No sooner had Cuban President Raúl Castro returned to Havana from Chile, where he was sworn in as the new president of the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC), than Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders—RSF) repeated his own words back to him. The French-based NGO released a letter Monday urging the Cuban leader to release journalists currently held in Cuban prisons and called on Castro to reject, in Cuba, the “aggression, threats and use of force” he mentioned during his CELAC acceptance speech.
During the CELAC summit, Castro had said he had “total respect for international law and the United Nations Charter.” In response, RSF requested “that these undertakings quickly be given concrete expression in your own country.”
RSF applauded Cuba’s migration law reforms, which took effect on January 14. “It means that Cubans who want to travel abroad no longer need an exit permit and are guaranteed the right to return,” the group said, though they demanded that the new reforms be applied to all citizens without distinction, including dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, who recently obtained a passport. RSF said that Sánchez “must be allowed to return at the end of the regional trip she plans to begin soon.”
“The door should also be open for all the journalists and dissidents who want to come back after being forced into exile, and for all those in Cuba who would now like to travel,” RSF said.
The statement also called for more open discussion on the island in the future. “Dialogue will only be possible if Cuba stops cracking down on citizens ‘guilty’ of providing domestic news coverage that is not controlled by the state. The authorities must abolish this control at once, recognize diverse news reporting and release all those who have been unjustly imprisoned,” RSF said.
The statement also urged the Cuban government to ratify the two UN conventions on civil and political rights that it signed in 2008 and listed four Cuban independent journalists unjustly imprisoned:
- Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who has been detained for nearly five months and is facing a possible three-year jail term for “insulting the head of state.” He is being punished for publishing information about cholera and dengue epidemics that were eventually confirmed by the government.
- Luis Antonio Torres, a journalist employed by the state-owned daily Granma who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in July 2012 on unsubstantiated spying charges after reporting on the negative consequences of certain infrastructure projects.
- Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, a writer and winner of various prizes who was sentenced to five years in prison on December 8 for criticizing the Cuban government in his blog.
- Independent journalist Héctor Julio Cedeño, who was arrested in Havana on February 5 for photographing state inspectors harassing street vendors and is still being held.
The RSF letter also raises the issue of the underwater ALBA-1 Internet cable linking Cuba and Venezuela, which recently came into service and which now makes it possible for Cuba to overcome the limited Internet access on the island.
Cuba has often blamed the U.S. embargo for limiting its Internet access. RSF has repeatedly requested that the U.S. lift its embargo on Cuba, but believes that the ALBA-1 cable “must now be used for all Cubans to have unimpeded access to the Internet.”
“Information is needed to underpin the exchange of ideas and opinions that make a society live and evolve. This is why Internet progress should benefit all Cubans,” RSF said.