Journalism is still immobilized. For 46 years the government has maintained a monopoly on the news for purposes of propaganda. It rejects and represses independent expression and ignores international demands for the release of jailed journalists, many of whom are seriously ill. The big news is the release for humanitarian reasons of Raúl Rivero, regional vice president of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and recipient of the 2004 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. Rivero was granted provisional release November 30. Since then he has gradually resumed his professional activities and his work with IAPA. Unfortunately, it was not possible for him to attend this meeting despite requests to the Cuban authorities to allow him to leave the country temporarily. For several weeks Rivero has been trying to get permission to travel with his family to Spain to put in order the documents of his 11-year-old adopted daughter, but he is still waiting for the ?white card? that is required for Cubans to leave the country. Three other independent journalists were also granted provisional release for health reasons. They are: Oscar Espinosa Chepe, serving a 20-year sentence; Jorge Olivera, director of Havana Press agency, serving an 18-year sentence; and Edel José García, director of Centro Norte agency, serving a 15-year sentence. Espinosa Chepe, 64, has serious liver ailments; García, 59, has psychiatric problems and is losing his sight; Olivera, 43, has serious digestive problems and high blood pressure. Six of the independent journalists in what is called the Group of 75 have received provisional release for health reasons since the middle of 2004. The provisional release ( licencia extrapenal) , based on Decree-Law 62 of 1987, is not an amnesty or cancellation of the sentence. It requires that the sentence be served under house arrest and leaves open the possibility that the person who was released be sent back to jail if he or she resumes anti-government activities. Therefore, although the number of journalists in prison was down to 25 last October, 31 still have sentences of between three and 27 years. Most of them were detained during the wave of repression against the dissident movement in March of 2003. The only genuine release was that of Carlos Brizuela Yera of the Association of Independent Journalists of Camagüey, who was released on March 2 after serving a three-year prison sentence to the last day. He was arrested in March of 2002 and found guilty of insulting Fidel Castro, insulting the police, and public disorder in a trial in April of 2004. The most critical cases of ailing journalists who are still in jail are the following: - Adolfo Fernández Saínz, 56, in the Holguín Provincial Prison: prostatic hyperplasia, high blood pressure, chronic conjunctivitis, emphysema, a hiatal hernia and kidney cysts. He has lost 45 pounds in the past year. - Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, 60, Combinado del Este Prison, Havana : high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, arthritis in the upper back, lower back pain and depression. - Ricardo González Alfonso, 54, National Prisoners Hospital, Combinado del Este, Havana. He had a bladder operation and has a congenital heart murmur, adenopathy and a cyst on the throat. - Normando Hernández González, 35, prisoners' ward of the Provincial Hospital of Pinar del Río: intestinal malabsorption syndrome and parasitic cysts. Tuberculosis was ruled out although he had been exposed. He was not given an appropriate diet or boiled water, which are required for his stomach disorders. - Jorge Luis García Paneque, 39, National Prisoners Hospital , Havana , acute depression, renal colic, intestinal malabsorption and parasites. - José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, 45, prisoners ward of the Carlos J. Finlay Military Hospital , Havana : high blood pressure and circulatory disorders. - Mario Enrique Mayo, 40, Combinado del Este, Havana, high blood pressure, glaucoma in the left eye, emphysema, gastritis, prostate problems and pending hemorrhoid surgery. - Omar Ruiz Hernández, 57, Canaleta Prison, Ciego de Ávila: high blood pressure, widening of the aorta and a detached retina. - Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, 38, Kilo 8 Prison, Camagüey: high blood pressure, skin disorders (vitiligo), and loss of 30 pounds . His relatives report that he has been denied exposure to sunlight for the past six months. -Miguel Galban Gutiérrez, 40, Combinado del Este, Havana: digestive problems, a bone tumor (osteochondroma) and inflammation of the joints and extremities with chronic pain. He is physically handicapped (left arm) because of a traffic accident in 1998. Acts of harassment and cruelty against the imprisoned journalists continue, most of them committed by ordinary prisoners at the instigation of jail officials. Their cells are often searched to confiscate provisions and medicine provided by their families. Phone calls are limited and prisoners are confined to punishment cells. Family visits are allowed for two hours every three months and conjugal visits every five months, depending on the inmate's behavior. Family visits are usually limited to two people. Reprisals are extended to the prisoners' relatives in an effort to stop their activism. On January 26, Héctor Maseda, serving a 20-year sentence, was taken to an ?increased security? area in a prison in Santa Clara, Villaclara. The transfer of Maseda, 62, seems to be an attempt to neutralize his wife, Laura Pollán, whose home in Havana has become a headquarters for defending prisoners of conscience and their families. Pollán has been summoned several times by the National Housing Institute and threatened with losing the building. She has been warned by the political police to stop her public activities as leader of the movement known as ?Ladies in White.? Pollán