Thursday, August 17, 2006

The World's Biggest Prison For Journalists

For bloggers in America, usually the only things that prevent us from expressing our opinions to the rest of the world are schedule conflicts or the periodic disruption of our internet connections.

However, in Cuba, it's the threat of close to a lifetime in a filthy Cuban prison.

Val Prieto of Babalu Blog, has written a great article over at that details the risks independent journalists take simply to report the truth in Cuba.

The r on the typewriter no longer works and there’s no ñ key. The ink being engraved into the paper isn’t ink; it’s shoe polish. Typewriter ribbons are hard to come by and paper is old, brittle and scarce. There’s no copy machine, no scanner, no fax and there is no phone next to the typewriter on his desk. Computers aren’t allowed. Satellite dishes receiving the latest world news aren’t allowed. There’s no software or hardware, and no staff. There are only a few sheets of old paper, a typewriter, a pencil and a candle to see by.

He works by candlelight not because of the frequent “apagones” – power outages – but because any light shining though his window late at night is but a beacon to those who want to silence him. It would serve as proof that he’s up to no good by the standards of his government and an excuse to be picked up and taken into custody.

The morning daylight is his only editor. It is in the mornings when he can truly see his night’s work. He sits with the document and a half empty cup of café cubano brewed with a mixture of last week’s coffee grinds and soy, and he pencils in his edits. He inserts all the r’s and ñ’s by hand. He corrects his spelling. He adds slashes where the old Smith Corona failed to add a space. Right there, with his pencil stub, he edits for grammar and moves words here and there for impact.

He will not retype the piece when he’s done with his morning edit. Paper is scarce. He’s got very little shoe polish left for the typewriter ribbon. Had his last sheet of carbon paper not been used up, typed down to whiteness, he would have had another copy. Now, he must travel almost all of Havana looking for a phone owned by a friend to his cause.

His article won’t get Xeroxed or faxed. It won’t get typeset and printed. His article will be read, by him, over the phone a dozen times, perhaps more, with the hopes that the person on the other end of the line in Miami or New Jersey will do justice to his work. Each call is made hoping that the person in charge of monitoring his conversation from some government office in Havana won’t cut the transmission, and turn him in for a pound of rice as reward.

That is the life of the Independent Journalist in Cuba: Clandestine meetings, clandestine writing, clandestine transmissions with clandestine words of a clandestine truth.

Read the rest of Mr. Prieto's article here to learn what it's like to be a Cuban independent journalist.


Blogger Season said...

So is journalism just not allowed there? And if so, why?

19/8/06 10:09  
Blogger Digital Fortress said...

The simple answer is that Cuba is a communist country and communism does not condone freedom of speech or opinion contrary to the government.

Cuba remains the only country in the Americas where independent publications and broadcasting are illegal. Those who try to send news dispatches to clients abroad can be banned from traveling, imprisoned, their equipment might be taken away and friends and relatives harassed. Because the government controls all mass media and restricts Internet access, independent journalists struggle to transmit news reports abroad. Operators from the state telephone monopoly, ETECSA, frequently refuse to connect their international calls and the government routinely taps journalists' phones, disconnects their phone service, or cuts off international calls.

Cuba’s prisons are filled with Cuban political prisoners and dissidents they dared to or attempted to report the truth about Fidel Castro.

Truth has made them suffer beatings, torture and malnutrition. Truth has mocked, ridiculed, and subjected them to abject horrors and indignity.

Castro’s regime murders and tortures its citizens and prostitutes the entire country.

How are Castro’s dictums translated into public policy in Cuba?

1. All the means of information in Cuba, those for domestic consumption as well as those distributed overseas, are under the direct control of the Communist Party. The party indicates press content through its Ideological Department in the Central Committee.

2. The principal leaders of the Ideological Department come from the political direction of the Armed Forces; for example the chief of the Ideological Department is a Colonel and The President of the Cuban Institute for Radio and Television is a Lieutenant Colonel.

3. The Ideological Department directs an information network that includes three national newspapers – Granma, Juventud Reblede (Rebel Youth) and Trabajadores (Workers) – official organs of the Communist Party, Communist youth, and government labor unions. There are also 14 provincial newspapers that report to the provincial committees of the Communist Party. In addition there are two news agencies – Prensa Latina and Agencia de Informacion Nacional (National Information Agency). There are four TV channels, two of which are set aside for education. There is also a network of radio stations, five that cover the entire island, in addition to other local stations. The government also sponsors several magazines.

