Attacks, arrests, confiscation and theft
Since the beginning of the year at least two journalists have been attacked by unidentified assailants. On 17 January in Havana, Mary Miranda from the agency Cuba Press lost consciousness after being hit violently. On 13 May Santiago Dubuchet, from the agency Habana Press, was hit on the head in a park in Artemisa. The six people who immediately gathered around him insulted him.
"Acts of repudiation" have been reported less frequently since early 1999. On the other hand, the police try more and more often to prevent independent journalists from covering "sensitive" events. Reporters are either arrested (about 15 of these detentions, which sometimes last several days, have been reported since the beginning of 2000) or are placed under house arrest. On 21 July 2000, for example, the day of the trial (set the day before) of two opponents in Santiago, Luis Alberto Rivera Leyva, director of the APLO (Agencia de prensa libre oriental) was arrested at his home and released only after the hearing. Seats available for the public in the courtroom were filled early by members of the communist party or plainclothes police officers. Independent journalists in Santiago who had escaped arrest or house arrest were unable to follow the proceedings since the courtroom was full.
When these arrests take place the accused are systematically threatened and their equipment is often confiscated. In Cuba it is now possible to buy a fax machine or computer, payable in dollars. It is, however, impossible to find photocopying equipment or printers. People who have the means - in dollars - use their contacts in embassies or foreign firms to acquire such equipment.
Seizures sometimes take place in different forms. On 31 January the home of journalist Juan González Febles was "burgled" by unidentified persons who stole his tape recorder, recordings and several articles. On Wednesday 9 August 2000 at 9.30 p.m. a couple who introduced themselves as employees of Cuba Press to the owner of the agency premises, stole all the documents collected by the agency (archives, national and foreign newspapers and magazines, dictionaries, books, books on journalism published by the Spanish daily El País, lessons in journalism in Spanish by the Florida International University, etc.). After the owner of the premises, a victim of police pressure, had asked the agency to move, agency staff had packed this documentation into boxes in order to move it to new premises in another neighbourhood.
Attempts to discredit and pressure on families
30 independent journalists suddenly became known in Cuba on 1 November 1999 just before the Ibero American Summit in Havana, when President Fidel Castro cited the name of each of them on two national television channels. They were ridiculed and accused of visiting the US Section of interests in the capital on the occasion of an evening farewell reception organised for the director. During a TV broadcast five months later, on 22 April 2000, journalists Raúl Rivero (director of the agency Cuba Press who, along with other dissidents, had been received during the summit by the heads of the Spanish and Portuguese governments), Tania Quintero, Manuel David Orrio, Lucas Garve, Jesús Zuñiga and Vicente Escobal were accused of being "counter-revolutionary leaders". Their names were published three days later by Jeventud Rebelde.
These attempts to discredit are sometimes successful. "You are a dead man as far as I’m concerned, you don’t exist anymore", said the uncle of Oswaldo de Céspedes (assistant manager of the agency CPI) to his nephew after the President cited his name on television. By contrast, other journalists’ neighbours, family and colleagues have found ingenious ways of protecting them from surveillance by the police or by delegates of the famous Committee for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR) present on every block in every neighbourhood and responsible, among other things, for informing.
The families or friends of journalists are also victims of reprisals. Countless spouses, brothers or sisters of these "counter-revolutionaries" have lost their jobs because they refused to condemn or inform on the "culprits", and parents or children have likewise been harassed. "All those who have links with an ’anti-social’ person are victims of one or other form of reprisal until they cut all ties and state so publicly", commented Jorge Olivera Castillo, former editor of the Cuban television news and current director of the agency Habana Press, and Marvin Hernández (Cuba Press), whose families are harassed intensively. On Mothers’ Day, Raúl Rivero’s brother, who lives in Canada, was refused entry into Cuba. He was allowed to see his 80-year-old mother for only one hour at Havana airport and was unable to give her the medicines and gifts he had brought her.
Several journalists have denounced recent police attempts to "turn round" or divide independent journalists. On 15 July 2000 Ricardo González, RSF correspondent, was detained for six hours. During that time police tried to persuade him to collaborate with them, making libellous statements about Raúl Rivero in their attempts to convince him.
Access to the Internet and to all professional training prohibited
The authorities publicly accuse independent journalists of "having no training", yet they prevent those who want training ("Western style") from receiving lessons or books, by confiscating their post. Independent journalists are regularly deprived of phone lines (which are tapped anyway), as are their parents or friends whose telephones they use to transmit their articles (on an international line that has to be requested via an operator). These journalists therefore have just as little access to the net as other citizens without particular privileges.
