Without Borders. December 17, 2002 . Enquiry : Christian
news is the exclusive reserve of the State
Cuba, the authorities are virtually sealing off the population's
access to any news source other than the official media, with
the exception of Catholic publications whose readership is
mostly limited to parishes and whose content is extremely
cautious. The regime does, however, seem to be tolerating
the activities-which it considers to be illegal-of some 100
independent journalists who are practising their profession
on Cuban soil, as long as their articles remain unread by
the Cuban public. The latter are released only outside of
the island, through Internet websites inaccessible from Cuba,
in publications issued by communities of exiled Cubans, and
a few international newspapers banned in Cuba, or broadcast
over Radio Martí-a U.S. government radio station whose transmissions
are scrambled over Cuban territory.
they are considered to be "counter-revolutionaries," many
of these journalists are constantly harassed by the police
and any of them may find themselves, without warning, subject
to liberticidal laws that could impose heavy prison terms.
Notwithstanding, the coercion currently exerted against these
independent journalists seems to be abating somewhat.
repressive methods used, however, have not mellowed :
peremptory questionings that can last from several hours to
several days, confiscation of equipment, house arrests, pressures
on journalists' families and relations, attempts to discredit
them, public insults and slandering, denial of exit visas,
the present time, four journalists are behind bars. One of
them is still serving a six-year prison sentence, while the
other three were arrested this year. The latter were formally
punished for acts of public militancy typically associated
with human rights activists, and not directly for their news-reporting
activities. However, they are bound to find it a challenge
to keep the public informed from their prison cells. Moreover,
all of them had already been subjected to pressures or brought
in for questioning because of their journalistic activities.
Two of them are about to be sentenced to five- and six-year
prison terms. Though never arraigned, the third has been behind
bars for ten months.
their own accord, the independent journalists concede that
they are currently "benefiting" from a so-called "low-intensity"
repression period, even though President Castro's regime is
still exerting its customary pressure against pro-opposition
militants or human rights activists. Journalists working in
rural areas are, however, in greater danger than their colleagues
in the capital, where police forces are relatively more spread
out and material conditions less of an issue.
this context, the activities being carried on by independent
news agencies, which currently total about 20, are constantly
expanding in terms of quantity, credibility and professionalism,
as measured by what they are sending over the Internet. Though
there were only a handful of them in the mid-1990s, the 100
or so "free" journalists now working in Cuba provide an authentic
alternative information source that has become essential to
observers monitoring the country's news events, access to
which-regretfully-is still being denied to their fellow Cubans.
four independent journalists currently behind bars are Bernardo
Arévalo Padrón, director of the Línea Sur Press agency ;
Lester Téllez Castro, head of the Free Press Agency in Ceigo
de Ávila (Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña - APLA) ; Carlos
Brizuela Yera, a member of the Camagüey Association of Independent
Journalists (Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey
- CPIC) ; and Carlos Alberto Domínguez, of the Cuban
Truth (Cuba Verdad) news agency.
fifth journalist stands accused of a offence for which he
could receive a prison term ranging from three to eight years.
His name is Jesús Álvarez Castillo, a correspondent in Morón
(in central Cuba's Camagüey province), with the Cuba Press
agency. He has been threatened with prison for having reported
events which, on 4 March 2002, culminated in the arrest, in
Ciego de Ávila, of at least 10 human rights activists, including
Lester Téllez Castro and Carlos Brizuela Yera.
that day, the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights (Fundación
Cubana de Derechos Humanos - FCDH)-an illegal association-had
called a meeting. Jesús Álvarez Castillo and Lester Téllez
Castro, who had been assigned to cover this event for their
respective agencies, were stopped and questioned by two policemen
while they were on their way to the meeting. The first journalist
was caught by one of the agents who struck him in the back
of the neck with his hand, whereupon he blacked out. The two
policemen immediately took him to the hospital, where he was
diagnosed with a cracked neck bone. Warned by Lester Téllez
Castro, the dozen or so FCDH militants formed a group and
headed for the hospital, one kilometre away, where they demonstrated
in the building lobby, chanting anti-government slogans. They
were quickly arrested by State Security Department officers
(Departamento de la Seguridad del Estado - DSE).
to Jesús Álvarez Castillo (photo), this was a trap designed
to arrest the group in a flagrant act of civil contempt and
rebellion. The journalist is certain that he was intentionally
assaulted in order to entice the militants into a public area
where they could be filmed and arrested. He underscored the
extreme courtesy and compassion shown by the policemen who
came to see him after the incidents occurred. He claimed that
he was accompanied back to his home by two senior State Security
officers, one of whom-a certain "Colonel Aramis"-is a native
of Havana. The journalist believes that it is this very man,
known in the capital to have led the crackdown against the
independent press, who supposedly orchestrated the entire
30 July, Jesús Álvarez Castillo was informed that he would
be prosecuted for refusing to be summoned as a witness in
the trial of the militants arrested on 4 March. The authorities
invoked Article 155 of the Cuban Penal Code on "perjury" and
"refusal to testify." According to whether the court deems
this to be a "simple" or "aggravated" offence, he will either
be fined from 300 to 3,000 pesos (12 to 120 euros), or sentenced
to a prison term of three to eight years.
