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Cuba1 March 2002

Two Reuters journalists beaten by police

Reporters Without Borders (RSF, Reporters sans frontières) protested to the Cuban government today about the police beating of two journalists of Reuters news agency, local correspondent Andrew Cawthorne and cameraman Alfredo Tedeschi. "The people who did this must be identified and punished so that this behaviour, of unprecedented violence in Cuba, is not repeated," said RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Cuban interior minister Gen. Abelardo Colomé Ibarra. He called on the minister make every effort to see that Tedeschi’s camera, which "vanished" during the incident, was returned to the agency.

The two journalists were attacked by police on 27 February while covering the invasion of the Mexican embassy by about 20 Cubans who smashed their way through the gates of the compound in a stolen bus. Tedeschi was badly beaten while on the ground by baton-wielding police and his camera was seized. Cawthorne was hit on the arm and on the back. Police also roughly pushed away dozens of onlookers and then blocked off approaches to the embassy.

The two Reuters journalists were the only foreign newsmen to have witnessed the episode. Other pictures were taken by the agency soon afterwards, but Cuban officials prevented their transmission by satellite for nearly than six hours. Other journalists who arrived on the scene were roughly chased away by police who cursed them as "sons of bitches." The invasion of the embassy came after remarks by Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda at the opening the previous day of a new Mexican Cultural Institute in Miami. He said that "the doors of the embassy and the doors of Mexico... will be open to any Cuban citizen or to any Latin American citizen."

The remarks were broadcast by Radio Martí, a station funded by the US Congress and beamed at Cuba. On 28 February, Castañeda said his words had been "misinterpreted." The Mexican foreign ministry said the 21 people in the embassy grounds were "unemployed people who had economic motives."

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