Open letter to John Kerry: “Isn’t it time for all Cuban voices to be heard?”
Published Thursday, August 13, 2015.
On Friday August 14, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Cuba to strengthen the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries. He is the first U.S. Secretary of State to make an official visit to the island since 1945. This is a unique opportunity to address the catastrophic situation for freedom of press and information in Cuba. RSF sent an open letter to John Kerry addressing these fundamental issues.
Paris, August 13, 2015
Dear Secretary Kerry,
On the occasion of your historic visit to Cuba this August 14th, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) asks that during your meetings with Cuban authorities you address the problem of freedom of press and information. As the first high-level American politician to visit Cuba since 1959, you have the duty, and the power, to positively influence Cuban policies.
Cuba ranks 169th among 180 countries in the World Ranking of Press Freedom published by Reporters Without Borders in 2015. The Cuban government maintains a monopoly on information and does not tolerate any independent voices: it prohibits the existence of free media. Only official media are authorized (and the list of them is very short). The media that do not have state authorization are deemed illegal and are censored. Moreover, Cuba is considered one of the countries with the least access to the Internet worldwide.
Cuba’s control of information and censorship do not affect only the local media; Foreign journalists are also subjected to these restrictions. Press credentials are awarded selectively. And if the regime considers news stories by foreign journalists “too negative,” they are deported.
In addition to censorship, Cuba has a long history of violence and harassment towards journalists. Many journalists working for independent media have received violent threats from the government. Roberto de Jesus Guerra, editor of Hablemos Press, the independent news agency and free-speech NGO, was physically attacked by agents of the Internal Security Department in June 2014. Another correspondent from the same publication was run down by a car that same month. In July of this year, many activists and journalists were arrested at a protest organized by the Ladies in White opposition movement. Unfortunately, these are only several examples of a widespread problem. These events served as a sad reminder of 2003’s Black Spring, when 27* journalists were arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
Prominent journalists have recently been arrested and sentenced to long prison sentences for merely doing their job. Writer and blogger Angel Santiesteban-Prats was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment on trumped-up charges of “domestic violation and injuries.” These charges were used as pretexts to punish him for his outspoken criticism of the government. He was released on parole on July 17, 2015, after serving more than two years of his prison sentence. According to his website editor, during his time in prison he was repeatedly mistreated and tortured. Amid these reports, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights submitted a formal request last September urging the Cuban government to guarantee Santiesteban-Prats’ physical safety. Now that he has been released, the journalist is calling for a retrial. He sees his release as an attempt by the Cuban government to silence him, since he was able to write and express himself from inside his prison cell. But he has no intention of remaining silent and has already published a book entitled “Last Symphony,” a collection of short stories about violence in Cuba, which he began writing in prison.
While Reporters Without Borders welcomes his release, we cannot forget two journalists still imprisoned in Cuba, in troubling and dangerous conditions. Yoeni de Jesús Guerra García, an independent blogger from the agency Yayabo Press, was sentenced to 7 years in prison in March 2014 on charges of “illegally slaughtering cattle.” He maintains that the charges were fabricated to put a stop to his reporting activities. Yoeni has repeatedly been the victim of violence and torture inflicted by prison staff. José Antonio Torres, former correspondent for Granma, was sentenced to 14 years prison in 2012 for the crime of esponiage, a questionable accusation.
In this new era beginning for Cuba, barriers to press freedom must be broken. The United States has the opportunity and the responsibility to facilitate this change through diplomacy. Now is the time for releasing jailed journalists, and allowing independent media to operate without fear of violence or arrest. Now is the time to make sure that all of Cuba’s many voices are heard.
I thank you in advance, Secretary Kerry, for the attention you give to this letter.
Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders
Published in RSF
*Translator’s note: The total Black Spring arrests, which included other types of human rights activists, were 75.
Translated by Tomás A.