The Cuban government has denied freedom of the press for 45 years and continues to ignore international demands that it release the journalists who are in prison and respect the dignity of Cuban citizens. There has been no indication whatsoever that the Cuban regime is heeding or addressing the numerous calls from heads of state, internationally known figures, humanitarian and religious organizations, and professional organizations in relation to the 32 journalists sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 27 years, along with others who were imprisoned in March 2003. On April 26, two journalists who had been held without trial since March 2002 were finally tried by a court in Ciego de Ávila on charges of insulting Fidel Castro, insulting the police, and public disorder. Carlos Brizuela Yera of the Association of Independent Journalists of Camagüey was sentenced to three years in prison, while Léster Téllez Castro of Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña received a sentence of three years and six months. There was a surprising development in the case of Téllez Castro. The defendant admitted at trial to collaborating with State Security, but he said he regretted doing so and denounced the campaign orchestrated by the political police for the trial. Opposition activists described this turn of events as a fiasco for the government’s propaganda purposes. On June 8 Cuban authorities freed journalist Carlos Alberto Domínguez, 51, a member of the Cuba Verdad news agency. Domínguez had been held since February 23, 2002 for alleged civil disobedience, but was released without charges. He suffers from chronic migraine headaches. Also, special furloughs for humanitarian reasons were granted to Carmelo Díaz Fernández, 66 —the oldest of the arrested journalists— and Manuel Vázquez Portal, 53. Díaz Fernández has severe cardiovascular problems, while Vázquez Portal suffers from lung disease, hypertension, and nervous disorders. In both of these cases, the special furlough —based on Decree-Law 62 of 1987— requires them to serve their terms under house arrest, and their sentences have not been vacated. However, in the most serious case among those of the ailing journalists, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, 64, has not been granted a humanitarian furlough. After being held for months in a cell at the military hospital in Havana, in September he was sent to the medical ward of the Combinado del Este prison. The government has shown its intransigence in the case of poet and journalist Raúl Rivero, regional vice president of the IAPA Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information. His status as an imprisoned intellectual is the most widely recognized among the 75 opponents from what has been called the Cuban Spring. His case has been taken up in international campaigns, and his collections of poems and articles have been translated and published in several languages. Meanwhile, European cities have declared him to be under their protection and have even granted him advance political asylum. As a result of being locked up for 11 months in a dark, damp cell, the 59-year-old Rivero has been diagnosed with pneumonitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, with a marked tendency toward pulmonary emphysema. He has required treatment on several occasions in the prison in Canaleta, Ciego de Ávila, or in a nearby hospital. He has lost 80 pounds and has been subjected to harassment, shoving, and even beatings by the guards and others. This year he has been allowed only two conjugal visits. He has been prevented from getting married through the Catholic Church and from adopting a girl who has been raised at his home under the care of him and his wife, Blanca Reyes. The authorities also prevented Reyes from traveling to Belgrade last May to receive the 2004 UNESCO Press Freedom Award on Rivero’s behalf. In addition, correctional authorities recently threatened to file new charges against Rivero for alleged violations of prison rules and add another five years to his 20-year sentence. The reluctance of the Cuban regime to release Rivero, to grant him a humanitarian furlough for his poor state of health, or to transfer him to a prison closer to his home reflects high-level political considerations. Rivero has proven his ability to create civic poetry and journalism with a level of dedication, transparency and communication that has not been seen in other literary creations in Cuba during the last 30 years. For a writer of such caliber, his personal experience in prison will undoubtedly become a fertile source for his poems and articles and a devastating testimony about Cuban totalitarianism. Since April there have been more than ten acts of hostility and harassment against the imprisoned journalists. At the beginning of 2004, the Cuban government had begun to transfer the prisoners known as the “Group of 75” to correctional facilities in their home provinces or nearby, which at first might have been interpreted as a humanitarian initiative. However, this process ceased one month later, and twenty inmates —including ten journalists— were not transferred. Interestingly, most of the inmates who were not transferred are those whose wives, mothers and daughters have been the most actively involved in public protests and in issuing statements on the status of their family members through the movement known as “Ladies in White” (named for the color of their clothes). State Security seeks to prevent these women from attending their regular Sunday meetings at Santa Rita Church in Havana by scheduling family visits and phone calls at the very times during which these gatherings usually take place. One of the leaders of this movement, Laura Pollán, the wife of journalist Héctor Maseda, has been summoned six times this year by the head of the anti-crime unit of the National Housing Institute in Havana, under the threat of losing her home if she does not submit certain documents now required by that government agency. Her house, centrally located in Havana, has become a regular gathering spot for women with family members in jail. Wives from other parts of the country who come to Havana for jail visits are often housed there, and a literary tea party is periodically held to update one another on the prisoners’ status through letters, poems and testimonies sent from prison. Pollán is also leading a petition drive to request a general amnesty for the political prisoners. Also reported during the past six months were the following incidents: On May 7, Normando Hernández González, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence, was brutally beaten and dragged by State Security agents at the Kilo 5 ½ prison in Pinar del Río. After the beating, Hernández was placed in solitary confinement for more than 100 days. On August 11, Fabio Prieto Llorente, who is serving a 20-year sentence, declared another hunger strike to protest the conditions in which he is being held. The journalist was transferred to the Kilo 8 prison in Camagüey, where he was placed in a cell with common criminals. On September 1, journalist Víctor Rolando Arroyo, who is serving a 26-year sentence, suffered abuse at the hands of officers at the