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CUBA - Annual report 2002 (2/2)

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A journalist attacked

Unidentified people threw bottles at the apartment of Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, of the UPECI news agency, and that of his mother on 6 October 2001. Posters were also put up in the neighbourhood calling the journalist a "traitor" who would have to "pay dearly for the evil he has done." Arroyo Carmona said the attacks were probably the work of the Rapid Response Brigades, government supporters responsible for monitoring the activities of regime opponents.

Pressure and obstruction

At the beginning of January 2001, the phone line of Ángel Pablo Polanco, head of the Noticuba news agency, remained cut off for several days despite his protests.

Jaime Leygonier Fernández, of the Noticuba news agency, was stopped by a state security agent in front of a Havana court on 8 January where the trial of a regime opponent was due to be held. The agent told him only members of the accused’s family were allowed to attend the trial.

Pascal Fletcher, a Havana reporter for Reuters news agency and the British newspaper The Financial Times, left Cuba in March for a new post in Caracas, two months after being the target of a fierce campaign in the official media. On 6 January, the daily paper Granma had accused him of having "a poisonous attitude towards the Cuban Revolution" and said he had "close ties" with the US Interests Section office in Havana. Three days later, he was attacked on television for having a "provocative, biased and treacherous attitude" after writing a story about a controversial parade organised by the Spanish embassy. These attacks were taken by all foreign correspondents in Cuba as a warning. President Castro charged in a televised speech on the night of 17-18 January that "certain agencies" were "not being at all impartial" and criticised "some of their staff" (who he did not name) for "defaming the Revolution." He accused them of asking to be punished with "expulsion," but said he preferred that "the agencies themselves show enough common sense to call them to account."

An interior ministry official stopped Oswaldo de Céspedes, of the Cooperativa de Periodistas Independientes (CPI) news agency, on 15 March as he and his family were about to board a plane for the United States as political refugees. The official said his exit visa was no longer valid. Under Cuban law, the journalist’s furniture and apartment was confiscated 24 hours before his scheduled departure.

In late March, police and telecommunications workers began forcing owners of satellite dishes in Havana to dismantle them and hand them over. The dishes, which enable people to receive foreign TV programmes, were banned in November 1998. They are regularly seized and their owners threatened with fines of 1,500 pesos (82 euros) as part of a campaign against "ideological deviance."

Ohalys Victores, of the Cuba Voz news agency, was summoned by civil registry officials on 30 May and interrogated by two state security police who threatened him with jail and refusal of an exit visa if he did not stop sending articles abroad. In February 2000, the US Special Interests Section office in Havana had granted him a visa to go to the US as a political refugee.

State security police warned Idelfonso Hidalgo González, of the Libertad news agency, in Las Tunas province, on 4 June that he risked up to two years in prison if he persisted in sending news out of the country, and threatened to beat him up.

Adela Soto Álvarez, of the Nueva Prensa news agency, was summoned to a Havana police station on 14 June. The person who had signed the summons was not there, so she was allowed to leave.

The sister of Marylin Lahera, of the Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO) news agency, who was visiting her from the United States, was interrogated on 28 June by a state security agent who asked her why she had come to visit, what her job was in the United States and if she had any links with anti-Castro organisations.

Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez was dismissed on 17 July from his job as an editor at two government-owned stations, Radio Ciudad de La Habana and Radio Cadena Habana, where he was responsible for the news programme Síntesis. On 15 June, he had started working in addition with an organisation not recognised by the government. The management of the stations said he did not have an attitude "in line with the ideological principles of the Revolution."

Graciela Alfonso, of the Cuba Press news agency, was stopped by state security police as she was covering a banned meeting of dissidents in Havana on 20 July. Police broke up the meeting and told the journalist to go home.

Jesús Álvarez Castillo, correspondent of Cuba Press in the Ciego de Avila area, was interrogated for two hours by state security police on 1 August mainly about his relationship with the head of the agency, Raúl Rivero. In June, the journalist said his phone line was regularly cut off to stop him sending articles to the Nueva Prensa Cubana news agency in Miami.

Normando Hernández González, head of the CPIC news agency, was summoned by a state security agent on 10 August and during interrogation was threatened with prosecution if he continued working as a journalist.

Milagros Beatón, head of the APLO news agency in Santiago de Cuba, was summoned on 29 August by the state security police along with her daughters, aged 10 and 13. During their interrogation, the police promised Beatón an exit visa to go and visit her husband in exile in the United States if she agreed to stop sending articles to the Florida-based Cubanet website, hand her fax machine over to the authorities and close the news agency.

As a doctor, she is banned by law from leaving Cuba. She is the third head of

APLO in less than 18 months. Her two predecessors were forced to go into exile after considerable pressure. APLO is the only independent news agency in Santiago, Cuba’s second city, at the eastern end of the island.