Lester Téllez Castro : "An anti-social
Lester Téllez Castro and Carlos Brizuela Yera were therefore
arrested on the grounds that they were human rights activists.
On 27 August 2002, the Ciego de Ávila Prosecutor's Office
recommended that they be sentenced, respectively, to six and
five years in prison for "insulting a public servant" (desacato),
"causing a public disturbance" (desorden publico), "resisting
authority" (resistencia) and "civil disobedience" (desobediencia).
He also requested two-and-one-half year to seven-year prison
terms for their companions, and four years of hard labour,
without imprisonment, for the two women in the group. The
group's trial is scheduled to begin before the end of the
Téllez Castro (photo), 27, is being held in Block 7 of Canaleta
prison in Ciego de Ávila. His mother, Hildelisa Castro Campo
(photo), and his sister-in-law, Mirley Delgado Bombino-a nurse
who also happens to be an APLA journalist-are allowed to visit
him regularly. Lester, who has been blind in his right eye
since childhood, has been complaining in the last two months
that his good eye is becoming clouded and that he is experiencing
signs of high blood pressure. "All lettering looks red to
him," she explained, "because he is in solitary confinement
(celda de aislamiento) in a cell painted entirely in white,
with no window, lit day and night by a single 40-watt bulb.
He is very physically affected by his surroundings."
was at her request that Lester Téllez Castro was transferred
in July to this solitary cell-the only one in the prison-where,
paradoxically, he has been enjoying a modicum of comfort :
a wooden board (without a pillow) that serves as his bed,
a toilet that flushes and a drinking faucet open a few hours
a day. In fact, he has been living in fear of being murdered
by other prisoners ever since one of his co-inmates, a certain
Alberto Delgado Mursuli, assured him that one of the prison's
officials had promised him certain favours if he would kill
May, Lester Téllez Castro has refused to eat any food supplied
by the prison, which he feels is inedible, and eats nothing
but the packaged food brought to him every three weeks by
his family. His mother reported that he has not been receiving
any medical treatment. All that he is being given is an occasional
Vitamin A pill to palliate his eye trouble.
several letters, this journalist and human rights activist
has protested against his conditions of confinement in Canaleta
Prison. He has undertaken several hunger strikes in an effort
to have those conditions improved. But after being force-fed
by intravenous serum injections he finally agreed, in mid-July,
to end his latest hunger strike in exchange for an exceptional
visit from his father, who resides in Miami and was in Cuba
at the time.
the last two-and-one-half years, Lester Téllez Castro has
been devoting himself entirely to journalism and to the cause
of human rights. Before that, he had just been released from
prison after completing a six-year prison term on a burglary
charge. At the time he was a troubled youth influenced by
unsavoury acquaintances. Although his relatives and close
friends maintain that he has been leading an exemplary existence
since serving out his sentence, the latter offence is still
noted in his records, which is the reason for his particularly
Cuban authorities never fail to bring up his previous criminal
activities in order to discredit his efforts and are attempting
to justify his incarceration to the international community.
When questioned by the United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary
Detention, they explained that Lester Téllez Castro was "nothing
but a delinquent" (…), an antisocial element, impulsive, disrespectful,
and an agitator in respect of his attitude toward the authorities"
who had attempted several times to illegally leave the country.
this time, neither the journalist's mother (who is now living
in a Ciego de Ávila suburb), nor his sister-in-law, complain
of any particular harassment. But Lester Téllez Castro's domestic
partner, Daymarelis Pérez, has lost her position as Programme
Director at Radio Surco, a state-approved local station. The
young woman is now living in a tense family environment in
the home of her parents, who are militant communists. She
has since joined the ranks of the APLA.
Carlos Brizuela Yera : "I am prepared
to remain deprived of my rights"
his friend Lester, 30-year-old Carlos Brizuela Yera also has
a police record. He had already been arrested for having participated
in a street demonstration carrying a placard that read :
"Down with Fidel !" In its response to the United Nations,
the Cuban government mentioned that he had already served
a four-year prison term (between 1994 and 1998) for allegedly
attempted to kill a police officer. He, too, was thus accused
of being a delinquent "disguised as a human rights advocate"
while serving as a "mercenary" on behalf of the United States.
Brizuela Yera (photo) was incarcerated in Holguín Provisional
Prison (in eastern Cuba). His wife, Ana Peláez García, resides
in Florida, in the province of Camagüey (about 80 km southeast
of Ciego de Ávila) and, like Yera, used to be a FCDH activist.
After visiting him this past 16 October, she was granted an
"exceptional group visit" on 27 October - a privilege which
guards may grant once a month, at their discretion, to groups
consisting of three inmates, as a reward for good behaviour.
