The outlook for journalism in Cuba is still characterized by ever more deplorable threats to the free exercise of the profession, democratic values and human dignity. After the wave of repression a year ago during which 28 independent journalists were sentenced to between 14 and 27 years in maximum security prisons far from their homes and families, it seemed impossible to imagine a worse scenario for Cuba. Nevertheless, the government of Fidel Castro resists any sane future: Jailed journalists and their families, and those who still try to carry out their mission of news gathering or to gain access to communications technology to challenge state control, have demonstrated in recent months that the regime’s repressive measures are limitless and heart-breaking . The only step forward was the release of Bernardo Arévalo Padrón on November 13. Arévalo Padrón, founder of the former Línea Sur agency in Cienfuegos province, served every day of his six-year sentence at hard labor on charges of contempt against President Fidel Castro and Vice President Carlos Lage in 1997. Even so, Cuba holds the record as the largest jail for journalists in the world, doubling the number detained in the closest competitors in this infamous category: Burma (15), Eritrea (14) and Nepal (13). Deaf to international appeals by chiefs of state and government, political parties and humanitarian, professional and religious organizations, the Cuban regime currently has 32 journalists jailed in squalid conditions, with terrible food and insufficient medical care. They are subjected to isolation, prohibition of visits and severe punishment when they choose to fast or disobey jail rules to protest their mistreatment. Three of these prisoners have been awaiting trial for more than two years in blatant violation of their rights: ? Carlos Alberto Domínguez (Agencia Cuba Verdad). Jailed in Prisión de Valle Grande, Havana, since February 23, 2002. ? Léster Téllez Castro (Agencia de Prensa Libre Avileña). Jailed in Canaleta Prison, Ciego de Ávila, since March 4, 2002. ? Carlos Brizuela Yera (Independent Journalists Colegio of Camagüey). Jailed in the Provincial Prison of Holguín since March 4, 2002. Many of them share cells with highly dangerous or mentally ill common criminals whom the guards frequently use to harass them. All appeals to the Supreme Court have been denied as was a petition by relatives to the Cuban Council of State for special release of political prisoners on humanitarian grounds, based on Decree Law 62 of 1987. The authorities have remained silent about this request for special release, which would include several sick and elderly journalists, despite the fact that the law requires a response within 60 days. Six of them are currently hospitalized in prison clinics or provincial hospitals. The most serious case is that of Oscar Espinosa Chepe, 63, whom doctors at the Military Hospital in Havana diagnosed with malignant tumors last month. The diagnosis was sent to the inmate after two CAT scans. Relatives have denounced the physical and psychological torture Espinosa Chepe has been subjected to. He suffers from cirrhosis of the liver, colon polyps, high blood pressure and sinusitis. The prisoner, who is serving a 20-year sentence, is being held incommunicado in a hospital cell that does not provide even the minimum conditions for care of a gravely ill person. Another prisoner with serious health problems is Carmelo Díaz Fernández, 66, the oldest of the jailed journalists, who has cardiovascular problems. After he suffered six months of hypertension and circulatory problems, the authorities agreed to a cardiology examination, which found an anomaly in the left ventricle requiring surgery. Díaz was in Guanajay prison and now is in the hospital of Combinado del Este in Havana. Edel José García, 58, who has no vision in his left eye and injuries in the right, as well as psychiatric problems, had emergency surgery November 20 after a hemorrhoid attack. García has been moved from the Provincial Prison of Santiago de Cuba to the hospital at Combinado del Este. Others who are sick are Raúl Rivero, with high blood pressure and liver and circulatory problems; Jorge Olivera, with a hiatal hernia and severe digestive disorders (hospitalized); Julio César Gálvez, gall stones and hypertension (hospitalized); Jorge Luis García Paneque, psychiatric disorders (hospitalized); Miguel Galván Gutiérrez, physically disabled with liver and stomach problems; Normando Hernández González, with hypertension; Ricardo González Alfonso with adenopathy and a throat cyst, awaiting surgery; Víctor Rolando Arroyo, with liver disorders; and Carlos Brizuela Yera, with gastric problems. The inhuman prison conditions and lack of medical care continue to cause protest demonstrations and insubordination among the prisoners. In most cases, the jailers´ reprisals have been violent, according to reports obtained by relatives. On October 18 journalists Iván Hernández Carrillo, Mario Enrique Mayo and Adolfo Fernández Saínz, along with four other prisoners of conscience held in the Provincial Prison of Holguín, held a hunger strike to demand medical care and better food. The protest lasted almost 20 days and included wives and mothers who traveled from other provinces. In reprisal for his behavior, Mayo was separated from the group and sent to Mar Verde prison in Santiago de Cuba. On December 6, Adolfo Fernández Saínz was brutally beaten by a trusty. The journalist had