Cuba's fledgling independent press movement suffered an unrelenting wave of harassment by Cuban state security police but still managed to survive a crucial year, recruiting many new members and publishing articles regularly in the United States and Latin America.

Journalists within Cuba's official government news organizations also began to collaborate with the independent press, albeit anonymously, for fear of losing their jobs. By the end of 1996, there were eight groups of independent journalists, four operating in Havana and four others in provincial regions

The year began with the Cuban government's large-scale crackdown in January against "Concilio Cubano," an umbrella group of various pro-democracy organizations. Authorities detained dozens of human rights advocates and independent journalists, searched their homes, and confiscated typewriters, foreign publications, and correspondence.

Conditions for the independent press worsened in the wake of the Cuban air force's downing of two private aircraft flown by Cuban-Americans opposed to the Castro regime on Feb. 24, killing all four people aboard. In a speech the following month, Vice President Raúl Castro told the Communist Party Central Committee that the regime would not tolerate any democratic opening and absolutely no press freedom. "This so-called glasnost that undermined the Soviet Union and other socialist countries consisted of handing over the mass media, one by one, to the enemies of socialism," Castro said. "Cubans maintain and will maintain that a really free press is one serving the people, not the exploiters waiting to ambush from Miami."

Two independent journalists were forced into exile after state security police issued a verbal ultimatum that they either leave the country or face prison sentences for their activities. Rafael Solano, the director of Havana Press, was incarcerated for 42 days. He was released on April 8, following a campaign for his release by CPJ and other press freedom organizations. A month later, he left Cuba for exile in Spain. Roxana Valdivia, a founder of the agency Patria, in Ciego de Avila, left for exile in Miami on June 4, after she had been threatened with incarceration.

Cuba's state security apparatus attempted to marginalize independent journalists through a campaign of threats of reprisal that targeted family members as well as supportive neighbors and colleagues. The extraordinary pressure and harassment is intended to take a psychological toll on the journalists and to ruin them financially.

A debate has emerged among journalists over their role in Cuba's political future. Many reject the label "dissident" and strive to professionalize journalism with an eye toward the post-Castro era. This debate has spilled over into the journalists' often-contentious relationship with Radio Martí, the U.S. government's Office of Cuban Broadcasting which broadcasts to Cuba. Several unpaid stringers for the station have charged that Radio Martí has censored their reports, fueling the resentment of those journalists who feel the U.S. government is using them as political pawns.

One of the Cuban government's most common harassment techniques has been the suspension of telephone service, sometimes for weeks at a time, as an apparent reprisal for reporting activities. Independent journalists are also denied access to facsimile machines and computer modems.

In addition, state security police confiscated articles, manuscripts, foreign publications, typewriters, and writing materials, including pens, from several journalists. Harassment also took a new, troubling turn in July when police detained a member of the Cuba Press agency and stole $700 in cash he had received from the French press group, Reporters Without Borders.

Despite all these government hurdles, the four Havana-based news agencies – Independent Press Agency of Cuba (APIC), the Independent Press Bureau of Cuba (BPIC), Cuba Press, and Havana Press – continued to operate and disseminate news articles through representatives in Miami and Puerto Rico. In addition, four new independent press agencies were formed in 1996 in provincial areas: Agencia Centro Norte del Pais (CNP) in Villa Clara; Agencia de Prensa Libre Oriental (APLO) in Santiago de Cuba; Patria, in Camaguey and Ciego de Avila; and Pinar Press, in Pinar del Rio. And, in a real triumph over the Castro regime's repressive agenda, the news agencies' U.S. supporters succeeded in widely distributing their Cuban colleagues' articles through various World Wide Web sites.

January 10
Yndamiro Restano, Bureau of Independent Journalists of Cuba (BPIC), HARASSED

State security agents detained the parents of Restano, who is the director of BPIC, and questioned them for seven hours about letting their home be used as the BPIC office. Restano's parents, who are both in their 70s, are not involved in any journalistic or political activities. In a statement issued while traveling in Venezuela, Restano said he feared his parents' detention was a sign that he would not be allowed to return to work as a journalist in Cuba.

