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    Reforms in Cuba bypassed press freedom, says IAPA

    Reforms in Cuba bypassed press freedom, says IAPA
    Published on April 7, 2014

    BRIDGETOWN, Barbados — The Inter American Press Association (IAPA), as
    one of a number of in-depth reviews of major press freedom developments
    in the past six months in each of the countries of the Americas, at its
    midyear meeting held in Barbados, said reforms are continuing in Cuba,
    most recently in the form of a new foreign-investment law that provides
    a greater margin of return for investors.

    The political arena, however, seems to have been exempted from any
    changes. This includes the repression of individual liberties, press
    freedom, and freedom of expression. Beatings, detentions, acts of
    intimidation or vandalism, and harassment of the opposition continue

    Nor has there been an end to the acts of protest by the opposition and
    the work of independent journalists and bloggers, or to the debate in
    both government and independent circles on the country’s problems and
    the need to democratize Cuban society.

    Cuba’s state-run press continues to carry the same propaganda as always
    and denies people access to news on events inside and outside Cuba.
    Coverage of the protests in Venezuela, for example, has been
    nonexistent. News on Venezuela is about speeches and appearances by
    Nicolás Maduro and other “Chavista” leaders, as well as government
    activities and pro-government demonstrations, while demonizing what they
    call “right-wing fascists.”

    In November the political police intervened against the “State of SATS”
    cultural project as it was celebrating, at its offices in Havana, the
    release of the premiere issue of the magazine Cuadernos para la
    Transición. At the event’s conclusion, many attendees were arrested and
    the magazines confiscated. In December the project’s director, Antonio
    González Rodiles, and other activists participating in the First
    International Conference on Human Rights and the UN Covenants, organized
    by State of SATS, were beaten and detained.

    Only 15 percent of the Cuban population is connected to the Internet.
    The Cuban Telecommunications Company, a state agency, announced that it
    plans to offer residential Internet access by late 2014. It also said
    that it will offer new services for cellphone users, including email and
    web browsing. Although no definitive pricing information is available,
    it is speculated that rates will be astronomical to attract foreign
    currency from abroad, mainly from the United States, where payments for
    cellphone connections are made.

    In February, the Associated Press withdrew seven photographs of Fidel
    Castro because some of them had been digitally altered. The images had
    been disseminated by Estudios Revolución, a government entity that
    distributes images of government leaders and activities, during the
    recent summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States
    (CELAC), held in Havana.

    BBC World, the online service of the BBC, removed the journalist
    Fernando Ravsberg’s blog “Cartas desde Cuba” in late March. According to
    a source at the BBC, Ravsberg’s blog was apparently too friendly to the
    regime in Havana.

    Also in February, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) noted the
    incarceration of author and blogger Ángel Santiesteban Prats, convicted
    and sentenced to five years in prison for “violation of domicile and
    injuries” in a trial riddled with irregularities. Santiesteban has
    complained from prison of being abused and tortured, and has said that
    his only crime was to run a blog.

    In the same month, RWB included Cuba in its “Enemies of the Internet”
    report, saying that the government bases its system of control on three
    pillars: local intranet, high-priced Internet, and constant monitoring.

    On March 25, independent attorneys with the organization Cubalex and
    reporters participated in a public hearing as part of the 150th Period
    of Sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in
    Washington, DC. Attorneys Laritza Diversent, Yaremis Flores, and Veizant
    Boloy, along with independent journalists Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez
    and Aleaga Pesant, spoke about the human rights situation for
    journalists and persons with disabilities.

    The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation
    reported that at least 909 politically motivated arrests were made in
    October 2013, one of the highest figures in the past two decades. It
    also noted an increase in police and parapolice violence and brutal
    physical attacks — sometimes under civilian cover — against
    dissidents. November saw 761 short-term arbitrary detentions for
    political reasons, as well as 192 victims of physical attacks, 119 of
    vandalism, 94 of harassment, and 72 of what are known as mítines de
    repudio (“repudiation rallies”). There were 1,123 politically motivated
    arbitrary detentions in December, and 1,052 in January.

    For the CELAC summit, the Cuban government deployed thousands of
    officers of the political police force, other repressive bodies, and
    parapolice agents, who spent days stationed outside the homes of
    hundreds of members of the opposition, subjecting them to de facto house
    arrest, with no court order, as one way of silencing dissident voices.
    Gabriel Salvia, general director of the Center for the Opening and
    Development of Latin America, was expelled upon his arrival in Cuba.
    Salvia was the organizer of the Second Democratic Forum on International
    Relations and Human Rights, which was to be held at the same time as the
    CELAC summit.

    The 2014 World Report of Human Rights Watch criticized the government’s
    tight control on information, which severely restricts freedom of
    expression. The report made special mention of the smear campaigns,
    assaults, and arbitrary detentions to which opponents and critics are

    Alan Gross, a former contractor for the United States Agency for
    International Development (USAID), remains in prison. The United Nations
    Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has been calling for his immediate
    release since 2012. Gross was arrested in Cuba in December 2009 and
    later sentenced to 15 years in prison for distributing
    telecommunications equipment to religious groups. The working group said
    that Gross’s detention was arbitrary and that the Cuban government had
    not provided sufficient evidence of his crimes. Meanwhile, despite the
    poor human rights situation on the island, Cuba was reelected to the UN
    Human Rights Council.

    In early March, the government announced its willingness to negotiate an
    agreement for political dialogue and cooperation with the European
    Union, with an eye to furthering the so-called reforms in Cuba and
    supporting greater respect for human rights. Some countries, such as
    Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic, have called for monitoring to
    ensure that measures are taken to uphold political freedoms and freedom
    of expression in Cuba.

    Source: Caribbean News Now!: Reforms in Cuba bypassed press freedom,
    says IAPA –