Attacks on the press in 2006 / CUBA
Committee to Protect Journalists.
Facing intense international interest in President Fidel Castro's
hospitalization and the transfer of power to his brother, the Cuban
government severely restricted information about Castro's illness in the
name of state security and selectively blocked foreign journalists'
entry into the country.
In a July 31 proclamation aired on Cuban television without advance
notice, Castro announced that he had undergone emergency surgery for
intestinal bleeding and would temporarily hand over power to his
brother, Raúl. A second message by Castro, released on August 1,
dispelled any doubts as to how the Cuban government would handle news of
his illness. Castro labeled his health condition "a state secret," and
officials refused to disclose the severity of his illness, its cause,
its prognosis, or even the hospital in which he was being treated.
From there on, the 80-year-old Castro's appearances were few and
carefully managed. After 40 days in September and October in which no
information at all was released, the government finally circulated
images and a brief interview with Castro that sought to combat rumors
about his failing health. Government statements said vaguely that he was
recovering, but they offered no details; photos showed a gaunt and pale
president. At one point, officials said he would return to office in
December, but that timetable was postponed indefinitely in the fall. The
information, scarce and imprecise as it was, fueled speculation that
Castro might not return to power in full capacity.
Foreign journalists flocked to Cuba to report on one of the year's top
stories, but many, including Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson,
were rebuffed, ostensibly because they did not have proper visas. CPJ
documented at least 10 cases in which the government barred entry to
foreign journalists carrying tourist visas. Under Cuban immigration law,
foreign reporters must apply for specialized journalist visas through
Cuban embassies abroad. CPJ research shows that Cuban officials have
historically granted visas to foreign journalists selectively, excluding
those from media outlets deemed unfriendly. Cuban law further specifies
that foreign journalists who travel to the country on a tourist visa
"should abstain from practicing journalism."
The government also canceled the visas of at least four foreign
journalists who had received approval to travel to Havana, according to
CPJ research. Several Reuters reporters who managed to get into the
country on tourist visas were told to leave. And Ginger Thompson, a
reporter for The New York Times, was tracked down and expelled after her
paper published a non-byline story from Havana. The Miami Herald
succeeded in getting some of its reporters into Cuba on tourist visas.
They went undetected for several weeks, filing stories that surveyed
Cubans about their thoughts on the transfer of power and the nation's
Contrary to some predictions that the regime would crumble in the
absence of Castro, the episode showed that the ruling elite could retain
a tight grip on power. A government headed by Raúl Castro, younger than
his brother by five years, was expected to eventually institute some
economic reforms but continue to suppress the press and political rights.
In a report marking World Press Freedom Day, May 3, CPJ named Cuba one
of the world's 10 Most Censored Countries. CPJ's analysis noted that the
Cuban Constitution grants the Communist Party the right to control the
press, and it recognizes the rights of the press only "in accordance
with the goals of the socialist society." The government owns and
controls all media outlets and restricts Internet access. The three main
newspapers represent the views of the Communist Party and other
organizations controlled by the government.
The media operate under the supervision of the Communist Party's
Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which develops and coordinates
propaganda strategies. Those who try to work as independent reporters
are harassed, detained, threatened with prosecution or jail, or barred
from traveling. Their relatives are threatened with dismissal from their
jobs. A small number of foreign correspondents report from Havana, but
Cubans do not ever see their reports.
Independent Cuban journalists, who file stories for overseas news Web
sites, continued to cover news that the official media ignored. During
2006, independent journalists reported extensively on outbreaks of
dengue fever, a mosquito-borne viral disease, that were occurring
throughout the island. Meanwhile, authorities and the official media
refused to recognize the existence of dengue fever in Cuba for much of
the year, focusing instead on government efforts to eradicate the
mosquito that transmits the disease. Finally, in October, the Cuban
Ministry of Health informed the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
about dengue outbreaks in four Cuban provinces. Health officials claimed
the number of cases had declined significantly-without providing PAHO
with figures for the total number of documented cases.
Cuba continued to be one of the world's leading jailers of journalists,
second only to China. During 2006, two imprisoned journalists were
released, but two more were jailed. One of them-Guillermo Espinosa
Rodríguez, who was sentenced to two years of home confinement-had
covered an outbreak of dengue fever in Santiago de Cuba.
Of the 24 journalists who remained imprisoned, 22 were jailed in a
massive March 2003 crackdown on the independent press. Their prison
sentences on antistate charges ranged from 14 to 27 years. Many of them
were jailed far from their homes, adding to the heavy burden on their
families. Their families have described unsanitary prison conditions,
inadequate medical care, and rotten food. Some imprisoned journalists
were being denied religious guidance, and most shared cells with
hardened criminals. Many were allowed family visits only once every
three months and marital visits only once every four months-a schedule
of visits far less frequent than those allowed most inmates. Relatives
were harassed for talking to the foreign press and protesting the
Country summaries in this chapter were reported and written by Americas
Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría, Research Associate María Salazar,
Program Consultant Sauro González Rodríguez, and Washington
Representative Frank Smyth. The Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation
provided substantial support toward CPJ's work in the Americas in 2006.