He was denied this exceptional visit the following month because
he had not participated in the meal that the prison scheduled
once a month, the menu of which included chicken. Because
he felt that such a menu should be the rule and not the exception,
the journalist did not attend the event.
Peláez García (photo) did, however, manage to see him at the
end of November, during her customary visit, then again on
the 16th and two days later on 18 December, the date of their
conjugal visit. "Carlos is rather thin but he is upbeat,"
she stated, "and he is in good health. He is sharing a cell
with five common-law inmates accused of various thefts and
crimes, and they are not having any problems getting along.
But the sanitary conditions are deplorable and the food is
disgusting. Prisoners can only be seen by a doctor in an emergency
and they receive no routine medical care."
would like to believe that the exceptional visit that her
husband was granted in October marked the start of an abatement
of the pressures that have been exerted against him so far,
because ever since the journalist managed to smuggle letters
out of his prison exposing the living conditions imposed on
the inmates, the couple has been the target of the guards'
hostility : "Both of us are being forced to totally undress
before we are allowed into the visitor's room, and have to
put up with thorough body searches. They even unravel the
hems of our clothes, looking for messages. The rehabilitation
officer won't even speak to me anymore." On 29 May, they were
deprived of their "conjugal cottage" (a special visitors'
room where married couples can enjoy physical intimacy for
three hours, once a month), because of the publication of
those letters, whose contents were transmitted over Radio
Marti and Internet news sites.
Peláez García does not have a job. She explained that, for
now, she is not being experiencing any pressures while carrying
on her daily activities and neither are her sister Jacqueline
or Carlos' mother, who is employed as a guard in a sugar plant.
She confirmed that her husband did attend the meeting of 4
March as an FCDH activist, and not as a journalist, which
was Lester Téllez Castro's role on that particular day. However,
she emphasises that every letter which Carlos has been smuggling
out of prison since his incarceration are authentic reports
on the penal institution. These initiatives attest to his
and his wife's admirably positive outlook. For example, on
12 June, the accused wrote these words : "I am prepared
to remain deprived of my rights in order to expose the injustices
that are committed here every single day. And if making them
known to the world is a crime, then I will gladly accept my
4 March, Ana Peláez García was arrested and detained for three
days at the headquarters of the State Security judicial operations
in Ciego de Ávila, after which she was held for nine days
in a Camagüey prison. Released while awaiting trial, she faces
a possible sentence of four years of hard labour, without
imprisonment, for "resistance" and "civil disobedience." However,
the court may impose a tougher penalty and sentence her to
jail without parole.
"There really isn't much difference between
being in-or out-of prison."
third journalist now incarcerated in Cuba is also both a reporter
and an activist. Carlos Alberto Domínguez (photo) is the Director
of the Law Institute (Instituto del Derecho) and a member
of the 'Frank País' 30 November Democratic Party (Partido
Democrático 30 de Noviembre), comprised of minor opposition
groups. Domínguez, 46, was arrested at his home in Arroyo
Naranjo, a suburb of Havana, on 23 February 2002 by State
with the Cuba Verdad news agency, he regularly attended masses
on the 11th and 24th of every month at the San Mariano parish
church in commemoration, respectively, of the 11 September
terrorist attack in New York and of the death of four pilots
of the Cuban-American humanitarian association, Brothers to
the Rescue (Hermanos al Rescate), whose two civilian planes
were shot down on 24 February 1996 by Cuban Air Force fighter
pilots. During the two masses preceding his arrest, demonstrators
had chanted slogans such as : "Set the political prisoners
free !" and "Long live human rights !"
he was arrested in his home the day before another mass was
to be held. In the document that they submitted to the United
Nations, Cuban authorities explained that "his incarceration
is unrelated to the exercise of freedom of religion, expression,
or opinion" but to the fact that Domínguez "clearly and intentionally
acted to cause public disorder and interrupt the normal course
of activities furthering community interests." They also contend
that he is not a journalist and that officially he only holds
"a permit to be a self-employed clockmaker."
being questioned for two days at Villa Marista, Havana's State
Security headquarters, and detained for 10 days in a police
station of Havana's Technical Investigations Department (Departamento
tecnico de investigaciones - DTI), Carlos Alberto Domínguez
was hospitalised on 8 March in Havana's Carlos J. Finlay de
Marianao military hospital, suffering from high blood pressure.
