ruiz had been
arrested in January after giving an interview to Germany's ARD television
network in which he strongly criticised Castro's regime, describing the head of
state as "crazy" and calling for reforms."
The heads of three independent news agencies - BPIC, Habana Press and Patria
- have fled into exile (having been told that they faced imprisonment if they
remained). However, Raul Rivero, one of the pioneers of the dissident press in
Cuba - together with another, equally persecuted journalist, Nestor Baguer,
director of the Apic agency, expressed his determination this year to stay on
the island. In spite of constant threats from the state security services,
Rivero - who won the Reporters sans Frontieres Fondation de France award for
1997 - continues to run the Cuba Press news agency. The risks are quite plain to
see. He was arrest on several occasions in the summer of 1997, and held for a
title of nearly a month in San Luis, near Pinar del Rio.
In 1991, Raul Rivero - a former Moscow correspondent for the official Cuban
news agency, Prensa Latina - broke with the regime by signing a "Letter
from Ten Intellectuals" - a petition calling on President Castro to free
prisoners of conscience. Of the 10 signatories, Rivero is the only one still
living in Cuba. He abandoned official journalism definitively in 1991,
condemning it as "fiction about a country that does not exist."
On October 16 this year, Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso - a journalist with
another independent news agency, Cuba Press - was arrested at home by two
Interior Ministry agents. One of them, apparently called "Aramis," is
specifically in charge of harassing Cuba's independent journalists,
Exactcly a week later, Jorge Luis Arce Cabrera, a Cienfuegos correspondent
for BPIC, ws punched, kicked and insulted outside his home an Interior Ministry
agent who went the name of Adriano. The trial of Bernado Arevalo Padron -
director the Linear Sur Press news agency in Aguada de Pasajeros, Cienfuegos
province - beganon October 28. He was charged with writing an article critical
of President Castro and could be jailed for six years if found guilty.
On November 21, Oriente Press's Rafaela Lasalle (see above) was assaulted at
her home in Santiago de Cuba during a so-called "reprobation meeting"
organised by members of the Communist Party and by members of the Vigilance and
Protection Group of the Interior Ministry.
Four days later, Odalys Curbelo Sanchez and Juan Antonio Sanchez Rodriguez,
of Cuba Press, were taken in for questioning in Pinar del Rio by three state
security agents for having taken pictures of posters of the Pope which had been
vandalised, During the interrogation, the journalists were threatened with legal
action. Curbelo was picked up for questioning once again on December 9 by two
counter-espionage agents and two state security agents. After presenting him
with an official document accusing him of "spreading information to foreign
enemy radio stations, of illegally practising his profession and of spying,"
the agents threatened him with 10 years in jail. They also declared that they
were preparing charges against Curbelo for "enemy propaganda." The
agents claimed that he was spying by photographing prisons in the region, as
well as the vandalised posters of the Pope.
In March, CNN became the first American media outlet to broadcast from a
permanent bureau in Cuba for 28 years. But just hours after the bureau opened, a
senior United States official attacked the Cuban authorities for restricting
"There is no press freedom at all," Jeffrey Davidow, US Assistant
Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, told an international press
freedom conference in Panama City on March 18. "The fact that Castro still
intends to limit the number of foreign media and prevent international media
from distributing information within Cuba itself is a testament to the Cuban
govrnment's fear of a free press."
The Clinton administration had granted permission to nine other US news
organisations to operate in Cuba - the CBS and ABC television networks,
Associated Press, three newspapers (the Miami Herald, the Sun-Sentinel of Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, and the Chicago Tribune), the news agency and newspaper
group, Dow Jones, and the Spanish-language television network, Univision.
However, only CNN has so far been authorised by the Cuban government.
Miami's Cuban exile community - whose most prominent leader, Jorge Mas
Canosa, died this year, an event which was even reported in the Cuban state
media - criticised CNN's debut broadcast from Cuba on March 18. They said it was
impossible for CNN to present a balanced view from the island. Miami radio
listeners quickly passed judgement, labelling CNN the "Castro News Network."
Cuban-Americans said that CNN might intend to provide balanced coverage of Cuban
politics, but would inevitably be used by the Castro government to support its
Ninoska Perez - host of a Spanish-language radio programme and spokeswoman
for the staunchly anti-Castro Cuban-American National Foundation - asked why CNN
had not put Cuban dissidents on the air during its initial broadcast.
The Cuban authorities this year introduced new regulations for foreign media
- including a stipulation that accredited foreign journalists must be "objective"
in their reporting. Foreign journalists became aware of the new rules only in
June, although the Foreign Minister, Roberto Robaina, had signed the regulations
as a Ministerial resolution back in February.
Officials at the International Press Centre (CPI) - the Foreign Ministry
body responsible for visiting and resident foreign journalists in Cuba -
attempted to minimise the importance of the regulations, saying that they did
not represent a change of police towards the foreign media. However, a group of
30 foreign journalists, met on June 4 to discuss several points - particularly
Article 3, which states that an accredited journalist must work "with
objectivity, adhering strictly to the facts and in consonance with the
professional ethics that govern journalism." Failure to do so will result
in temporary or permanent withdrawal of accreditation or a "call to
attention" - a formal reprimand - depending on the circumstances.
The new rules also stipulate that foreign journalists must work only for the
news organisations for which they work. Otherwise, they must seek special
permission to work for other outlets. PI officials claimed that this was
designed to maintain some sort of order in news reporting out of Cuba. Analysts
interpreted this as a sign that the Castro government sees itself as the target
of a propaganda siege from the US and needs to be able to keep track of news
It seems that the Cuban authorities are also preparing to adopt a
heavy-handed approach to the foreign media when it comes to covering the visit
of Pope John Paul II to the island in January, 1998 - the first papal visit
since the 1959 revolution. A number of well-known correspondents have already
been told that they will not be permitted visas to enter the country -
ostensibly because of the way they have covered Cuba in the past.
However, there was one encouraging sign: in December, President Castro not
only announced that Christmas celebrations would be permitted in Cuba for the
first time since 1969. He also promised that the state-run media would broadcast
the Pope's Christmas message. The Vatican is requesting that Cuban Television
broadcast four open-air Masses to be conducted by the Pope - and wants editorial
control of the transmissions.