Prostitution in Cuba
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    Cuba’s Long Black Spring

    Cuba's Long Black Spring
    Five years after the Castro government cracked down on the independent
    more than 20 journalists remain behind bars for the "crime" of
    free . The island nation has paid the price of international
    The journalists and their families have paid in human misery.

    March 18, 2008

    In her kitchen overlooking Havana's crumbling skyline, Julia Núñez
    Pacheco recalls the day five years ago when plainclothes state security
    agents, pistols on hips, stormed into her home. They accused Adolfo
    Fernández Saínz, her husband of three decades and an independent
    journalist with the small news agency Patria, of committing acts aimed
    at "subverting the internal order of the nation." Over the course of
    eight long hours, agents ransacked the apartment, confiscating items
    considered proof of Fernández Saínz's crimes: a typewriter, stacks of
    the Communist Party daily Granma with Fidel Castro's remarks underlined,
    and outlawed books such as George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. As
    Fernández Saínz was hauled away, Núñez Pacheco remembers one of the
    agents turning to her and saying, "You know, we've been told you are
    decent, quiet people. No fighting, no yelling. It's a shame you've
    chosen this path."

    Today, the 60-year-old Núñez Pacheco lives alone in this same Central
    Havana apartment. A blown-up photograph of her husband and
    autobiographies of Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X rest on a bookshelf.
    Núñez Pacheco survives on family remittances from overseas, occasional
    donations from international human rights groups, and her
    government-issued ration card, which allots for basic provisions. Like
    most prisoners' relatives, she is blacklisted and unable to work in any
    official capacity, as the state is Cuba's sole employer. She sees her
    husband infrequently because of the prison's distance from her home and
    rules that allow family visits just once every two months. Fernández
    Saínz, who is serving a 15-year sentence, is being held in central Ciego
    de Ávila province, more than 400 miles (650 kilometers) from Havana.

    During a three-day span in March 2003, as the world focused on the
    U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Cuban government ordered the abrupt
    arrest of 75 dissidents—29 of them independent journalists. All of the
    reporters and editors were convicted in one-day trials and handed
    sentences that could leave some in prison for the rest of their lives.
    They were accused of acting against the "integrity and sovereignty of
    the state" or of collaborating with foreign media for the purpose of
    "destabilizing the country." Under Cuban law, that meant any journalist
    who published abroad, particularly in the United States, had no defense.

    Five years later, 20 of these journalists remain behind bars, along with
    two others jailed since the crackdown. Like Fernández Saínz, most are
    being held in prisons hundreds of miles from their homes under inhumane
    conditions that have taken a toll on their health, according to an
    investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists. At home, their
    families, unable to work, scrape for basic necessities while being
    regularly watched and often harassed by state authorities, CPJ found.

    Cuba has dismissed international criticism, particularly from the United
    States, as the work of political adversaries out to weaken its
    government. But the imprisonment of these journalists in reprisal for
    their independent reporting violates the most basic norms of
    international law, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on
    Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees everyone the right to
    "seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds,
    regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the
    form of art, or through any other media of his choice." Cuba signed the
    1966 accord on February 28 of this year, although it said it would place
    unspecified interpretations and reservations on certain provisions.

    These unjust imprisonments have also drawn protests from writers and
    intellectuals worldwide, including several who are philosophical allies
    of the Communist regime. "As someone who has always celebrated the
    achievements of the Cuban Revolution, and particularly its health care
    and educational systems, I am saddened and outraged each time that
    freedom of expression is suppressed in Cuba," the Chilean novelist,
    playwright, essayist, and human rights activist Ariel Dorfman told CPJ.
    As much as Dorfman denounces U.S. policies toward Cuba—such as its
    longstanding embargo, or "blockade," as it is called in some political
    corners—he says the Cuban government is unjustified in continuing to
    hold these journalists.

    "Even while condemning the blockade against Cuba and the constant
    attempts to overthrow its government, I stand firmly on the side of all
    Cuban journalists, who have every right to inform and criticize without
    fear of persecution," Dorfman said. "Liberty is indivisible."