In early September, the authorities refused to give exit visas to six journalists working for news agencies who had US entry visas. They were Oswaldo de Céspedes (CPI), Milagros Beatón (APLO), Ohalys Víctores (Cuba Voz), Jorge Dante Abad (Lux Info Press) and Manuel Vásquez Portal (Grupo de Trabajo Decoro). Jadir Hernández Hernández, correspondent of the Havana Press agency in Güines (50 km southeast of Havana), who has a US entry visa as a political refugee, was interrogated six times in September. The authorities seemed to be putting pressure on them to extract information about independent journalists and opposition activity.

In mid-September, the home of Fabio Prieto Llorente, correspondent of the Havana Press agency on the Isla de Pinos, was being watched by state security police. He was also followed whenever he left the house. On 28 January, he had been visited by three state security police who forbade him to cover events organised by the opposition to mark the birthday of Cuban national independence hero José Martí.

On 21 September, two state security police banned Carlos Castro Alvarez, of the Cuba Press agency, from leaving his home on pain of being arrested. He said they were trying to stop him covering an official demonstration. He was also told to stop working as a journalist. In late March, soon after lodging an official complaint about two physical attacks on him, he got an anonymous letter threatening to "rip out his tongue." Alvarez’ wife was also under police surveillance.

Oscar Ayala Muñoz, of the CAPI news agency in Ciego de Avila, was visited on 3 October by a state security agent who threatened to arrest him if he covered a meeting of an illegal human rights organisation the next day. While the meeting was being held, he was prevented from leaving his house.

Alida de Jésus Viso Bello, of the Cuba Press agency, went to a police station in the early evening of 3 October after receiving a summons. Her interrogation did not begin until 2.30 am and for more than two hours she was threatened with prosecution because of her journalistic activities.

On 29 October, a state security agent burst into the offices of the Manuel Márquez Sterling Journalists’ Association which gives courses for independent journalists. He ordered Raúl Rivero, head of the Cuba Press agency and a journalism teacher, to leave. Shortly afterwards, journalists Carmelo Díaz Fernández, Pedro Pablo Álvarez and Víctor Manuel Domínguez were expelled from the premises. On previous days, police twice demanded that the Association’s head, Ricardo González Alfonso, shut down the courses being given. A state security agent visited the home of Dorka de Céspedes on 23 October to warn her against involvement with the Association. Police had gone to the homes of four journalist members of the Association - Graciela Alfonso, Dorka de Céspedes, Aimée Cabrera Álvarez and Jorge Olivera - on 14 October. The Association pointed out that nothing in the country’s criminal code forbids teaching.

In late October, the Cuban consulate in Guatemala City refused a visa to a journalist from the Guatemalan daily Siglo XXI who wanted to go to Havana to cover the trial of three Guatemalans accused of "terrorist activities" and facing death sentences.

Blanca Reyes Castañon, wife of Raúl Rivero, head of the Cuba Press agency, was summoned by police in Havana on 8 November on suspicion that she was involved in foreign currency dealing. "The authorities have summoned me on several occasions and the last time, they threatened that if I didn’t obey them, I’d be arrested," she said. "When I got there, a policeman asked me how much money I received from abroad, if my husband got money from El Nuevo Herald [a Spanish-language paper in the US] and if we distributed money to dissidents. At the end, they suggested I leave the country with my husband." She was also threatened with prosecution for illegally buying US dollars. Her husband said he thought it was a way of exerting pressure on him.

Independent journalist María del Carmen Carro and two opposition militants, Leonardo Bruzón Ávila and Midalia Rosado, were told by customs officials on 9 November that parcels addressed to them had been confiscated because they contained items "harmful to the country’s interests."

José Caraballo, a photographer of the CAPI news agency, was summoned to the police station in Ciego de Avila on 12 November where he was accused of being an independent photographer. He was fined five pesos (0.3 euro) for having refused to answer a previous summons. At an earlier summons on 2 November, he had been accused of forging papers and threatened with jail for matters dating back several years.

Jorge Olivera, of the Havana Press agency, was fined 200 pesos (11 euros) on 13 November for having slept at his wife’s apartment, which was not his official residence. A few days earlier, he had been expelled from the Seventh Day Adventist Church apparently after pressure on the church by state security police.

Pablo Pacheco Ávila, a contributor to the CAPI news agency, was refused a place at a nursery for his son in the city of Ciego de Avila on 21 November. At the end of August, police had begun tapping his phone.

Angel Lahera Bazán, a contributor to the CPIC news agency, was harassed and threatened in mid-December by state security police in the central Cuban town of Santa Cruz del Súr who demanded that he stop supplying information to the agency.

President Fidel Castro has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.

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see also
Annual report 2002

Hard times for press freedom
Africa annual report 2002
Asia annual report 2002
Europe annual report 2002
Maghreb / Middle-East annual report 2002