From then on, "in view of his condition," all visits were
postponed. Since 29 March, he has been behind bars in the
Valle Grande "maximum security" prison, 60 km from the capital.
political militancy had already resulted in his being arrested
several times and prohibited from leaving the country, despite
the fact that he, as well as his wife and their three children,
have been holding American visas since June 2000. According
to his 38-year-old brother, Armando (photo), who is himself
a human rights activist and former prisoner, Carlos Alberto
Domínguez fasted for two days in September in protest against
the imprisonment of political prisoners.
journalist and political militant is now living in a barracks
built to accommodate 80 inmates but which is now housing 130
of them, thanks to its triple-deck beds. Prisoners without
a bed have to sleep on the bare cement floor. There are four
squat closets and a single faucet that supplies water for
one hour per day. The food is inedible : pasta and cold
cereal without salt and decaying ground meat and offals.
detainee's health is said to be mediocre but stable. He complains
of migraines, high blood pressure and gastritis. For its part,
the government asserts that "Mr. Domínguez is enjoying
special treatment in terms of food and medical care." On 2
December, it was learned from sources close to his family
that the journalist and political militant had been transferred
to the city's Salvador Allende hospital, and placed in the
section reserved for prisoners. For some time, he had been
suffering from violent headaches.
wife, Maria González, receives financial support from her
family. But on 25 June, she was threatened by police officers
who suspect her of having smuggled letters out of the prison-letters
in which Carlos Alberto Domínguez exposed Villa Grande's especially
harsh prison conditions. Their son, who is 14, stated that
he was not being discriminated against at his school, where
he is considered a good student. Armando Domínguez contends
that his brother and himself are determined to continue their
fight : "For us, there is no prison. We are in prison
outside, too. There really isn't much difference between being
in-or out-of prison."
Bernardo Arévalo Padrón is suffering from
leptospirosis-a rodent disease
the four journalists still languishing in Cuban prisons, Bernardo
Arévalo Padrón (photo), 37, is the one who has been in jail
on 18 November 1997, Bernardo Arévalo Padrón was sentenced
on appeal, ten days later, to six years in prison for having
called Cuban President Fidel Castro and Vice-President Carlos
Lage "liars" over the airwaves of Radio Martí (a station financed
by the American government to broadcast programmes to Cuba).
The journalist accused the President of failing to abide by
the final declaration of the 1996 Ibero-American Summit (attended
by Latin American Heads of State and their Spanish and Portuguese
counterparts), in which the signatories agreed to promote
parliamentary democracy, basic freedoms and human rights within
their respective countries.
the end of 1998, after the Pope's visit, Padrón's sentence
was reduced by one month "for good behaviour," rather than
by the two months to which all prisoners are entitled in that
capacity for each year of incarceration. Yet since then, the
prison authorities have granted him neither an early release
nor any further reduction of his sentence "because of his
unwillingness to co-operate with the rehabilitation programme."
Padrón is consequently not likely to be released until 17
his arrest, the journalist had also written an article on
behalf of the Línea Sur Press agency, which he had founded,
exposing the alleged involvement of the military in a clandestine
slaughter of livestock in the Aguada de Pasajeros area (a
province of Santa Clara, in central Cuba), where he resided.
According to his journalist colleagues, this news story may
have been the actual cause of his problems with the law. Clandestine
slaughter is an offence punishable by a 10-year prison term.
Bernardo Arévalo Padrón was 23 years old, he joined the State
Security police. It was his duty to maintain human rights
activists under surveillance. But in the mid-1990s, after
his brother died-in his opinion, because of the lack of necessary
medical care-he swore to spend the rest of his life fighting
communism and joined one of the movements that he had once
pledged to denounce. Meanwhile, he took a job as a rail operator.
Bernardo is being held in Block 2, Cell 25, of the Ariza prison
(in central Cuba). Judging from his letters, his friends are
worried that his mental health may be deteriorating. "He has
changed a great deal and his relatives will have a hard time
recognising him when he is released," a close relation confided.
Indeed, his relations with other inmates are not good. Some
of them are making his life miserable just to earn a few minor
favours from the prison guards. In the hope of earning a reduced
sentence, some common-law prisoners recently stole some of
his personal effects and letters and gave them to the police.
The guards are also encouraging co-inmates to harass the "counter-revolutionary"
and tell him that he is compromising the prison's good reputation
and their overall rating.
has been entitled to an early release since October 2000,
after serving half of his original sentence. Yet in 2002,
the journalist refused to file another petition because he
no longer believes that his request would be granted and he
cannot endure any more disappointments. However, according
to his wife, Libertad Acosta Díaz, prison authorities are
automatically handling this procedure for him every six months,
in compliance with regulations. She nevertheless believes
that this is nothing more than a psychological pressure tactic.
is there a ray of hope ? This past 18 October-for the
first time since being placed behind bars-Padrón was allowed
to call his wife at 10 :30 a.m., while she was at her
place of work, using a 20-minute telephone card that he had
received in exchange for some cigarettes. The co-ordinator
had given him permission (necessary for any inmate to access
the telephone booth), which the journalist's wife interprets
as an encouraging sign. Padrón asked for news about his mother
and his parents-in-law.
wife is now allowed to visit her husband every three weeks :
"Visitors must arrive at 8 :00 a.m. and wait in a dining
hall until 8 :30 a.m. while the contents of our packages
are carefully inspected. A soldier then leads visitors into
the visiting room, which is a sort of dining hall with a long
cement table and cement benches in the centre. The prisoners
are brought in at 9 :00 a.m. through a steel door. The
roof has holes in it and we have to find a spot safe from
leaks when it rains. The people form family groups. It is
all very noisy… we have to yell to make ourselves heard."