January 14
Raúl Rivero, Cuba Press, HARASSED
Juan Antonio Sánchez, Cuba Press, HARASSED

Rivero and Sánchez, both journalists with the independent news agency Cuba Press, were arrested by State Security agents in a spate of government actions against journalists and members of a newly formed coalition called the Concilio Cubano (Cuban Council). Cuba Press is a member of the Cuban Council, an umbrella organization for a broad range of dissident groups. Rivero and Sánchez were arrested in Rivero's home in Havana. They were taken to a police station and then transferred to Villa Marista, the headquarters of the Department of State Security. They were released the next day. No charges were filed.

January 19
Luis Solar Hernandez, Bureau of Independent Journalists of Cuba (BPIC), THREATENED, HARASSED

Solar, who covers religion for BPIC, was detained in the town of Ciego de Avila by Cuban state security agents while waiting for a train to Havana. Solar was threatened, and his address book and other personal belongings were confiscated. He was released the next day. State security agents also threatened Valdivia, a BPIC colleague Solar was visiting in Ciego de Avila, and summoned her to appear at the state security offices for violating orders not to receive dissidents in her house. In a press release, CPJ condemned the government's campaign of harassment against independent Cuban journalists.

January 20
Olance Nogueras, Bureau of Independent Journalists of Cuba (BPIC), HARASSED

Nogueras, a journalist with BPIC, was expelled from a press briefing held by the Ministry of Foreign Relations. He had tried to attend the weekly briefing, which was open to the foreign press corps, requesting that independent Cuban journalists be allowed to participate. Police accused him of participating in news conferences at government entities without having the proper government-issued journalism credentials. In a press release, CPJ condemned the government's treatment of Nogueras.

February 15
Bureau of Independent Press in Cuba (BPIC), HARASSED

State security agents surrounded the offices of BPIC in Havana and cut off all communications with and access to the offices, which also serve as the residence of the parents of its director, Yndamiro Restano. Restano's parents and family were prohibited from leaving the building and no one was allowed to enter. Police also intercepted Lorenzo Paez Nuñez, a BPIC reporter, as he was approaching the BPIC building, and confiscated material he was carrying. In the afternoon, security agents raided the offices of BPIC and confiscated 50 articles written by BPIC journalists. CPJ wrote to President Fidel Castro, requesting that BPIC be allowed to operate freely.

February 27
Rafael Solano, Havana Press, IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

Solano, president of the independent news agency Havana Press, was arrested by state security on charges of alleged "association with persons with the intent to commit a crime." A request by his lawyer to free him on bail was denied by Cuban State Security even though, according to his lawyer, there were no legal grounds for his imprisonment. During Solano's detention, his health deteriorated seriously. He lost a considerable amount of weight and was running a high fever. On March 12, CPJ wrote to President Fidel Castro to express its concern about the continued incarceration of Solano and the pattern of harassment against Cuba's independent journalists. On April 8, a day after the New York Times ran an article on his case and the challenges facing the Cuban independent press, Solano was freed but the case against him was still pending. CPJ sent another letter to President Castro, welcoming the release but urging him to drop the charges against Solano and to close the case. Solano said that upon his release from jail he was given an ultimatum; emigrate or face a possible prison sentence. On May 8, he left Cuba for exile in Spain.

Roxana Valdivia, Bureau of Independent Press of Cuba (BPIC), THREATENED, HARASSED, EXPELLED

Valdivia, a BPIC reporter, was given a verbal ultimatum by Cuban authorities at the beginning of March warning that if she did not secure a visa to emigrate by the end of the month she would be incarcerated on charges of refusing to obey orders to stop her work as an independent journalist. On March 20, she was granted a visa by the U.S. government. During the three weeks Valdivia was seeking a visa, her phone lines were frequently cut, at one point for as long as a week. In October 1995, she was detained for one day by state security in Havana and then was forced to return to her home in Ciego de Avila. She remained under police surveillance and was not allowed to leave her province without securing official permission. In a March 12 letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro, CPJ condemned the harassment of Valdivia and urged Castro to allow independent journalists to operate freely without the threat of harassment and imprisonment. On June 4, Valdivia arrived in Miami with her family after being forced to emigrate. CPJ sent a letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro, protesting what it considers to be the defacto expulsion of independent journalists from Cuba.