    Over the past five years, Cuba has freed a small number of journalists
    and dissidents in exchange for international political concessions.
    Spain, which has sought to reestablish influence with Cuba, has taken
    the lead in negotiations that have led to the release of some prisoners.
    Spain deserves credit for helping win the release of these journalists
    and dissidents, but the Cuban government is obliged by international
    human rights standards to release all of those who are unjustly jailed.
    Despite the periodic releases, Cuba remains the world's second-leading
    jailer of journalists, behind only China.

    Fidel Castro, who stepped down as in February after 49 years
    in power, allowed his nation to pay a significant international price
    for these unjust imprisonments—drawing rebukes from allies as well as
    foes, and intensifying his country's isolation in the world. His
    successor, brother Raúl Castro, could restore bridges to the
    international community by releasing all of these prisoners. By doing
    so, immediately and without condition, he could help usher in a new era
    for Cuba's international relations.

    Known in Cuba as the "Black Spring," the crackdown showed that Castro's
    government was determined to crush grassroots dissent and tolerate
    prolonged international protest. Journalists arrested in the crackdown
    were key members of a movement that began in the mid-1990s, when Raúl
    Rivero created the independent news agency Cuba Press and Rafael Solano
    founded the counterpart Havana Press. The aim was to test freedom of
    speech by filing to overseas outlets critical dispatches and analyses
    about life on the tightly controlled island. The birth of these news
    agencies coincided with the growth of the Internet, which enabled the
    spread of their coverage.

    Composed of opposition activists with a political bent and others who
    took a more straightforward journalistic approach, the nascent
    independent press contributed to foreign outlets such as CubaNet, a
    U.S.-based online outlet, and Spanish-language publications and Internet
    sites in Europe, such as the Spanish magazine Encuentro de la Cultura
    Cubana. Journalists provided radio reports to U.S. government-funded
    Radio Martí, which can be heard in Cuba, and to other Florida-based
    stations. The media outlets paid small fees per story. The stories drew
    not-so-small notice. Even before March 2003, the journalists were
    subjected to harassment and sporadic short-term imprisonments.

    "International attention on these journalists was reaching a fever
    pitch," said Andy Gomez, senior fellow at the University of Miami's
    Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. Cuban officials, he
    said, feared they might lose their grip over the population by letting
    people vent their frustrations. "The government decided enough was enough."

    The crackdown was swift. Detentions began on March 18, 2003, and
    continued for another two days. Police raided the homes of political
    dissidents and journalists and accused them of being
    "counterrevolutionaries" or "mercenaries" at the service of the United
    States. During the hours-long raids, state security agents confiscated
    tape recorders, cameras, typewriters, computers, and fax machines, as
    well as books, newspapers, notepads, and research materials. The
    journalists were handcuffed, hustled from their houses, and taken to the
    headquarters of the State Security Department (known by its Spanish
    acronym, DSE), home of Cuba's political police.

    At the DSE, they were tossed into small cells with prisoners charged
    with violent crimes. Their families waited outside for days, trying to
    assess the situation. One-day trials against them were held behind
    closed doors on April 3 and 4. In many cases, the families later said,
    the journalists were unable to meet with their lawyers prior to the
    hearings, and their defense was given only hours to prepare. On April 7,
    local courts across Cuba announced their verdicts: The 29 journalists
    had been handed sentences ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison.

    Most have been transferred from prison to prison several times since
    then, often as punishment for protesting the conditions of their
    incarceration, CPJ research shows. Many are held far from their
    families. Given Cuba's deteriorating transportation system and high
    travel costs, such distances are extreme burdens. Families, who are
    allowed short visits every four to eight weeks, bring the journalists
    nutritious meals, hygiene supplies, medicine, and clean clothes—staples
    not always provided by the prisons.

    Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations Felipe Pérez Roque and Dagoberto
    Rodríguez Barrera, head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington,
    did not respond to letters, e-mails, and faxes sent by CPJ seeking
    comment for this report. The office of President Raúl Castro did not
    respond to faxes seeking comment.