protested an attack on another inmate in his cell and was warned that he could not complain because it was not allowed. When he insisted, he was beaten unconscious. The jailers had to take him to the infirmary for treatment of an eye injury. The attacker was not called to account for this unjustified attack. As the time of this report, Hernández Carrillo and Fernández Saínz were continuing another hunger strike, which began February 25 to protest the conditions of detention and attacks by jailers and other inmates. On December 8, Ricardo González Alfonso began a hunger strike in Kilo 8 Prison in Camagüey to protest being sent to cells with dangerous common criminals, including convicted murderers. As punishment, he was transferred on December 14 to a partially walled-in cell with very little light. Also in December, Normando Hernández González was transferred to a punishment cell in Kilo 5 ½ Prison in Pinar del Río for refusing to wear the prison uniform. He shared the cell with highly dangerous common criminals, a strategy the authorities used to frighten and upset him. On December 31, Víctor Rolando Arroyo was savagely beaten by three jailers in the Provincial Prison of Guantánamo. Arroyo was taken out of Outpost 4B and forcibly taken to a room where he was beaten by three military men. The beating was a reprisal for the prisoner’s repeated protests against his placement in a prison outpost where 235 common criminals are crowded together in deplorable hygienic conditions. In recent weeks, some relatives have reported a relative change of attitude toward prisoners of the “Cuban Spring.” Since the middle of February, some have been transferred to jails closer to their homes and several of them are getting medical exams. In certain cases the number of visits and telephone calls has increased as well as the amount of food, medicine and hygiene products permitted. Rather than being a common sense approach to the physical and spiritual deterioration of the inmates, the official motive seems to be an attempt to mitigate the growing number of petitions for amnesty and international criticism of treatment of prisoners of conscience on the eve of sessions of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. At the same time, there has been an implacable onslaught on the approximately 30 representatives of the independent press who are still active throughout the country. Using threats, searches of homes, temporary detentions, tapping of telephones and even violent attacks in the street, the police are intent on liquidating the centers of free professional creativity that survive in towns and cities. Although the main news agencies were disbanded and their leaders jailed during last year’s wave of repression, the work of independent professionals on the island is sustained thanks to the efforts of individuals who send reports to Radio Martí, Cubanet and Nueva Prensa Cubana in Miami. Given the impossibility of publishing alternative magazines and bulletins on the island, Cubanet began to publish a bimonthly, 48-page magazine in October with texts by independent journalists. Four editions have been published and Cubanet has sent a thousand copies of each to be distributed in Cuba. Independent journalists forced into exile created an online weekly in Miami in December. The goal of the weekly, A Fondo (, is to promote illuminating, truthful investigative journalism about conditions in Cuba. The independent press, beaten, persecuted and without the energy of earlier years, carries on against all odds, with the decisive force of women in the movement. The contribution of women has been a pillar in this difficult period, from young Sally Navarro, 18, who began to send reports after her father’s arrest last year, to Haydee Rodríguez, the oldest at 76. The most well-known woman is Claudia Márquez, vice president of the Manuel Márquez Sterling Journalists Society and member of the editorial board of the bimonthly magazine De Cuba. Despite shortages of material and police warnings, Claudia and her colleague Tania Quintero, who now lives in exile in Switzerland, managed to distribute in September, 400 homemade copies of a third edition of De Cuba with reports about 75 opposition figures arrested in last year’s wave of repression. De Cuba, edited by Ricardo González Alfonso with the advice of Raúl Rivero, first came out in December of 2002 with the goal of opening an alternate source of information of readers on the island. The magazine was one of the “proofs” used by prosecutors in the summary trials of independent journalists last April. In addition to publishing De Cuba secretly, Claudia Márquez began to publish her incisive articles about daily life and the inconsistencies of the Cuban government in renowned U.S. publications such as the San Antonio Express-News, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. When an article by her appeared in The New York Times (“Free Trade Won’t Free Cuba,” November 6, 2003, p. A31), it removed all doubts about the legitimacy of free journalism on the island. The political police reacted quickly, attacking the 26-year-old journalist’s “soft spot,” her youngest son from her marriage to dissident Osvaldo Alfonso, who is serving an 18-year prison sentence. The policy of police harassment sometimes has fatal consequences. Warned that he might be jailed because of his journalistic work, Omar Darío Pérez Hernández, correspondent of Nueva Prensa in Camagüey, decided on December 