The journalist also has a 10-year-old son, from a previous
marriage, who lives in Camaguëy and visits him twice a year.
package that she typically brings her husband contains food
that can be preserved : cheese, sugar, beverage powder,
bread, and lots of cigarettes : "Bernardo does not smoke
but they can be traded."
visits have been indefinitely suspended since 16 July 2002,
because of renovations going on in the building. Each inmate's
wife is entitled to one such visit once a month in addition
to her right to a regular visit. Each time, she is subjected
to a very thorough body search by a female soldier, who then
admits her into the "conjugal cottage" and locks the door
from the outside. The inmate is then admitted. The visit lasts
three hours. Fifteen minutes before the end of the session,
the female guard knocks once on their door to alert the couple.
The only furniture is a bed, a table and chair, and a toilet
that can be flushed with a bucket, since water is only available
one hour a day.
state of health has been seriously affected by very harsh
prison conditions. Libertad says that "Bernardo suffers from
migraines and high blood pressure." In early December he complained
of violent fevers that were making him shake and become delirious.
He was diagnosed as having leptospirosis. This infectious
disease is caused by a bacteria that is borne on numerous
animals, especially rodents. Contamination usually occurs
through the skin or by contact with contaminated water. Although
the journalist has been given antibiotics, his wife is still
concerned. Antibiotic treatments are only effective when administered
prior to the outbreak of the disease and in 5% of all cases,
the illness can be fatal.
Díaz is a maritime transport engineer who worked for nine
years in the port of Cienfuegos. She was discharged in 1992,
during the hardest times of the "special period" (in which
the personnel was reduced as a result of the collapse of the
USSR, Cuba's "Big Brother"), on the pretext that she resided
in Aguada de Pasajeros and no one could continue to take her
to and from work. She was reassigned with a lesser status
and lower salary to a position as a statistics officer with
the Aguada de Pasajeros bus company. She believes that she
was actually punished for being a practising Catholic. She
only works when the buses are in operation. The company sometimes
shuts down for over a month-during which time she receives
no salary-when there is a shortage of petrol. Or else she
is assigned to stay at home when there is no urgent work,
during which time she receives only 65% of her monthly salary
of 140 pesos (7 euros). Her job is to keep track of the number
daily crackdown : constant harassment
since the independent press began to emerge in the early 1990s,
Cuban authorities have systematically coupled lengthy incarcerations
with a policy of constant harassment of independent journalists
to make certain that their only options would be prison, silence,
or exile. Despite the fact that this harassment has somewhat
subsided and none of these journalists have been jailed since
4 March, attempts at intimidation, pressures and threats persist,
particularly in the outlying provinces.
He had dared to criticise the government in
his own home…
first weapon in the harassment arsenal is an invasive surveillance
of the persons concerned. Spied upon by informants working
for the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (Los
Comités de Defensa de la Revolución - CDR)-which are official
neighbourhood watch organisations-publicly insulted, trailedbythepolice,andconstantlythreatened
with reprisals, journalistshave to confront pressuresvirtually
every singleday, the purpose of which is toisolate them from
the rest ofCuban society.
example,on 12 June, Marvín HernándezMonzón, a correspondent
with the Cuba Press agency in Palmira (Cienfuegos), was subjected
to a public session of insults by her neighbours (acto de
repudio) arranged by the CDR located opposite her home. The
demonstration was interrupted by a rainstorm. The journalist
reported that she is also frequently watched by an informant
stationed in the street who insults her on a regular basis.
Álvarez Castillo also complained of being constantly observed
and slandered. He reported that a policeman told his female
companion that he is a homosexual. Another officer claimed,
when talking to a Canadian friend of Castillo, that the latter
was working for the CIA, while a neighbour was instructed
to send a letter to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to
tell them that Castillo was a Cuban State Security informant
who had infiltrated the opposition. "This gossip is starting
to alienate my acquaintances," he said with regret. "I have
renounced any kind of romantic relationship so as to avoid
compromising anyone and giving them any way to pressure me,"
he explained. Mario Enrique Mayo, the head of the Félix Varela
news agency in Camagüey, on the other hand, was summoned by
police on 2 October after a neighbour reported to the CDR
that he had spoken aloud some critical statements about the
journalists are also repeatedly arrested or frequently summoned
by the police. In all, 29 arrests were recorded in 2001, and
almost 40 since 1st January 2002. Even if they do not lead
to imprisonment, these short-term stays in police stations
are designed to maintain psychological pressure.
