Reporters Without Borders is urging the heads of state of the 58 countries attending the EU-Latin America and Caribbean summit in Guadalajara, Mexico on 28-29 May to press the Cuban delegation for the release of journalists jailed in Cuba - the region’s worst press freedom violator.
With 29 jailed journalists, of whom 27 were arrested during the "black spring" of 2003, Cuba is the world’s largest prison for the press. In Reporters Without Borders’ latest world press freedom rankings, published October 2003, Cuba is ranked second to last (165th) just ahead of North Korea.
Ahead of Cuba in 147th position is Colombia and Haiti ranked 100th, both countries also attending the summit. The international press freedom organisation has also made recommendations relating to these two countries.
Since several Latin-American states are ranked higher than some European countries, the ranking shows that respect for press freedom is not solely linked to economic development. Trinidad and Tobago in 5th place, Jamaica (21st) and Uruguay (25th) are ahead of Italy (53rd) and Spain (42nd). It also shows that this freedom is never won forever and must be defended everywhere.
Consult the full table
Cuba, Colombia, Haiti: the biggest prison, the biggest graveyard and ... the biggest hope for journalists
News not under government control is quite simply forbidden in Cuba, where 75 dissidents were arrested in March 2003. Among them were 27 journalists. Their rejection of government control of news was construed as an "act against the independence of the state". They were sentenced to jail terms of 14 to 27 years. With two of their colleagues already in jail, Cuba thus became the world’s biggest prison for journalists. President Fidel Castro, in power for 45 years, is seen by Reporters Without Borders as one of the world’s 37 press freedom ’predators’.
In Colombia, the press predators are the armed movements: paramilitary groups and guerrilla forces. Five journalists were killed for doing their job in 2003 and one journalist has already been murdered in 2004.
Colombia has become the continent’s biggest graveyard for the profession. This desperate situation is explained by the complete impunity enjoyed by the killers of journalists. The government has also turned itself into a potential threat to the media by adopting an anti-terrorist law that conflicts with protection of journalistic sources.
In Haiti, the fall of Jean-Bertrand Aristide has opened a new chapter for the media, who were threatened, assaulted and harassed by the president’s henchmen if they dared criticise him. For the families of Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor, this change brings new hope, since supporters of the former president are suspected of the murder on the two journalists. The death on 7 March of Spanish journalist Ricardo Ortega however serves as a reminder that the danger has not passed. Aristide was also on Reporters Without Borders’ list of press ’predators’.
Reporters Without Borders calls on participating states at the Guadalajara summit to intervene:
with the Cuban delegation to press for the release of journalists jailed in Cuba,
with the Colombian authorities to prioritise the fight against the impunity enjoyed by murderers of journalists so that Colombian society’s right to be informed can be respected,
with the Haitian authorities to accord priority to solving the Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor cases to re-establish the rule of law.
Reporters Without Borders also urges the 58 countries present in Guadalajara to endorse a statement condemning armed groups in Colombia for their abuses against the press.