April 23
Olance Nogueras, Bureau of Independent Cuban Journalists (BPIC), IMPRISONED

Nogueras, a reporter with BPIC, was detained by agents of the political police in the city of Cienfuegos, where he planned to meet with Danielle Mitterrand, president of the French human rights organization France Liberté. In a letter to President Fidel Castro, CPJ requested that Nogueras be released immediately. He was released two days later, after Mitterrand had left the country.

April 26
Bureau of Independent Press of Cuba (BPIC), ATTACKED, HARASSED

Police raided the BPIC headquarters in Havana, confiscating BPIC's files, correspondence, magazines, typewriters, a computer, and pens and pencils. The office was set up in the home of Julio Restano Suárez, BPIC director Yndamiro Restano's father. Yndamiro Restano lives in Miami. CPJ wrote a letter to the Cuban government denouncing the raid. On May 2, State Security agents detained Julio Suárez for about 10 hours at Villa Marista, Cuban State Security's headquarters. Police ordered Julio Suárez to stop allowing his home to be used as BPIC's office, and told him that BPIC had to cease its work immediately. In response, BPIC closed down the office; BPIC members now operate from their respective homes.

May 24
Lázaro Lazo, Bureau of Independent Press of Cuba (BPIC), IMPRISONED, THREATENED

BPIC reporter Lazo was arrested in Havana by two agents of Cuban state security. He was detained for four days in Villa Marista, the main prison of the state security agency, then released. Agents warned Lazo to stop working for BPIC and to leave Cuba.

May 31
Joaquín Torres, Havana Press, THREATENED, HARASSED

Torres, president of the independent news agency Havana Press, was threatened in his home by two members of the state security police, who told him that he would be incarcerated if he continued to write for the agency. Initially, the police informed him that he had received authorization to emigrate and should prepare to leave the country. Torres told authorities, however, that he never sought to emigrate and had no intention of leaving Cuba.

June 3
Cuban independent journalists, HARASSED

CPJ, in a June 3 letter to Javier Garza Calderon, chief executive of the Mexican corporation Grupo Domos, condemned what it views as Grupo Domos' complicity in the Cuban government's ongoing campaign of harassment and intimidation of independent Cuban journalists. In 1994, Grupo Domos entered into a joint venture with the Cuban government, buying 49 percent of the state telephone company, ETECSA, for US$750 million. The Cuban government has systematically interrupted or denied telephone service to independent journalists, often as a reprisal against reporting activities. CPJ urged Grupo Domos to work toward granting or restoring telephone service to all Cuban citizens, regardless of their occupation or purported political beliefs. Journalists are not permitted to own or operate facsimile machines or computer modems. But some journalists in Cuba, both foreign correspondents and local reporters, do use the machines, and the government has confiscated some of them. The restrictions are a direct violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the freedom "to seek, receive, and impart information through any media regardless of frontiers."

June 9
José Rivero García, Cuba Press, THREATENED

Rivero, a reporter for the independent news agency Cuba Press, was threatened by State Security officials with imprisonment or exile because of his activities as an independent journalist. The security officials, who came to Rivero's home and confiscated a file of press clippings, reportedly were angry about some of his coverage for Cuba Press. They also threatened to cut off his telephone if he continued to file reports to Radio Martí, a U.S.-based radio station funded by the U.S. government.

