This morning around a dozen members of the support committee of journalist and poet Raúl Rivero handed out postcards and books, some of which are banned in Cuba, to French tourists leaving for Havana from Charles de Gaulle airport at Roissy, north of Paris.
One year after a wave of repression in Cuba during which 75 dissidents were arrested, the Raúl Rivero support committee decided to try to make French tourists aware of human rights abuses on the island.
Activists handed the books to the tourists so that they can give them to Cubans in the street or to the "independent libraries". The campaign, launched by the human rights organisation Pax Christi-Hollande (www.networkforcuba.org), was due to be replicated simultaneously in several European countries. Around 800,000 Europeans, 120,000 of them French take their holidays in Cuba each year.
Among the books handed out were Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, Justice by Francisco de Vitoria and Reflections on Truth and Reflections on non-violence by Gandhi.
Post cards designed by Reporters Wihout Borders were also handed out to travellers. The cards picture a young woman on a beach wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Cuba Si, Castro No" and with the following caption:
"Are you tempted by Cuba for your holidays, by its dreamy beaches and its
Watch out! Except in picture postcards, the Cuban sun
doesn’t shine for everyone. The Castro regime arrested some 80
journalists, dissidents and human rights activists in March 2003 and gave
them long prison sentences. For daring to talk about democracy in their
country, some of them are going to spend up to 28 years in prison...
Wise up to where you’re going"
The Raúl Rivero support committee was launched on 29 September 2003 by Reporters Without Borders and the organisation Sin Visa. It is chaired by writer Jorge Semprun and has more than 150 members including celebrities such as french actresses Catherine Deneuve and Sophie Marceau and spanish film director Pedro Almodovar.
More than 300 political prisoners
The government of Fidel Castro on 18 March 2003 launched a roundup of dissidents throughout the country. Seventy-five dissidents, accused of subversive activities, were tried and sentenced to prison terms of up to 28 years. Among them were 27 independent journalists of whom the most prominent was journalist and poet Raúl Rivero. Their crime: to think differently to the government. In total there are more than 300 political prisoners in Cuba.
One year on, Havana is showing no sign of softening its line. On the contrary, shortly after they were sentenced all the dissidents were transferred to remote prisons, often several hundred kilometres from their homes. Most of them have spoken out against particularly appalling prison conditions. Despite international protest, Raúl Rivero is still behind bars.
In Cuba, the Constitution allows only the official press to operate. It also lays down that none of its citizens recognised freedoms "can be used contrary to the existence and the objectives of the socialist state, nor against the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism."
Raúl Rivero: journalist and poet
A former journalist with the official press, born in November 1945, Rivero broke with the regime in 1991. In 1995, he set up the independent press agency Cuba Press. He was arrested on 20 March 2003 at his home in Peñalver Street, Havana. Key figure of the independent press, he was tried on 4 April with his friend Ricardo González Alfonso, correspondent for Reporters Without Borders. The two men were sentenced to 20 years in prison for "actions against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the state". "I do not plot, I write," the journalist said in his defence. Since 28 April 2003, he has been held in Canaleta, Prison near Ciego de Avila, more than 400 kilometres from his home. In a country where transport is expensive and time-consuming, the transfer seems like a second sentence to his wife, Blanca Reyes, who is fighting for his release. Rivero is also an internationally-known poet.