    All of the journalists are suffering from medical problems that have
    emerged or worsened during their five-year incarcerations, according to
    CPJ interviews with family members and friends. It is a litany of
    individual misery and governmental inhumanity: José Luis García Paneque,
    42, has suffered malnutrition, chronic pneumonia, and a kidney tumor.
    José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández, 42, suffers from emphysema, a hernia,
    and circulatory problems. Ricardo González Alfonso, 58, has
    hypertension, arthritis, severe allergies, and a number of digestive and
    circulatory diseases. Omar Ruiz Hernández, 60, who suffers from high
    blood pressure and circulatory problems, recently learned that one of
    his retinas has become detached. In these and other cases, CPJ research
    shows, the government has failed to provide adequate medical care.

    Prison conditions are appalling, according to these interviews, which
    have been conducted by CPJ over several years and documented in detail
    in annual editions of its book on international press conditions,
    Attacks on the Press. Prison authorities not only harass the journalists
    but also encourage other inmates to bully and assault the political
    prisoners. The journalists are warehoused in massive barracks or
    cubbyholed in undersized cells that lack ventilation. Drinking water is
    contaminated with fecal matter, the food with worms. Protests against
    these unsanitary conditions often land the journalists in isolation cells.

    Their families struggle as well. Ileana Marrero Joa, 39, lives in a
    rundown Havana suburb with her three children. Her husband, independent
    journalist Omar Rodríguez Saludes, was imprisoned in 2003. Rodríguez
    Saludes was considered one of Cuba's most dogged street journalists,
    riding a bicycle throughout the city to catch press conferences and call
    in stories to Nueva Prensa Cubana, a small Miami-based agency. Today,
    Marrero Joa and her children visit the 42-year-old Rodríguez Saludes for
    two hours once every two months, time spent eating a home-cooked meal
    and updating Rodríguez on efforts to win release of the political prisoners.

    Rodríguez Saludes' 19-year-old son, Osmany, is impressed by his father's
    strength. "He says he's staying strong for us, so that when he's let out
    he won't be a broken man," the younger Rodríguez told CPJ. But once
    separated from his father, the lanky teen returns to his own bleak
    reality. He, too, is blacklisted. Last November, after months of working
    off the books hauling bread on and off trucks, he asked his boss if he
    could become an official employee. After being given a series of evasive
    answers, the younger Rodríguez was told his "criminal past" was a
    problem. "Having a dad in prison is my crime," the son says, leafing
    through a book of his father's street photography. "I might as well be
    in there with him. It's four walls for all of us."

    With the aftermath of the 2003 arrests consuming their lives, families
    of the imprisoned dissidents have created a tight bond. Two weeks after
    the crackdown, the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) group was formed,
    gathering on Sundays at Havana's Santa Rita de Casia Catholic Church.
    After Mass, they walk 10 blocks to a nearby park. In the spirit of
    Argentina's Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who call attention to
    relatives who disappeared during that country's military dictatorship,
    the Cuban group dons white, with each woman carrying a pink gladiolus
    flower and wearing a button with her loved one's picture that says
    " of conscience." They demand the prisoners' release and, at
    least, an improvement in conditions.

    Pro-Castro groups attempt to thwart the Ladies in White. Hecklers call
    the women counterrevolutionaries on the U.S. dole. Photographs taken by
    a local journalist show a man striking Laura Pollán Toledo, a group
    leader and wife of jailed journalist Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, in the
    back of the head during a protest. "As long as we're out in public
    demanding change, freedom, and human rights, we can expect acts of
    aggression," says Pollán Toledo, who lost her job as a high school
    Spanish teacher after the crackdown.

    On a recent afternoon at her home in Central Havana, while a friend put
    her long blond hair in curlers (she would visit her husband the next
    day), Pollán Toledo pointed to a corner in her living room where she
    said she recently found a hidden microphone. Pollán Toledo's home, a
    popular gathering place for dissidents and relatives of jailed
    dissidents, is under constant watch. Pollán Toledo realizes that
    international recognition can provide a layer of security, but she adds
    that "immunity from punishment by the Cuban government is not guaranteed."