June 12
Rodrigo Alonso, Telemundo, ATTACKED

Alonso, a reporter for the Miami-based Telemundo network, was abducted by four men outside his hotel in the Vedado section of Havana. While the men drove Alonso around Havana in their car for approximately four hours, his hotel room was burglarized.
The incident began when Alonso received a phone call in his room at the Cohiba Hotel and was told that he had a visitor. When he went outside to meet the supposed visitor, he was approached by two men who asked him if he was Rodrigo Alonso. When he said yes, they pushed him into the car, and two other men entered the vehicle, blocking his exit. During the four-hour drive, he was asked several times what he was doing in Cuba. One of the men hit Alonso on the back of his head and poked his right eye several times with a sharp object. Alonso had traveled to Cuba on June 10 with two other representatives of Telemundo to research material and conduct interviews for a program about the life of the revolutionary leader Ernesto Ché Guevara. CPJ urged the Cuban government to investigate Alonso's abduction and the burglary.

June 19
Suzanne Bilello, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), HARASSED, EXPELLED

Bilello, CPJ's program coordinator for the Americas, was arrested at 10:30 p.m. in her room at the Hotel Nacional in Havana by two plainclothes Interior Ministry officials and a uniformed immigration officer. She was brought to the Interior Ministry, where she was interrogated for three hours about her activities in Cuba and her contacts with independent journalists in Havana. She was also questioned about the modest gifts she brought the journalists she met with, including pens, notebooks and medicines - all of which had been approved by Cuban Customs officials - and small advance payments from private sources to help underwrite news-gathering costs for the coming months. Bilello's interrogators seized her notebooks, personal papers, and other private documents, along with rolls of exposed film and other possessions. At 2 a.m. on June 20 she was informed that she was being expelled for "fomenting rebellion." She was then placed aboard a 7 a.m. flight to Cancun, Mexico. Bilello had traveled to Cuba from Mexico on June 16 on a tourist visa. During her four-day stay she met with reporters and editors of five newly established independent Cuban news agencies. In a June 20 press release, CPJ strongly protested "the unjustified seizure of Ms. Bilello's personal papers and other belongings as an unconscionable invasion of privacy, and as a violation of press freedom."

June 24
Lázaro Lazo, Bureau of Independent Press of Cuba (BPIC), HARASSED

Lazo, BPIC's interim director, was summoned to the offices of the Department of State Security in Villa Marista, Havana. He was held for nine hours and interrogated about his work with BPIC and other independent news agencies. He was also questioned about the visit of CPJ staff member Suzanne Bilello, who was expelled from Cuba a week earlier after speaking with independent journalists there. In a letter to President Fidel Castro, CPJ expressed its grave concern about the interrogation of Lazo and the harassment of other independent journalists.

June 26
Norma Brito, Bureau of Independent Press of Cuba (BPIC), HARASSED

Brito, a BPIC spokesperson, was summoned to the offices of the Department of State Security in Villa Marista, Havana, and interrogated about her work with BPIC. She was also questioned about the visit of CPJ staff member Suzanne Bilello, who was expelled from Cuba a week earlier after speaking with independent journalists there. Brito was released after several hours. In a letter to the Cuban authorities, CPJ protested the harassment.

July 12
Joaquín Torres, Havana Press, HARASSED

Torres, a reporter with the independent agency Havana Press, was arrested in his home, taken to a police station in the Havana neighborhood of Caballo Blanco, and incarcerated there until the morning of July 14. Torres was interrogated briefly about his work by an official of the State Security Agency, which maintains a bureau in the Caballo Blanco police station. CPJ strongly denounced the arrest in a letter to President Fidel Castro.

July 13
Orlando Bordón Galvez, Cuba Press, HARASSED

Bordón, a reporter with the independent news agency Cuba Press, was interrogated for four hours at the police station in the Havana neighborhood of San José about his activities as an independent journalist.

July 15
Mercedes Moreno, Bureau of Independent Press of Cuba (BPIC), THREATENED, HARASSED

Moreno, a BPIC reporter, was summoned to the state security agency at Villa Marista in Havana and charged with distributing false information and enemy propaganda. She was questioned about CPJ staff member Suzanne Bilello's visit to Cuba, though she never met with Bilello. Moreno was also threatened with criminal prosecution. In a letter to Cuban President Fidel Castro, CPJ expressed its deep concern about the charges against Moreno and the wave of harassment against independent journalists in Cuba.