Guantánamo provincial prison. He was then placed in solitary confinement, where he was left for 15 days. On October 13, Juan Carlos Herrera, sentenced to 20 years in prison, was beaten by six guards at the Kilo 8 prison in Camagüey. Herrera had been demanding his rights inside the prison. He was handcuffed with his hands behind his back during the beating. Afterwards he had visible bruises on his cheeks, face, and the back of his head. This is the second time he has been physically abused since August, when he was beaten while being transferred from a prison with a lesser degree of security. The independent media movement has managed to maintain some 30 active reporters in Havana and other cities in Cuba, albeit under highly tenuous conditions. The major news agencies were dismantled after the repression campaign of March 2003, and centers of professional creativity are only beginning to be rebuilt. The homemade bulletins and magazines that had been produced and circulated in Cuba have not seen the light of day during the last year. Some succeed in defying the odds and getting their reports to Cubanet, Nueva Prensa Cubana, Encuentro en la Red and other websites that specialize in Cuban affairs, as well as Radio Martí and local radio stations in Miami. In September, eight journalists from the Agencia Cubana Independiente de Información and Prensa Lux Info Press announced that they would begin broadcasting a news program for the online media, with investigative reports by the group and other regular contributions from collaborators. Magazines such as Cubanet and Carta de Cuba, which consist of articles written by independent journalists, are now joined in their efforts by Enepecé, a monthly publication launched in May by the Nueva Prensa Cubana agency in Miami, with copies sent to be distributed and circulated inside Cuba. The warnings and retaliations by the police apparatus are unremitting. One method of repression currently in vogue is to force journalists to sign letters of commitment renouncing their work as journalists, under penalty of prosecution under the Law for the Protection of Cuban Independence and the Cuban Economy (Law 88), known as the “gag law” of 1999. ??? Jaime Leygonier, a journalist for the CubaPress agency, has been caught up in legal procedures with the Ministry of Education and the Cuban Supreme Court, demanding his right to custody over his youngest daughter. Due to Leygonier’s dissident views, his daughter’s elementary school has taken a position in the mother’s favor and has refused to acknowledge his parental authority, denying him access to the school premises and the opportunity to speak with his daughter. Other acts of repression reported during the last six months are as follows: On May 22, journalist María Elena Alpízar was arrested by police agents as she was heading to the Santa Rita Church in Havana to report on the gathering of the Women in White. The authorities proceeded to deport her to Placetas, her hometown, and assessed a 500-peso fine on an activist who offered her housing in Havana. On July 1, Gilberto Figueredo, a correspondent for the Lux-Info-Press agency in Havana, was stopped in public by police agents and forced into a police car. He was taken to a police station where he was interrogated about his activities as a dissident. After four hours in custody, a “warning notice” was drawn up for alleged violations of Law 88. Also in July, Héctor Riverón of the Libertad agency in Las Tunas and Jesús Álvarez Castillo, a CubaPress correspondent in Ciego de Ávila, were summoned by State Security in their respective provinces to submit copies of the articles they have sent abroad. They were warned that they could be prosecuted for disseminating “enemy propaganda.” On July 22, journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira was visited by a State Security agent at his home on the Isle of Youth. The agent ordered him to get on his motorcycle. He was taken to an isolated rural area several miles from his home, where the agent threatened to “shoot twice if he continued spreading lies” outside Cuba. On August 5, Isabel Rey of the CubaPress agency was summoned by State Security in the town of La Esperanza, Villa Clara. She was accused of “distributing enemy propaganda” and was forced to sign a document agreeing to quit her activity as journalist and stop sending reports for Miami radio, under penalty of prosecution. A similar summons was delivered on September 24 to Juan González González, managing editor of the Línea Sur Press agency, in Aguada de Pasajeros, Cienfuegos. An officer threatened to put him in jail and, after an hour-long interrogation, González was warned that he would surely be prosecuted if he continued sending reports to Radio Martí and other stations based in Miami. On September 2, the authorities stepped in at the last minute to prevent journalist María Elena Rodríguez from leaving Cuba. Rodríguez has a visa to immigrate with her 12-year-old son to the United States. Her son is gradually losing his eyesight due to medical negligence in Cuba, and will receive specialized treatment in a Miami children’s hospital. Journalist Bernardo Arévalo Padrón, 39, the founder of the Línea Sur Press agency in the province of Cienfuegos who served a six-year sentence for insulting Fidel Castro and Vice President Carlos Lage, was freed in November 2003 and soon thereafter obtained a visa as a political refugee to travel with his wife to the United States, where he planned to arrive on August 25. However, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana revoked the visas a few days prior to their scheduled travel date, without the right to appeal the case. In a letter dated July 6 and signed by an official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the journalist was informed that the Interests Section had received information on alleged acts of “political persecution” that he had committed against a Cuban citizen opposed to the regime. Arévalo maintains that the U.S. authorities have let themselves be carried away by “State Security canards” against him, damaging his reputation as a former prisoner of conscience. Certainly, the decision to revoke his visa is misguided if based on the fact that he was a sergeant in the Cuban Ministry of the Interior from 1987 to 1990, before breaking with the regime and joining the ranks of the opposition. Arévalo insists that he has never attempted to conceal that biographical detail. Arévalo is currently suffering from pulmonary emphysema and heart disease, and he is scheduled for an operation on his nasal septum after it was broken in a beating in jail. After the U.S. government revoked his visa, France also denied his request for a humanitarian visa. On August 21, the U.S. government started using an Air Force C-130 to broadcast the signals of Radio and TV Martí, stations created to inform the Cuban people. The transmissions, offered weekly for several hours, are broadcast from U.S. airspace and are intended to break through Cuba’s blockage of the stations’ signals. The Cuban government described this incident as part of “an escalation in the radio war against the Cuban people” and stated its complaint in a recent report to the United Nations General Assembly.