The only two servers on the island are CENIAI, a branch of the Cuban science and technology ministry, and Infocom, run by the Italian-Cuban company ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba). Applicants must have a valid reason, in the authorities’ eyes, to request access. Individual persons have to go to the ministry themselves. If the application is approved, they sign a contract with restrictive clauses. Thus, use of the Internet "that violates moral principles of Cuban society or the laws of the country" is prohibited. Electronic exchange must not "undermine national security".
Senior government officials, a few researchers or specialists (watched by their superiors when they surf on the Net at work) and foreign firms represented in Cuba have total access to the Web. Everyone else, including exporting Cuban firms, have to make do with e-mail only. An e-mail address black market exists on a small scale, for the few Cuban citizens who have a personal computer. In all cases users strongly suspect that e-mail messages are read by the secret services since messages from abroad arrive several hours after being sent or not at all.
Rates are complicated. Registration fees vary between 60 and 450 dollars, and monthly rates range from 40 to 80 dollars for the non-commercial sector, according to various criteria.
The first cybercafé has just opened in the centre of Havana (in the Capitolio, the former parliament). For three dollars per half hour one can surf the Web or send e-mail messages on one of the six available computers but this service is reserved essentially for foreign tourists. It is hardly likely that independent journalists, who are refused access to the national library or archives, would be welcome.
Finally, the authorities question the rules of conduct of news agencies. Since 1995 most of them have adopted statutes defining such rules and, in many cases, excluding membership of a political party or dissident organisation. On 29 August 2000 three Swedish journalists were arrested after running a seminar the day before on the working context of the Swedish press and journalistic ethics, attended by about twenty independent journalists. Birger Thureson, Peter Götell and Elena Söderquist were expelled as persona non grata after spending three days in the immigration services detention centre. The authorities accused them of "encouraging subversive actions and contributing to desperate efforts from the United States to encourage subversion in Cuba". "We hope that nobody is under the illusion that such activities will be tolerated", concluded Felipe Pérez Roque, the Cuban Foreign affairs minister.
Survive in fear or go into exile
On an island where the state is the only employer, independent journalists, paid very little by the sites that host their articles and never paid for their contributions to US radio stations, rely, like many Cubans, on money sent from their families in exile. The Cuban authorities, which have always preferred dissidents to leave the country (without the possibility of returning), subject them to intense pressure to go into exile. Some unrelentingly refuse. Others, tired of the pressure, especially when it affects their families, ask for a visa, most often to the United States but also to European or Latin American countries. Not all of them obtain one.
Fourteen independent journalists went into exile in 1999 and 19 have done so since the beginning of 2000. Between 1993 and 1998 the total was only 17, according to information collected by RSF. Agency managers dismiss the idea that there is a large number of "opportunists" who pretend to be "independent journalists" for the purpose of gaining "easy access" to exile. Instead, they incriminate police harassment, the low income of independent journalists in Cuba and the scant hope on the island of a better life, including professionally.
Conclusion and recommendations
Cuba is currently the only Latin American country where the government, by decreeing that press freedom must "be consistent with the goals of socialist society", totally controls information available to the people. It is also the only country in the region in which journalists are jailed.
To maintain that state of affairs the authorities rely on repression and social isolation of independent journalists. The repressive arsenal set up by the government is varied: from confiscation of equipment and other impediments to journalists’ work, to their arrest and sentencing to heavy jail sentences. The state security Department is the main executor of this policy aimed at leaving these journalists no alternative other than prison or exile.
Deprived of a job, closely watched by the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, accused by the official media of being "mercenaries for the American empire", independent journalists remain unknown to a large section of the population whereas abroad they are celebrated. However, their increasing numbers, the proliferation of Internet sites publishing their articles and their recognition at the Ibero American Summit in Havana, show that they have earned a place thanks to international mobilisation.
RSF urges the Cuban authorities to:
Recognise freedom of the press and of expression without any restriction, and to have news agencies legalised by the justice ministry;
Release the three jailed journalists, withdraw charges against journalists and put an end to their arrests;
Repeal the articles of the 88 Law that limit freedom. The organisation notes that in a document dated 18 January 2000, the United Nations special rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression affirmed that "imprisonment as punishment for the peaceful expression of an opinion constitues a serious violation of human rights";
End harassment and attempts to intimidate independent journalists;
Sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
RSF urges the members of the European Union and ACP (Africa, Carribean and Pacific) countries to:
Persuade the Cuban authorities to legalise news agencies following the new UE-ACP agreement signed on 23 June 2000 in Cotonou (Benin) which provides for greater participation by civil society;
Intervene with the Cuban authorities to secure the release of the three jailed journalists.
RSF also recommends that the press in democratic countries:
Collaborate with independent journalists by publishing their chronicles and articles. Apart from financial support, such cooperation is a form of recognition of their work and helps to break the isolation in which they are confined.