Reunión de Medio Año

Puebla, México

8 al 11 de marzo del 2013

For the first time in half a century, a resident of the island is reading this report on the state of freedom of the press in Cuba before an assembly of the Inter American Press Assocition in full light of day, a happening without precedent. For this reason, the first words of this document are intended to make clear before the IAPA the gratefulness of the independent journalists and bloggers for your defense of freedom of the press and expression in the hemisphere, and in particular, for your support for our struggle within Cuba. The exceptionality of this occurrence must not make us lose sight of the fact that the Cuban government continues acting arbitrarily and reserves the right to deny certain citizens the ability to leave the island. With the migratory reform recently put in place, some persons—former political prisoners Ángel Moya Acosta and José Daniel Ferrer García, and the director of Independent Libraries Gisela Sablón—have been denied the right to free movement, consecrated in the Declaration on Human Rights. Repression against personal liberties and those of the press and expression has been constant in this period, although greater in reach and intensity. There is a single independent journalist incarcerated, Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who has been jailed since September 2012, still without trial. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience, incarcerated for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. The journalist from the news agency Hablemos Press was investigating denunciations that medications provided by the World Health Organization to fight the epidemic of Cholera were being held in the Havana airport, since the authorities deny the existence of the disease. By requesting the freedom of Calixto Martínez, AI insisted that the “Cuban state maintains a total monopoly on all communications media in the country, including television, radio, the press, Internet providers, and other electronic communications media.” The award-winning writer and blogger Ángel Santiesteban, Casa de las Americas Prize, 2006, has just entered the Valle Grande prison to serve a five-year sentence for supposed common crimes. The independent press has denounced irregularities in the judicial process and has demanded his release. The most revealing thing at this stage is, on one hand, migratory reform, and with it, the possibility that various opponents and independent journalists may leave the island and return; and on the other, the announcement of the retirement of leader Raúl Castro and the apparent passage of power on to younger persons. Although prepared for the media, the reform is a positive sign that, in terms of communication with the exterior, we are permitted to make known first hand the situation of the country. We trust that, in the future, we can also do the same freely for Cubans on the island. Surely concerned about the impact of the free word, the government has put into operation in recent days a machine of disinformation and discredit and has mobilized ambassadors and consuls. The promise of the retirement of Raul Castro has been received by the population with a mixture of hope, resignation, and skepticism. The first is because without the Castros it is hoped that the country can build a new destiny; the second, because there are still another five years ahead before the longed-for departure will take place; and third, because no one knows for certain whether the other points will come about. In the short term, the most important thing are the political changes which would guarantee those liberties existing in today’s world; such changes are not on the agenda of candidates for retirement or their successors. The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported that in January there at least 364 cases of arbitrary detentions for political reasons. But already in February there have been 504 detentions. During 2012 politically motivated arrests reached an average of 550 cases per month. In this type of “low intensity” repression that lasts for hours or days, the political police resort to physical violence and threats. The same Commission manifested its concern over the increase in so-called acts of repudiation against opponents, in the style of Nazi “pograms.” On November 9, 2012 the IAPA sent a missive to Cuban leader Raul Castro complaining of the arrest of Yoani Sánchez and other opponents, detained for seeking information at a police station on the luck of other incarcerated persons; it celebrated their release and demanded respect for their physical integrity and that of their families. The day before, the IAPA had designated Yoani Sánchez as regional vice president for Cuba on the Freedom of the Press Committee. Among the detained was Antonio G. Rodiles, director of the Estado de Sats, an independent debate forum. Opponents inside and outside of Cuba carry out a campaign to demand the immediate release of Antonio G. Rodiles. The Cuban police freed him nineteen days after his arrest. Around that time, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights authorized precautionary measures for Yoani Sánchez, who revealed that she was in a situation of risk after having put several publications on the Internet about the human rights situation on the island. The IACHR asked that Havana adopt “the necessary measures to guarantee the life and physical integrity” of Sánchez and her family. At the end of November, the IAPA repudiated the arbitrary arrest of independent journalist Roberto de Jesús Guerra, director of the news agency Hablemos Press. Guerra was arrested violently by security agents dressed in street clothes. After several hours, he was let go. In December the organization Reporters Without Borders in its annual report indicated that the repression against bloggers and dissident journalists had once again intensified in the year 2011. In January 2013 Freedom House condemned the decision of the countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to grant Cuba the presidency of the organization. According to the organization, that constitutes a violation of the principles and values of the Declaration of Caracas, which promotes human rights and democracy. In the same vein, Reporters Without Borders asked that Cubans might finally enjoy the advances of the Internet through access to the facilities that were brought by the fiber optic submarine cable ALBA-1. The same month, the government announced that the submarine cable had been operative since the previous year, although there had been no automatic increase in the “possibilities of access.” As is known, on the island it is not permitted for Cubans to have a connection form their homes except in very few cases. In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced that Cuba remains the most repressive country in Latin America. “Cuba continues being the only country of Latin America where almost all forms of political dissent are repressed,” the report indicated, which accused the government of Raul Castro of recurring to “arbitrary detentions for brief periods, physical assaults, acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile.” Independent bloggers, both inside and outside the island, continue consolidating their prestige as trustworthy sources of information. A proof of that is the welcome that has been received in Europe by Eliécer Ávila and Yoani Sánchez. In the case of the latter, the Cuban government tried to export a campaign against her, including a meeting of repudiation. The certain thing is that the aggressiveness of the script delivered by the Cuban Embassy in Brazil—denounced by the magazine Veja—provoked the opposite effect and raised interest in the struggle for freedom on expression in Cuba. Press agencies continue to be subject to surveillance and reprisals from the government, and, as a consequence, are obligated to conduct self-censorship. The intention to limit or prevent access of the population to alternative channels of information continues unabated. Contractor Allan Gross, 62, is serving a fifteen-year sentence after having been accused of committing “crimes against the Security of the State” by delivering communications equipment to persons considered to be opponents. A number of attempts at his release have failed. The Cuban government has indicated that it is willing to negotiate for “humanitarian reasons,” but it demands in exchange that the United States release five spies who are serving sentences in American prisons. A delegation of U.S. legislators visited the island in mid February for the purpose of obtaining his release, but returned with their hands empty.