4. The newspapers, TV and radio station directors receive systematic and detailed guidelines from the Ideological Department outlining which topics to discuss and the priorities with which they are to be dealt with.

5. All international news is the direct responsibility of the specialized departments of the Communist Party, which communicates its directives to the international departments of newspapers, radio, and television in light of changing circumstances. Journalists who deal with foreign news are required to report to the Communist Party all contacts with foreign embassies in Cuba.

6. In regards to national news: In addition to following the instructions of the Communist Party, journalists must take into account the interests of the Administration. For example, editors dealing with health matters receive instructions directly from the Ministry of Health as to what to publish and what sanitation campaigns to promote. It is not possible to report on illnesses or epidemics without an expressed agreement from the Ministry.

7. Both the accreditation and the activities of foreign correspondents are controlled by the International Press Center which formally reports to the Foreign Ministry but which is really under the control of the Communist Party Ideological Department and the Secret Police. All articles or reports by foreign correspondents are monitored, and they are the object of all kinds of pressures including blackmail. It is not unusual for a foreign journalist who dares to report on the true nature of the Cuban regime or who has traveled to the island with a tourist visa, to be expelled.

8. The TV Program Mesa Redonda (Round Table) is under the direct supervision of Fidel Castro who chooses daily the topics to be discussed and their priorities. All other Cuban media is required to report and comment on the issues broadcast at Mesa Redonda. This is a personal mechanism used by Castro and supersedes any guideline made by the Ideological Department.

9. Fidel Castro involves himself directly in the content of Cuban media to the extent of approving important articles, the Ideological Department’s guidelines and front pages of Cuban dailies when traveling abroad. There also is a standard prohibition against publishing any opinion column or editorial that is not written or approved by the Cuban leader.

10. In the last five years the Communist Party made it a priority to finance the creation of more than 200 Web pages targeting foreign audiences. The Web pages are carefully supervised by the Central Committee’s Ideological Department.

11. The information, which appears, on the Websites does not necessarily conform to information distributed within Cuba. There are no references to economic difficulties or criticisms of social problems on Cuba’s Web pages.

12. Access to the Internet is permitted only for diplomats, very high-ranking Communist Party leaders, a few selected intellectuals or journalists and foreign companies based on the island. The everyday citizen is prohibited from accessing the Internet.

13. The Department of Information Security created by the Department of the Interior (Secret Police) to monitor use of the Internet controls the servers that provide access to approved users and suspends access whenever a violation of the government’s strict rules is detected.

14. The official journalists who have been granted access to the Internet and a very small group of individuals who are given 30 hours monthly of Internet service at their homes, are required to sign a pledge to inform the Ministry of Interior of any violations of the Internet Ethics code.

15. Cellular telephones are allowed only to foreigners who in turn pay fees in U.S. dollars or E.U. euros.

16. Access to archives and libraries is limited. Officially licensed journalists must request in writing access to certain materials at the National Library and also produce authorization from their editors, a restriction applied only since the 1959 revolution.

17. Independent journalists are persecuted and repressed in various ways including government enforcement of the Protection of National Independence Law, which is also called the Gag Law.

18. Broadcasts on radio and television from abroad are welcomed by the Cuban people just as Europeans under communist rule welcomed foreign broadcasts. The Cuban government spends considerable resources to interfere with and jam foreign broadcasts.

19. The Cuban government prohibits and restricts the sale and distribution of televisions and radios that can receive foreign broadcasts. Satellite dishes are prohibited in Cuba, and although CNN reports from Havana, Cubans are not allowed to watch CNN.

20. A tragic example of the high level of censorship and repression was the sentencing of twenty-seven independent journalists to prison for terms ranging from fourteen to twenty-seven years in prison. This occurred in the government’s crackdown of 2003.

The United States usually rushes to the aid of foreign countries where its citizens have had their “human rights” abused by its governments, but yet has done very little for people living under an evil dictator’s regime in a country just ninety miles from its coast.

That confuses me and makes me angry.

I hope that answers your question...

19/8/06 13:03  
Anonymous Sharp As A Marble said...

The situation has worsened for the independent press in Cuba. It is time to heighten the pressure for the immediate release of jailed journalists and other political prisoners with Castros health failing and the future uncertain.

21/8/06 13:39  
Anonymous Frank The Crank said...

We should have taken Castro out long ago.

21/8/06 15:49  
Anonymous mre said...

We have so much freedom compared to the Cubans, most of us take it for granted and most of them don't even realize what they are missing. It's great that some are brave enough to fight for the basic right of freedom of speech.

22/8/06 07:45  

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