Enrique Mayo, for example, was arrested on 28 September by
State Security agents who interrogated him for six hours,
and threatened him with jail, based on some information that
he had supposedly published about one of them. On three different
occasions this year, Pablo Pacheco, a member of the Independent
Journalists Co-operative of Ciego de Ávila (Cooperativa Avileña
de Periodistas Independientes - CAPI), was detained and questioned
for several hours because he was suspected of "unlawful association."
arrests are also a means to prevent journalists from carrying
on their work. On 17 January 2002, Omar Rodríguez Saludes
of the Nueva Prensa Cubana news agency was arrested in Havana
while preparing to cover a meeting between some dissidents
and a Spanish official.
Rey Rodríguez, a correspondent with the Cuba Press agency
in Villa Clara (in central-west Cuba), was summoned by the
police on 30 September. While she was being questioned, she
was threatened with having to pay a fine of 600 pesos (23
euros) for "violating the confidentiality of an investigation."
In one of her articles, she had relayed a charge of "corruption"
against a retired military officer… through local officials
of the Cuban Communist Party.
"Good advice" and pressure on relatives
alternative to arrest that seems to be used more and more
often is the "home visit." Police go to the homes of independent
journalists and, in a register ranging from informal questioning
to "polite conversation," threaten them with criminal prosecution
for their activities or give them "friendly" good advice that
they should follow "in their own best interest." This type
of contact is intended to create the suspicion that journalists
thus targeted have been compromised and are co-operating with
Rivero, founder and director of the Cuba Press news agency,
regularly receives this type of visit, usually on a courteous
note, during which police advise him, for example, not to
expose this or that particular journalist working with his
agency to "avoid problems" for him, given the current situation.
In Ciego de Ávila, Pedro Argüelles Morán, of the CAPI agency,
is regularly visited by two police officers who come to "discuss"
events going on in the city and tell him that they are interested
in knowing his opinion about them. They then warn him by alluding
to the risks that he will be facing, while they assure him
that their comments should not be construed in any way as
are often imposed on independent journalists, who are also
charged with offences likely to lead to harsh convictions.
Argüelles Morán (photo) was indicted over five years ago on
"civil contempt" charges. Authorities accused him of having
attempted to release information about human rights violations
occurring in the prison where he was being held at the time
because of his anti-government activities. His trial never
took place but, like his colleague Jesús Joel Hernández Diaz,
the journalist may be sentenced "any day" to a two-year prison
term. Diaz was arrested on 18 January 1999 and sentenced,
the very next day, to four years in prison for "social dangerousness."
He was finally released, two years later, without explanation.
journalists' relatives and friends are also subjected to all
sorts of harassment in either their private or professional
lives, as shown by the case of the wife of Victor Rolando
Arroyo, a correspondent with the Unión de Periodistas y Escritores
Cubanos Independientes (UPECI) news agency in Pinar del Río
(150 km south-west of Havana). Arroyo's wife lost her job
as a professor in the city and was reassigned to a teaching
position in a remote village at a salary two-thirds smaller
than her previous one. In 2001, Pablo Pacheco's son was denied
admittance to the pre-school due to "lack of space," even
though his name was on their preferred list (because the journalist's
wife was a doctor).
Ban on forming organisations
the crackdown, independent journalists are still trying to
form groups-a daunting task. Since 1995, their agencies have
been systematically relegated to an illegal status because
the authorities refuse to recognise them despite the applications
submitted to the Ministry of the Interior. Rather than turn
them down, the officials simply elect not to respond to their
applications. This course allows them to claim, in their letter
to the United Nations, that the agencies for whom the imprisoned
journalists work "do not exist" or "have not registered with
the competent authorities."
Cuban independent press, which consists of some 100 members
grouped within about 20 small agencies, has been trying for
18 months to form a federation. Currently, there are three
independent journalist organisations : the Federation
of Cuban Journalists (Federación de Periodistas Cubanos -
FEPEC), the Federation of Associated Journalists (Federación
des Periodistas Asociados - FPA) and the Manuel Marques Sterling
Association (Sociedad Manuel Márquez Sterling).
by how harshly it has been repressed, the latter is no doubt
the most aggressive. Among other activities, it is striving
to denounce the crackdown on Cuban independent journalists.
Although ignored by the official press, its communiqués are
reprinted by the international news agencies with offices
in Havana. The organisation's purpose is to improve the professional
status of independent journalists : first, because the
majority of them have had no prior training in journalism
and secondly, because this lack of training can be used by
the government as a means to discredit their work.
it is this very same government that is now cracking down
on these attempts to develop training programmes. The most
recent example occurred on 21 March 2002, when State Security
agents intercepted three journalists while they were on their
way to attend journalism courses in the home of Ricardo González
(photo), the Association's President, in Havana. Two other
journalists already there were intercepted as they left his
house. A sixth was questioned that evening by police about
his activities within the Association. In October 2001, a
similar police operation had already prevented such courses
from being held. Ricardo González pointed out that, notwithstanding,
there is no article in the Penal Code that prohibits anyone
in Cuba from freely teaching a class.
