16 October 2014
In this period there persisted the practices of beatings, detentions, intimidation, acts of vandalism and harassment of opponents and independent journalists. The official press continues to be a vehicle of propaganda, hiding and distorting what is happening inside and outside the country. That is clear in the cases of Venezuela, Ecuador, Syria, Russia and China, whose governments have the best relations with the Cuban regime. Currently four journalists are under detention – Juliet Michelena Díaz, arrested on April 7; Yoennis de Jesús Guerra García, detained in October 2013 and sentenced to seven years in prison in March 2014; writer and blogger Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, in jail since February 2013, and Granma newspaper correspondent in Santiago de Cuba José Antonio Torres, taken into custody in February 2011 and sentenced to 14 years in prison. On September 26 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the government to provide protection for Santiesteban-Prats. The Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission reported that in April there were 905 detentions of dissidents for purely political reasons, in May 1,120, in June 963, in July 652 and in August 632. In April independent journalist Dania Virgen García was beaten by police officers as she was leaving her nephew at school. In June Roberto de Jesús Guerra, founder of the Hablemos Press news agency, was violently beaten in Havana by a police officer. Four days previously Raúl Ramírez Puig, that agency’s correspondent in Mayabeque province, was struck by a car and then threatened by its occupants. That same month Mario Hechavarría Driggs, a Hablemos Press stringer, was arrested by agents of the State Security Department. Magaly Norvis Otero Suárez was called in by agents of that Department, who advised her to change the tone of her articles and she received telephoned death threats. Several journalists have had their telephones blocked. In September journalist Bernardo Arévalo Padrón was twice detained. He had been a prisoner of conscience from 1997 to 2003. Independent journalist Miguel Guerra Pérez was held for a week and set free on September 1. Several stringers for the Hablemos Press agency had been the recipients of threats . José Leonel Silva Guerrero, correspondent in Holguín, was forced to suspend his work due to threats of reprisals against his family. In April the Associated Press news agency published a lengthy report on a program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) called Zunzuneo and known as the “Cuban Twitter.” According to AP this was under cover and sought to undermine the government. The program, initiated by USAID in 2009 and wound up in 2012, set up a social network on the island which managed to obtain more than 40,000 subscribers to share news and exchange opinions, without realizing that the service had been created by the U.S. government. USAID Director Rajiv Shah declared that the program was not under cover and only proposed “to give support to civil society with a platform for communication among Cubans.” On May 21 blogger Yoani Sánchez, the IAPA’s regional vice chair for Cuba, launched an online newspaper, 14ymedio.com, the first independent digital publication in Cuba. Its content is printed and distributed in PDF format and for that it has numerous stringers. In its five months since launch the newspaper has been subjected to intermittent blockage on the part of the Cuban government. In June Sánchez was honored and given and award by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs for her battle in defense of press freedom. Recently she received a scholarship from the prestigious company Yahoo to study at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. In late June there visited Havana Google president Eric Schmidt, accompanied by three other directors of that company. The Google representatives met with those of the government, computer science students and dissident bloggers. The Cuban media reported belate about the visit, whose objective according to Google was “to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet.” In June there was announced the creation of “free” Internet surfing rooms. The per hour service fee is equivalent to one quarter of the average salary, making access to the Web continue to be prohibitive. Nevertheless, it is now less expensive and is a clear advance in comparison to the previous Intranet (filtered and limited Internet) deal. In addition the connection is supervised and watched. Domestic access for the man or woman in the street is almost impossible. US Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor Alan Gross is about to complete five years in prison. According to what his lawyer and family report he is seriously ill and fears for his life. It was learned that Gross lost the sight of his right eye and is suffering from severe depression, for which reason he has refused to receive visits. So far all pleas to the Cuban government, both official and personal ones, to release him, have failed. Gross was arrested in December 2009 in Havana after taking telecommunications equipment aimed at facilitating access to the Internet by the Jewish community. Talks been the European Union and Cuba are proceeding normally as part of the Political and Cooperation Dialogue bilateral agreement that began negotiations in late April. Cuban dissidents insist that the European Union must condition signing the agreement on advances toward democratization and respect for human rights.