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Cuba4 August 2006

Foreign journalists refused entry and denied visas

Reporters Without Borders today urged Cuba to let foreign journalists into the country “so they can do their job freely and without restriction or aggression” and said it was disappointed at the regime’s refusal to allow half a dozen of them into the country and the blocking of visas for others.

A group of journalists, including Alvaro Ugaz, of the Peruvian radio station RPP, and Mario Antonio Guzmán, of the Chilean station Radio Cooperativa, were turned back at Havana airport on 2 August when they told interior ministry police they had come to report on the situation concerning President Fidel Castro’s health. The officials said they did not have a press visa and made them leave on the flight they had arrived on. They said all journalists arriving with just a tourist visa would not be allowed in.

Guzmán said it would take up to three weeks to get a press visa and the journalists had decided to take a chance and see if they could get in on a tourist visa.

“The Cuban government, which is used to spying on the foreign press, has clamped down on access to the country,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “It is understandable that journalists should try to get in on tourist visas to do their job of reporting since it is so hard to get press visas. The present uncertain situation justifies the presence of the foreign media but the regime unfortunately seems to want to limit the number. But they must be allowed in.

“We are also concerned about independent journalists in the country who have been indirectly threatened by senior military officials and warned not to create confusion. We are also watching closely the treatment of the 23 journalists currently in prison in Cuba,” it said.

Other journalists, including reporters from the Washington Post and Miami Herald, were turned back at the airport. Juan Tamayo, the Herald’s chief of correspondents, said one of his paper’s journalists, who he did not name, had been put on a plane to Panama after presenting a tourist visa and saying he had come to work as a journalist.

Since the announcement of President Castro’s illness, Cuban embassies have refused to issue visas or not responded to journalists’ requests. The regime has only issued a few visas to foreign journalists in recent years and those working for media outlets considered “dangerous” to national stability are routinely refused entry. Dozens have been expelled from the country.

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