July 15
Nestor Baguer, Cuban Association of Independent Journalists (APIC), THREATENED, HARASSED

Baguer, head of the Cuban Association of Independent Journalists (APIC, ) was summoned by the state security police at Villa Marista, where he was charged with distributing false information and enemy propaganda. Baguer was interrogated for several hours about his work with APIC and about a recent visit to Cuba by CPJ staff expert Suzanne Bilello. On July 16, Baguer reported back to Villa Marista as ordered. He was detained briefly. He told CPJ that security police threatened to bring him before a criminal tribunal if he continued to write articles that they considered "enemy propaganda." CPJ protested his detention and the harassment of several other independent journalists in a letter to Cuba's president, Fidel Castro.

July 30
Juan Antonio Sanchez, Cuba Press, THREATENED, HARASSED

Sanchez, a photojournalist with the independent news agency Cuba Press, was apprehended by Cuban Security Agents as he left a currency exchange booth at the Havana Libre Hotel, where he had changed US$700 from large denominations into smaller bills. The money had been sent to Cuba Press by the French press freedom advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontières, to support news-gathering efforts. The officials drove Sanchez to the sixth police unit, in the Mariano section of Havana, where he was detained for six hours. They confiscated the money and told Sanchez he had to sign a written statement that he had "received money from the American government in order to finance domestic counterrevolutionary activities." Sanchez refused to sign the statement. The officials threatened him, saying, "This is nothing compared to what could happen to you." He was then released.

August 1
Ramon Alberto Cruz Lima, Patria, THREATENED, HARASSED

Cruz, a reporter for the independent news agency Patria, was arrested in Ciego de Avila at the home of Hector Valdivia. Valdivia is the father of Roxana Valdivia, a Patria journalist who was forced into exile with her family in June. Hector Valdivia was also arrested but released soon after.

Cruz told CPJ that he was detained and interrogated at the headquarters of the State Security Department for four hours. During the interrogation, Cruz was questioned about CPJ staff member Suzanne Bilello's visit to Cuba in June. At the time of his arrest, police confiscated articles that Cruz had written and threatened to use them as evidence in a criminal prosecution, but Cruz was not formally charged with anything. On Aug. 7, Cruz was summoned to the State Security headquarters and interrogated again, this time for six hours. The police threatened Cruz with charges of enemy propaganda, conspiracy, and practicing journalism illegally. In a letter to President Fidel Castro, CPJ urged the Cuban government to halt the harassment of Cruz and other independent journalists, which appeared to be part of an ongoing campaign against Patria.

August 12
Bernardo Fuentes Camblor, Patria, IMPRISONED
Magaly Pino García, Patria, IMPRISONED
Jorge Enrique Rives, Patria, IMPRISONED

Fuentes Camblor, Pino García, and Rives, reporters for the independent Cuban news agency Patria, were arrested in their homes in the city of Camaguey by members of the Cuban State Security police. The reporters were incarcerated in State Security's provincial headquarters in Camaguey, where they were interrogated about their activities as independent journalists and CPJ staff expert Suzanne Bilello's visit to Cuba in June. In a letter to President Fidel Castro, CPJ urged Cuban authorities to release the journalists immediately. All three were released on Aug. 16.

August 14
Jorge Olivera Castillo, Havana Press, HARASSED

Olivera Castillo, a reporter for the independent news agency Havana Press, was interrogated by two State Security officials about the source of a news report he had filed for Radio Martí in early August. The officials came to his home at 10 a.m. and interrogated him for 30 minutes about the source for his report about the Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión, where tape-recording equipment had recently been damaged by an acid-like substance. The two officials told Olivera Castillo that they would continue to visit him until he revealed his sources. Olivera Castillo himself had been an editor with the Institute for nine years before he was forced to resign in 1993.

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