    Yet, for the most part, a small corps of independent journalists
    continues to operate in Cuba in much the same manner as it did in 2003.
    There are close to 100 independent reporters working in Cuba today, most
    of them in Havana, although some provincial reporters are also active.
    Independent journalists told CPJ they do most of their reporting in the
    evenings, when they can be more inconspicuous. Though owning a computer
    in Cuba is unlawful without government permission, some have antiquated
    laptops; others use even older typewriters. Many just use a pad and a
    pencil. They usually file their stories by public phones during
    prearranged conversations with foreign media outlets. Others file by
    fax, and in some rare cases, through e-mail. Although the vast majority
    of their work goes to foreign Web sites or publications, Havana-based
    reporters occasionally use the computer facilities of foreign embassies
    to print an assortment of news pieces.

    "On top of being harassed and not being part of the official press corps
    in Cuba, independent journalists in Cuba go without some of the most
    basic reporting tools, from having a cell phone or even a regular phone
    to steady Internet access," says Hugo Landa, director of CubaNet. "I
    think that's why a lot of independent journalists publish opinion pieces
    and short, firsthand accounts of things they witness on the ground, more
    than any type of investigative piece. What they are able to publish
    reflects the realities they run up against. I always feel that they are
    doing an admirable job, considering the difficult circumstances under
    which they work."

    They cover what Cuba's official press largely ignores. The Cuban
    constitution allows the Communist Party to control the news and filter
    it through its propaganda-minded Department of Revolutionary
    Orientation. Press rights are granted only "in accordance with the goals
    of the socialist society."

    The independent press coverage reflects basic ideas and information
    protected under international agreements, including the International
    Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of
    Human Rights. CPJ reviewed 40 articles written from January to March
    2003 by journalists who were imprisoned during the crackdown, and
    several dozen articles written by independent journalists, including
    former political prisoners, between 2006 and 2007. All were published on
    foreign news Web sites and media outlets in the United States and Spain.

    Coverage largely focused on social issues, including food shortages,
    empty pharmacy shelves, housing problems, unemployment, and poorly
    equipped schools. Reporters also covered Cuba's community,
    from the opening of independent home libraries and trade union movements
    to the harassment of human rights activists. They wrote about police
    harassment and human rights violations, ranging from the arrest of
    street vendors to violence against political prisoners. Criticism of the
    government and its leaders—mainly Fidel Castro—was common but not
    inflammatory. For example, in a January 2003 story on lengthy lines at a
    station, now-imprisoned reporter José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández
    wrote: "How long will we have to wait to wake up from this nightmare
    that has lasted now 44 years?"

    Five years after the crackdown, despite international pressure, Cuba has
    freed only nine imprisoned journalists. Among the released: Jorge
    Olivera Castillo, a 46-year-old who served his country as a soldier in
    Angola and as an editor at the state-run television station Instituto
    Cubano de Radio y Televisión.

    In December 2004, Olivera Castillo was freed from a Guantánamo prison on
    medical parole after suffering from colon problems. Yet his freedom is
    conditional. He and his family have U.S.-issued visas, but Cuba denies
    them permission to exit. In fact, he cannot leave Havana and is barred
    from attending any public gatherings. His phone is tapped, his mail
    searched, and, without warning, state security agents pay him visits.
    They ask about his work and his family, and offer subtle reminders that
    his freedom is tenuous.

    Despite these risks, Olivera Castillo continues to write. Sitting at his
    kitchen table in his cramped apartment in Old Havana, he taps away at a
    donated Dell laptop. Along with short stories, he writes political
    analysis for CubaNet. "There was a time when I believed in the
    revolution, but I then realized that as hard as I worked, I never had
    savings. I soon realized that a better life for myself and my family was
    not possible," said Olivera Castillo, who once tried to leave Cuba on a
    makeshift raft bound for Florida. He eventually began working with
    independent news agencies such as Havana Press.

    Olivera Castillo's professional experience is rare among the independent
    press. Many are teachers, physicians, office workers, and engineers
    turned writers. Others hail from the dissident movement, either
    activists in independent unions or members of opposition political parties.