7 to leave the country with four others in a boat that left Santa Cruz del Sur. The five passengers are still missing. Other recent acts of repression follow: On October 29, Abel Escobar Ramírez, correspondent of CubaPress in Morón, Ciego de Avila was arrested. He was released after 72 hours with a warning and signed a pledge not to continue his journalistic work. On November 1, Adela Soto was summoned by the political police of Pinar del Río. She was accused of planning to leave the country illegally and continuing her independent professional activities. She was also prohibited from attending a literary gathering on February 22 in a cultural institution. On November 26, Maidelín Guerra, wife of imprisoned journalist Mario Enrique Mayo, was interrogated, searched and threatened in Camagüey. Guerra has been harassed and received several warnings not to continue independent journalism. On December 10, Jesús Álvarez del Castillo, a reporter for CubaPress, was prevented from visiting his nephew in a jail in Ciego de Avila. The prison officials did not allow him to participate in a family visit because of his “illegal acts with the independent press.” On January 28, police searched the home of journalist José A. Reiner in Santiago de Cuba. They confiscated a recorder and a radio and threatened him with a possible trial for his “illegal activities” as correspondent of La Voz de Oriente. On February 16, State Security agents visited Carlos Ruiz Otero of Havana Press agency in his home in Havana and accused him of alerting foreign journalists about a court hearing concerning human rights activists. On February 20, María Elena Alpízar was attacked in the street in Placetas, Villa Clara. Alpízar was on her way to report a police raid when a car carrying police officers hit her in the presence of witnesses. She was detained for several hours and fined 30 pesos. Urbano Fidel Lorenzo, a reporter for CubaPress, reported that authorities of Cabaiguán, Sancti Spiritus, constantly interrupt his home telephone service to block his journalistic reports. A similar restriction limits the activities of Juan Carlos Garcel, in Moa, Holguín. The government’s excesses do not just affect independent journalists, but also threaten any alternative source of information for citizens outside official control. The most recent barrier erected by state censorship is Resolution 120 of the Computer and Communications Ministry dated December 31, 2003. The ministerial decree is the latest limit on the already restricted access Cubans have to the Internet. The new rules, which went into effect in January, prohibit access to the Web through the state telephone system, which most ordinary Cubans have in their homes. It only permits access to “those who for social necessity and with limited character are authorized by agencies of the central government and national institutions.” As a result access was denied to hundred of Cubans who had been able to access the Internet without government permission, using computers and Internet accounts that were borrowed or acquired on the black market at prices up to $50. From now on, it will only be possible to connect to the Internet from a telephone account paid in dollars or using a card paid for in hard currency that can be obtained in post offices. The resolution warns that technical measures will be used to detect and prevent access to the Internet from unauthorized lines. In fact, a Cuban citizen cannot obtain a telephone account in dollars for his home. The service is only available to foreigners. In post offices and most cyber cafes in the country, Cubans can send and receive e-mail and access an Intranet for official Cuban sites, a system imposed in countries like China. The government says there are more than 480,000 electronic accounts, with only 98,000 with access to the Internet that are reserved for state agencies. There are very few places where an ordinary Cuban can connect to the Web without prohibitive restrictions at an hourly price of $5, which is the equivalent of 75% of the average monthly salary. The escalation of prohibitions continues with a ban on the “indiscriminate use of e-mail” via free services such as and international “chat” for those who have permission to access the Internet inside the country. All Cuban Web sites must have their servers on the island. This “battle of technology” to regulate use of the Internet contrasts with Havana’s rhetoric at the recent World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva. Representatives of the Cuban regime fought to “reduce the differences between industrialized countries and the Third World in computers and communication, including the digital divide.” It demanded that “a new world information order” not be delayed. In their eagerness to discredit domestic dissidents outside the country, official journalists who wrote the books Los Disidentes and El Camaján have made several tours of Latin America and Europe to promote their conspiracy theories about opposition figures and independent journalism. At the same time the Cuban government finances new printings of the books. One of the “attractions” of the XIII Book Fair of Havana at the beginning of the year was the relaunching of Los Disidentes with the appearance of Manuel David Orrio, one of the State Security agents who infiltrated the independent press movement. The informer who became a government star was there to sign books and share his experiences with the public.