Blackmail as the point of departure
the various methods of "harassment," it is also worth mentioning
Cuba's "visa policy." Having exhausted all of their patience
with this incessant abuse, a total of 56 journalists have
elected to go into exile since 1995. And nearly a dozen others
are now preparing to seek asylum elsewhere.
in order to leave the country, every Cuban citizen must first
obtain the destination country's visa and then an exit permit
("white card," or carta blanca) from the Immigration Department
of the Ministry of the Interior, as well as a permit to re-enter
Cuban territory in case the person concerned should wish to
return at the end of his trip.
is the first hurdle : the Cuban passport and these permits
cost a total of several hundred dollars, excluding the expense
of the host country visa. In addition, the granting of exit
and re-entry permits is left to the authorities' arbitrary
discretion. The Cuban government uses this procedure to play
"cat and mouse" with independent journalists who wish to definitively
emigrate or to travel abroad.
after having obtained an emigration visa from the United States,
they are denied permission to leave Cuba. The parties concerned
eventually obtain this permit but the long wait imposed upon
them is tantamount to psychological harassment. Even when
this is not the case, applicants usually automatically lose
their jobs as soon as they are issued emigration visas. Their
lodging can be requisitioned, and meanwhile they are living
in Cuba subject to a "no-rights" status that prohibits them
from carrying on virtually any legal activity.
all, applicants are destabilised in terms of their personal
relations, having become a "persona non grata" within their
own social circles. Even their friends are tempted to mistrust
them, inevitably suspecting them of having given in to some
form of blackmail by authorities in order to obtain the desired
independent journalists now find themselves in this situation-including
Milagros Beatón Betancourt, of Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental
(APLO), José Luís García Paneque of the Libertad news agency,
Jorge Dante Abad Herrera of APLO, and Jorge Oliveira Castillo
and Dorka de Céspedes, who are, respectively, the director
and reporter of the Havana Press agency. However, rumour has
it that Manuel Vázquez Portal will be leaving Grupo de Trabajo
Decoro in the very near future. After a two-year wait, he
has just obtained his permit to leave Cuba. Normando Hernández
González, director of the Colegio de Periodistas Independientes
de Camagüey (CPIC) agency is said to be in the same situation.
Edel José García Diaz, of the Centro Norte Press (CNP) agency,
on the other hand, has supposedly been promised that he will
get his permit in January 2003.
yet another form of harassment, other reporters who merely
want to travel are allowed to leave the country but are denied
permission to return because their passports are stamped with
the following notation : "permission granted for a final
departure and for a definitive period." Leaving one's country
under conditions like these would thus be tantamount to sentencing
oneself to remain in exile.
Rivero is used to this subtle invitation to a permanent departure,
which has been offered to him each time that he has been invited
to accept one of the many prizes that he has won abroad in
recognition of his literary work or his contributions as an
independent journalist. On 28 October, Cuban authorities once
again refused to grant him a visa to travel to Mexico, where
he had been invited by a literary review to present his latest
collection of poems.
all these underhanded methods of intimidation, Cuban independent
journalists feel that their activities are currently being
tolerated relatively well. They underscore the fact that,
as of today, Act 88 (otherwise known as the "Gag Order"),
which was enacted in March 1999 and provides up to 20 years
of imprisonment for activities that would benefit the United
States, has never been enforced.
pledging their complete solidarity with their four jailed
colleagues, they also point out that the last three to be
arrested this year were jailed for their civic or political
militancy, not directly because of their work as journalists.
attribute this tolerance to four factors. The first stems
from the fact that independent journalists are not actually
in a position to violate the ban against editing publications
or distributing audio-visual material on Cuban national territory.
Deprived of any means to edit or transmit information on-site,
they are, indeed, incapable of undermining the monopoly on
information imposed by the government, which oversees all
official media outlets and has total control over all of the
news distributed inside the country. The independent journalists
are convinced that crossing this internal information "red
line" would expose them to the harshest retaliations-notably
the penalties sanctioned under Act 88.
also feel that the support provided by international press
advocacy and freedom organisations, which systematically communicate
to the world any infringement of their professional activities,
protects them from retaliations : the government is reluctant
to blackwash its "track record" because of foreign policy
the communist regime finds itself in a sensitive diplomatic
and economic situation. Cuban journalists in particular cite
the attempts made by Fidel Castro to persuade the United States
to strengthen its trade relations with Cuba after the former.
granted Cuba permission to purchase some of its agri-food
products. The Cuban President would avoid, for example, any
attempt to weaken (by overly ostentatious reprisals), the
position taken by Jimmy Carter, who recently advocated raising
the American economic embargo. The journalists also recalled
the American trade fair that was held in Havana last September
or the International Conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis
that met in Havana in October. Moreover, Fidel Castro announced
in early December that his country planned to ask to be a
party to the Cotonou Agreements. The latter entitle 77 countries
of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (the ACP Group) to
benefit from economic aid and a preferential trade conditions
with the European Union.
they mention the development of the telecommunication media,
over which Cuban authorities no longer have total control.
