14ymedio, Havana, December 4, 2019 — The Cuban journalist José Ramírez Pantoja, who requested political asylum at the United States border seven months ago, was freed on parole this week, although he will remain in detention until he pays bail.
The reporter is asking for help from the community to pay what remains of the $10,000 bail imposed by authorities. He needs $1,800 to complete the sum, and as soon as he pays it he will be released and plans to go live with his family in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“I feel very excited to be able to restart my life after passing so many months in detention requesting asylum. They have been very hard months. The persecution to which I was subjected in Cuba made me make this difficult decision but I have faith that in this land of liberty I will have the possibility of growing as a human and as a person,” Ramírez Pantoja told the Nuevo Herald by phone.
After leaving the detention center with a parole document, Ramírez Pantoja will have recourse to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants legal permanent residence status to any Cuban who spends a year in the United States after a legal entry.
In 2016 Ramírez Pantoja published comments from Karina Marrón, deputy director of the offical newspaper Granma, alerting journalists of “massive protests,” similar to those of the Maleconazo of 1994, if another Special Period was repeated in Cuba.
The commotion that the publication generated led to Ramírez Pantoja being expelled from Radio Holguin, in the far east of the island, and he was censored in all official Cuban media. When he tried to write for the independent press, he was threatened by the authorities with prison.
“They left me without work or sustenance, the years that I worked as a journalist didn’t matter to them, only the fact of reporting information. After the threats came the pressure. They wanted me to stop working for the independent press while continuing to censor my work in the official press,” Ramírez Pantoja said by phone minutes after requesting asylum at the United States border in May of this year.
After his dismissal from the official press, the Municipal Popular Court of Holguin ratified the sentence against him. The National Ethics Commission of the Cuba Journalists’ Union also ruled against him.
From the party liners, powerful voices within the media accused him of trying to move “to the Miami press.” Ramírez Pantoja’s case was included in the 2016 report published by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). The organization, headquartered in New York, then warned of an increase in arrests of journalists on the island, confiscations of work materials, and warning letters from the police to reporters.
Ramírez Pantoja was forced to work as a domestic. After a series of appeals and letters asking to be readmitted to the Cuban press outlets controlled by the state, Ramírez Pantoja ventured into the independent press, writing for El Toque, OnCuba, and 14ymedio, sometimes under his own name and other times under a pseudonym.
The number of Cubans presenting themselves at the southern border of the United States to request asylum continues to grow, according to recent numbers provided by Border Patrol. In the fiscal year of 2019 21,499 Cubans presented themselves, while in the fiscal year 2020 so far (as of October 1) 1,497 Cubans have reached the border.
Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera
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