    Contributing to mainstream foreign news outlets such as The Miami Herald
    and Spain's El País are former high-ranking government officials. One of
    them, economist Oscar Manuel Espinosa Chepe, was part of an elite group
    of advisors to Fidel Castro in the 1960s and helped craft Cuba's
    economic cooperation with Eastern Europe. Influenced by glasnost and
    perestroika in the 1980s, Espinosa Chepe began touting more liberal
    economic polices, such as loosening limits on land or business
    ownership. Steadily demoted as Castro rejected such reforms, he was
    eventually assigned work as a clerk at a small bank near his home.

    Espinosa Chepe's wife, Miriam Leiva, remained a member of the Communist
    Party and held a high-level post in the Ministry of Foreign Relations.
    When Espinosa Chepe decided to quit his clerking job and write for
    foreign outlets, Leiva faced pressure at work to either denounce him as
    a counterrevolutionary or lose her job. "They thought they were giving
    me a choice between remaining a somebody or becoming a nobody," said
    Leiva, 60. Refusing to cooperate, Leiva was fired and the couple began
    contributing full-time to foreign media from their tiny Havana
    apartment. Leiva wrote about social ills such as prostitution and the
    disparities between consumer goods available to tourists and those for
    citizens. Espinosa Chepe produced sharp economic analyses that were
    circulated underground, and he hosted a weekly Radio Martí show called
    "Charlando con Chepe" (Chatting with Chepe). He spoke about increasing
    food imports, rising inflation, and falling . "I didn't get a
    cent from Radio Martí," says Espinosa Chepe, 67. "My main concern was
    getting the word out. We'd always find a way to get by."

    That has been extraordinarily difficult at times. Espinosa Chepe was
    swept up in the 2003 crackdown and languished in prison for more than a
    year. During his imprisonment, Leiva helped organize relatives of
    imprisoned journalists to protest, and she published commentaries in
    U.S. and European newspapers. By the time Espinosa Chepe was freed on
    medical parole in November 2004, he had lost more than 20 pounds and was
    suffering from gastrointestinal bleeding, liver problems, and high blood

    Today, Leiva and Espinosa Chepe continue to work from a tiny apartment
    stuffed with books, many banned by the government. When asked if they
    fear another crackdown, Leiva said, "I refuse to be quiet and lose my
    dignity." Espinosa Chepe, relaxing in a rocking chair after a
    home-cooked meal, nods in agreement. "We go on normally with our
    abnormal lives," he says.

    Remarkably, several imprisoned reporters have continued working behind
    bars. In prison, Olivera Castillo managed to pass outsiders 37 of his
    poems, which were eventually published in Spain. Journalists such as
    Maseda Gutiérrez, González Alfonso, and Normando Hernández González have
    smuggled out entire memoirs, a few sheets of paper at a time. Others
    have reported on human rights violations in Cuban prisons. In a recent
    essay published on CubaNet, for instance, Fernández Saínz denounced the
    treatment of an imprisoned human rights activist.

    Since 2003, Cuba has used imprisoned journalists and dissidents as
    political leverage, sporadically releasing a few in exchange for
    international concessions. "Cuba has effectively used political
    prisoners as an element of political negotiation, as bargaining chips,"
    says Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, president of the Cuban Commission for
    Human Rights and National Reconciliation, a domestic human rights group
    that operates despite being officially banned by the government.

    Since taking office in April 2004, the left-leaning government of
    Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez has acted as a mediator
    between the European Union and the Castro government. Relations between
    Brussels and Havana—already strained by the EU's 1996 Common Position on
    Cuba, which demanded improvement in human rights and political liberties
    in the island—were further damaged after the 2003 crackdown and ensuing
    EU diplomatic sanctions.

    Spain's strategy of engagement with the Cuban government, which differs
    from U.S. policies aimed at isolating Cuba through economic sanctions
    and travel restrictions, has gained support from EU members such as
    Britain while meeting opposition from northern and eastern members led
    by the Czech Republic. Nonetheless, in January 2005, the European
    Parliament voted to lift the 2003 diplomatic sanctions after the Cuban
    government transferred more than a dozen ailing dissidents from jail
    cells to prison hospitals and granted medical paroles to a number of
    others, including the writers Rivero and Manuel Vázquez Portal.