Despite its cost, the Cuban national and international telephone
network is becoming increasingly accessible. It is difficult,
but not impossible, for people to surf the Internet using
clandestine connections. They anticipate that the half-open
window available through the Internet portal and electronic
mail will inevitably open wider as time goes on.
this narrow margin of relative tolerance, independent journalist
activities are expanding in Cuba. Abroad, their increasingly
professional and credible contributions have become an indispensable
source of information on Cuban current events for the international
media. On the island itself, independent journalists occupy
an ever more solid solid niche within the profile of a civil
society that is eluding the grip of the totalitarian regime.
In this capacity, they are helping to build the essential
foundation for Cuba's peaceful transition into a democratic
and liberal society.
the spring of 1999, one year after the Pope's visit to Havana
and the relative calm that ensued, the regime took a hard-line
stance against the opposition and the independent press, causing
32 independent journalists to seek asylum in another country
in 1999 and 2000. Two years later, the "hard-line approach"
turned into a "low-intensity repression" and even independent
journalists are of the opinion that they are benefiting from
a margin of tolerance toward their activities.
the latter is still very relative. First, because three of
these journalists were arrested this year. Even if they were
placed behind bars primarily for political acts of militancy
or for being human rights activists, the three men were also
known by the authorities for their journalistic activities,
which had already led to their being taken in for questioning
or summoned by the police. Nevertheless, since their incarceration
they have never stopped exercising their right to inform the
public. And thirdly, because the independent press is still
being subjected to daily harassment as a reminder to Cuban
journalists that they can be arrested and given a harsh prison
sentence at any time.
what is most evident is that the regime is maintaining its
monopoly over information distributed to the Cuban population-a
veritable sanctuary. In reality, there is zero tolerance.
The crackdown policy has achieved its objective of keeping
independent journalists beyond the "red line" delineating
the distribution to the Cuban public of information not controlled
by the government. In an interview granted in 1997, Raúl Rivero
claimed that he would abandon all of his independent press-related
activities for five minutes of uncensored air time over Cuban
state-owned television channels. That is precisely what the
authorities will not tolerate.
this context, the official press distributes only propaganda-based
articles or news reports that have been chosen, reviewed and
corrected to serve the regime's ideological interests. The
Department of Revolutionary Guidance, which answers directly
to the Cuban Communist Party's Central Committee, is the main
architect of this censorship. In fact, the code of "ethics"
followed by official journalists clearly stipulates that "through
their work [journalists] must help to promote the constant
improvement of our comunist society."
fact, the official press released virtually no news about
the Varela Project. This initiative, which was undertaken
by the opposition to give Cubans a more democratic way to
express their opinion on an upcoming revision of their Constitution,
instead induced the government to organise a wide-ranging
referendum that legitimised the "irrevocable" nature of the
country's Constitution. The Project would have provided for
official recognition of freedom of expression.
Without Borders requests :
Government leaders in Havana :
- to recognise freedom of the press and freedom of speech
without restriction and to instruct the Ministry of Justice
to legalise news agencies ;
- to release the four incarcerated journalists, drop
any proceedings against them and put an end to any future
interrogations concerning them ;
- to repeal those Articles of Act 88 that oppose basic
freedoms. The organisation reminds the authorities that, in
a document dated 18 January 2000, the United Nations' Special
Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the promotion
and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression,
asserted that "imprisonment to condemn the peaceful expression
of opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights" ;
- to end any harassment and attempts to intimidate independent
- to submit the Varela Project to a referendum ;
- to sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, which, in its Article 19, guarantees
freedom of the press.
Member States of the European Union :
- to make Cuba's adherence to the Cotonou Agreements
dependent upon the abolishment of the Cuban government's monopoly
on information, the legalisation of news agencies, the release
of the four journalists still in prison and the signing and
ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights. Reporters Without Borders points out that that the
massive human rights violations in Cuba would immediately
expose the country to penalties by virtue of Article 96 of
the Cotonou Agreements ;
- to provide effective concrete support to independent
Government leaders in Washington, DC :
- to raise the embargo that has been imposed on Cuba
for more than 40 years. This measure is counter-productive
in respect of the protection of human rights, because Cuban
leaders use it as a pretext to squelch all opposition and
to abuse basic freedoms. By arousing sympathy within the international
community, its unilateral character lends legitimacy to a
regime in which human rights violations constitute a deliberate
Without Borders also urges members of the
press in democratic countries :
Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom
throughout the world, as well as the right to inform the public
and to be informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Without borders has nine
national sections (in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy,
Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), representatives
in Abidjan, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Montreal, Moscow,
New York, Tokyo and Washington and more than a hundred correspondents
- to assist independent journalists, primarily by publishing
their columns and articles. Over and above any financial aid,
such support would represent a recognition of their work and
allow them to break through the isolation of their present
Reporters Without Borders 2002