headed a campaign to collect signatures requesting a general amnesty for prisoners of conscience. On February 18 she made history by leading an unprecedented march of 10 women in the streets of Havana from her home to the offices of the Council of State to hand in a letter with thousands of signatures requesting the prisoners' release. About 30 journalists are active with great difficulty, defying hostile conditions to survive. Since 28 journalists were detained during the wave of repression two years ago, the main news agencies and sites of professional creativity have not been rebuilt. Nor have the homemade newsletters and magazines that used to be published and distributed throughout the country. There is continuous police pressure on independent journalists. It is even difficult for them to find a telephone to transmit their reports abroad. There are different types of repression. On October 15 in Sibanicú, Camagüey, Marilyn Díaz Fernández was harassed in the street by two unknown persons who cornered her and insulted her, calling on passersby to join in, saying she was a ?defaming counterrevolutionary.? Later, the town's police chief told her that there might be changes in Cuba but neither she nor her husband would see them. Her husband is awaiting trial on political charges. On October 20, journalist Carlos Serpa Maseira, a resident of the town of La Demajagua , Island of Youth, was detained at his home, then taken to a police station to be interrogated. The police officers accused him of participating in ?counterrevolutionary activities? during a visit to Havana and issued a formal warning accusing him of being ?dangerous,? which precedes a possible charge. He did not sign it. It was learned on January 11 that authorities had threatened journalists Santiago DuBouchet, Jaime Leygonier, Luis Guerra Juvier, Estrella García and Carlos Ríos, that they would be arrested if they continued to report for the Web page of Nueva Prensa Cubana in Miami. On February 17, Iván García, sports reporter for Cuba Press agency and a contributor to the IAPA Web page and Encuentro en la Red , was summoned by the Havana political police who told him to ?stop writing or in the future you will regret it.? The police officers advised García that they would wait two or three months before taking other actions. They said that if he did not ?cooperate? he would not be giving a temporary exit permit to visit his mother, Tania Quintero, also a journalist who lives in exile in Switzerland. A significant number of independent journalists, including those recently released, are planning to leave the country for good. Claudia Márquez, former editor of the magazine De Cuba ; Manuel Vázquez Portal, of the Decoro Work Group; Edel José García, Jorge Olivera, María Elena Rodríguez and Jesús Álvarez Castillo are in the final stages of obtaining permission to emigrate. Emigration for reasons of health or family reunification is a life saver at a time when there is no indication of the possibility for an independent creative option and the regime is resorting to state centralization, iron ideological control and totalitarian limits on communications technology. In fact, the independent press is currently splintered. It supports itself thanks to isolated efforts to confront the difficulties and the police threats to prosecute it under the Law for the Protection of Cuban Independence and the Cuban Economy (Law 88), known as the ?gag law? of 1999. Independent journalists manage to send texts or recordings by telephone to Cubanet, Nueva Prensa Cubana, Carta de Cuba, Encuentro de la Red , and other Internet sites about Cuba. Their reports also are broadcast by Radio Martí and Miami radio stations. Their activity is precarious and irregular and they are prevented from working on the national level. The energy of the movement that flourished after 1995 is lacking. The only resonance this journalism has inside Cuba is in magazines like Cubanet, Enepecé and Carta de Cuba , which carry texts by independent journalists. Copies are distributed secretly on the island. Although it is not a project of independent journalists, it is worth mentioning that the first issue of Consenso , a bimonthly magazine sponsored by organizations of moderate dissidents, was published at the end of December. The magazine is available on the Internet, but editions on paper cannot be distributed legally in Cuba. The government's most recent propaganda campaign began at Christmastime when the ?war of billboards? was unleashed against the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The government put up giant billboards in front of the diplomatic site showing photographs of the unjust treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. This was a response to a large lighted sign put up inside the Interests Section with the number 75, referring to the number of dissidents arrested in March 2003. The ideological battle against the Interests Section recently included a series of cartoons on state television making fun of the head of the mission, James Cason. A strategic alliance has been formed with Venezuelan government media outlets. In February the first issue of Patria Grande , a magazine of ?double nationality? created as a ?symbol of brotherhood between Cuba and Venezuela,? was presented near the Interests Section in Havana. According to its publishers, the magazine will ?combat the loathsome power of the media? and praise ?the desire to protest privatization of nature, poverty, changes in life and the looting caused by neo-liberal globalization imposed by imperialism.? The efforts of Bernardo Arévalo Padrón (Linea Sur Press) to emigrate after serving a six-year sentence for insulting Fidel Castro are still being blocked. Both the United States and France refused to admit him as a political refugee last year, apparently because of his earlier ties to the Cuban Interior Ministry.