    This February—just months after Spain announced the resumption of some
    cooperation programs between the two countries—Cuba freed four more
    prisoners, including independent journalists José Gabriel Ramón Castillo
    and Alejandro González Raga. Prominent dissident Oswaldo Payá, leader of
    the Christian Liberation Movement, says the dialogue between the two
    governments has been important, "but it can also be used as a smoke
    screen to hide the fact that there has been no real progress on human

    These are not ordinary times in Cuba, however, as Payá and others point
    out. The ailing 81-year-old Fidel Castro, who handed over day-to-day
    power to brother Raúl in July 2006, announced on February 19 that he was
    officially resigning as president, ending nearly a half century of rule.
    The National Assembly named Raúl Castro, 76, as president five days later.

    With Raúl Castro in charge, there have been hints at economic,
    agricultural, and administrative reforms. His government's decision to
    sign the four-decade-old International Covenant on Civil and Political
    Rights, while a potentially encouraging move, was clouded by the vague
    caveats it immediately placed on the document.
    "Signing this agreement is a positive thing," Payá says, "but in order
    for the decision to be coherent, the government must release the
    political prisoners who are jailed for peacefully practicing and
    promoting these rights."

    Some change is coming from the ground up, as a new generation of
    tech-savvy bloggers emerges. On a recent afternoon, Yoani Sánchez, a
    slim 32-year-old wearing baggy surfer shorts and a T-shirt, sat at a
    small, wooden table in her living room and sipped a strong Cuban
    espresso. Here is where she writes entries for her blog Generación Y,
    created last April. The blog chronicles her everyday observations of
    Cuba, from the abundance of José Martí statues to bored youth and the
    workings of Cuba's black market. In a January 8 entry, Sánchez writes
    how she cannot "conceive a day without immersing myself in the black
    market in order to buy eggs, cooking oil or tomato paste."

    She heads to one of Havana's Internet cafés once a week, a practice that
    is extremely expensive. (One hour at an Internet café in Havana
    typically costs 160 pesos [US$6], about one-third an average monthly
    salary on the island.) But Sánchez works fast, quickly uploading her
    files from a flash memory drive and downloading readers' comments and
    e-mail. For cash, Sánchez approaches tourists and offers to give them
    walking tours of the city. "My friends think I'm taking a huge risk with
    my blog," says Sánchez, who posts her real name and a photo of herself
    on her blog. "But I think it's my way of pushing back against the
    system, if only a little bit."

    Other newcomers include Sin EVAsion, a blog run by the pseudonymous Eva
    González, who describes herself as part of the "generation that came of
    age in 1980," when Fidel Castro gave permission to any person who wanted
    to leave Cuba to do so from the port of Mariel, which he declared
    "open." As a result, some 125,000 Cuban refugees left the island during
    what became known as the Mariel boat lift. It's a generation, she says,
    that struggles "between disillusion and hope." Another new blog is
    Retazos, run by the colorfully pen-named El Guajiro Azul, who lives in
    Cuba "while he has no other option." Blog entries range from essays on
    Cuban censorship to the manual work that elderly Cubans turn to in order
    to supplement their meager pensions.

    Most reader comments thank the bloggers for publishing critical views.
    Others take the bloggers to task. The popularity of Sánchez's blog—she
    said thousands have visited—has generated a wave of pro-regime comments
    from readers who have added pro-government links and slogans such as
    "Viva Cuba! Viva Fidel!" It is, in its own limited way, a forum for
    opposing views.

    Five years after the crackdown, the independent press movement is far
    from being deterred. On a recent weekday morning, independent reporter
    Olivera Castillo makes his way along one of Havana's main avenues to a
    pay phone, where he'll call a contact for a story he's reporting. On the
    sidewalks, elderly men play dominoes as a line of people snakes down the
    block awaiting a crowded bus. Olivera Castillo keeps walking. He has
    work to do, although he knows that what he writes today could be the
    tipping point for his arrest and return to prison. But he pays no mind.
    "I refuse," he says, "to live in fear for expressing my ideas."

    Carlos Lauría is CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas.
    María Salazar is the program's research associate. Monica Campbell is a
    freelance journalist based in Mexico City.

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