Reporters Without Borders appeals to Raúl Castro’s government for a show of magnanimity towards the organisation’s correspondent, Ricardo González Alfonso, and other imprisoned journalists in return for the European Union’s decision on 23 June to lift the political sanctions it had imposed Cuba. The Cuban government had made this a condition for restoring normal relations with the EU.
“There have been a few advances in freedom of expression and information since Raúl Castro took over as Council of State president on 24 February, with Cuban being given the right to buy their own computer equipment or enter tourist hotels that have better Internet connections,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The dialogue begun by the Spanish government undoubtedly contributed to this, just as it led to the release in February of independent journalist Alejandro González Raga and two other detainees from the 2003 ‘Black Spring’.”
The press freedom organisation added: “A similar gesture is now needed with the 23 other journalists who are still imprisoned, 19 of whom have been held since the March 2003 crackdown. The EU sanctions imposed after the crackdown, which were suspended in 2005, have now been definitively lifted. The Cuba government got its way, so there is no longer any excuse for sidestepping the call for an improvement in human rights and free expression.”
As well as being the Reporters Without Borders Cuba correspondent, González is the founder of the Manuel Márquez Sterling journalists’ association and the independent magazine De Cuba. He was arrested on 18 March 2003 and was given a 20-year prison sentence on the absurd charge of being a “mercenary” in the pay of the United States. He has been held in Havana’s Combinado del Este prison since the end of 2004.
Now aged 58, he suffers from high blood pressure and cervical arthritis, and has problems with his circulation and digestion. After a long spell in the prison hospital and a total of four operations in 2006 and 2007, he was returned to his cell on 27 January of this year, although he is still in very poor health.
His wife, Alida Viso Bello, told Reporters Without Borders on 23 June that for the past month he has not been getting the Captopril medicine that heart doctors prescribed for his high blood pressure, and that he is having a lot of arthritis attacks because he does not have an appropriate chair in his cell. Viso never got a reply to the request she submitted last February for him to be released on health grounds.
With a total of 23 journalists detained, Cuba continues to be the world’s biggest prison for the media after China. It is the western hemisphere’s only country that not does permit any form of media that is not under direct government control.