The IAPA Does Not See Progress In Press Freedom In Cuba

Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca. (14ymedio)
Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca has been threatened and detained for documenting repression. (14ymedio)

Within a few hours of the opening of the 71st General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), scheduled between October 2-6 in Charleston, South Carolina, regional reports from the Commission for Freedom of the Press and Information were made public. According to the organization, ten months after the beginning of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, journalism on the island continues to be “dogged by censorship in the Cuban Communist Party monopoly over the national media.”

The report details that in Cuba there are still no signs of “economic improvement,” nor an increase in the respect for “human rights, greater freedom of expression, association and the press,” derived from the process of diplomatic rapprochement that both countries are experiencing.

With special alarm, the text includes the threats and arrests made this summer by State Security against the reporter  Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, when he tried to document in videos and photos the repression suffered by the Ladies in White. The independent journalist denounced the repressive methods against the exercise of the unofficial press, including detentions for “several days without records of arrest nor of the seizure of our belongings” and the “confiscation of the tools of our work.”

The case of the artist  Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto,” was also highlighted by the IAPA as evidence of the lack of freedom of expression on the Island. Nine months after his arrest for planning a performance, the Graffiti artist remains in prison without having been brought to trial. This week  Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience.

The IAPA report also denounces “the censorship maintained on digital sites, as is the case of sites like Cubaencuentro, Martínoticias, and the digital newspaper 14ymedio, as well as other sites that address the Cuban issue from a perspective critical” of the authorities.

Raul Castro’s government maintains a tendency towards “paramilitarization” of the repressions, with physical and verbal violence but without leaving legal footprints, says the report. This method was demonstrated during Pope Francis’s visit in mid-September, “particularly with the detention of the opponent  Martha Beatriz Roque and the independent journalist  Miriam Leiva, when  both were traveling to accept an invitation from the Aposolic Nunciature to greet the pontiff at Havana Cathedral,” it says.

Civil society wins spaces

Among the achievements of Cuban civil society, IAPA enumerates the first  Encuentro de Pensamiento (Meeting of Ideas) for Cuba, hosted by the independent think tank Center for Coexistence Studies in the city of Pinar del Río and the magazine of the same name. Founded in 2007, the publication has already published 45 issues and addresses issues ranging from culture to citizenship.

The opening of 35 WiFi points to connect to the internet also found space in the report, although the text reminds us that Cuba remains one of the least connected countries in the world, with only 5% of Cubans having access to Internet, which is reduced to 1% in the case of broadband.

The reports comments on the parole granted to the writer  Angel Santiesteban and transfer to a minimum security prison mid-year of the journalist  Jose Antonio Torres, a former correspondent for the Party newspaper  Granma, accused of espionage.

The report made special mention of the illegal compendium of audiovisuals and alternative information, known as the “ weekly packet.” The IAPA said that the  weekly packet “has continued to gain ground among the Cuban population and is causing great concern in the ruling party,” while the official press continues to be characterized by self-censorship and the absence of “a journalism of investigation, that puts pressure on government entities to have greater transparency about their internal workings.”

During the 71 st  General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association, there will be seminars run by the Press Institute that will focus on current issues under the title “Beyond the Digital Transformation.” Other panels will address the growing contribution of women in the media, value added and copyrights, according to information from the organizers.

The meeting will feature Literature Nobelist Mario Vargas Llosa, who will participate in a special session and be interviewed by journalist Andres Oppenheimer.

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