December 17, 1997, in the Miami Herald
THERE are many brave men and women fighting an information war with the communist regime in Cuba. They are the "independent journalists.''
Their plight moves me to write, hoping that somehow help will come from journalists in this country and in Latin America to promote freedom of the press and democracy.
As director of news at Radio Marti, I learn about everyday things happening in Cuba that the Havana regime would rather keep in the closet. Most of that information comes from the valiant efforts of independent journalists. By their reporting, they defy the regime with little help from the outside world.
Many of us in the United States have only a vague notion of the extremely difficult conditions in which independent Cuban journalists work to keep people on the island informed, mostly through Radio Marti, of what is going on in their country.
These valiant colleagues constantly defy the State Security Police despite unrelenting harassment and threats. By informing the Cuban people and the outside world they risk what little they have. They know that they run an even-greater risk when they do it through Radio Marti -- "the enemy's broadcast station.''
Begging for pencils and paper
They have almost no resources. They beg for pencils and paper. They have to use the state-controlled phone network, knowing that they are being monitored by the political police and that what they say can be used against them in court.
They tell us that the broadcasting of their news and names through Radio Marti is their best protection against official reprisals. Many have been released by police after we have broadcast a story of their arrest.
It seems that the regime fears the impact that this type of news could have in any process of consolidation of the dissident movement. But there is more to it. Whenever an independent journalist is arrested, we seek immediately the reaction of journalists' institutions such as the Inter American Press Association, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders. Evidently Fidel Castro's regime dreads this sort of international repercussion, and in most instances the independent journalist is released after a few hours of detention and intimidation.
Raul Rivero, the Cuba Press News Agency editor, is perhaps one of the best examples of this. At least twice he has been released after we aired the story of his arrest and international reaction to it.
Nonetheless, in the past few weeks the regime has increased efforts to infiltrate the independent-journalists movement and also has submitted these women and men to higher levels of abuse. The State Security objective now seems to be journalists of little renown whose arrest would not likely raise much national or international havoc.
While the regime unleashes harsher reprisals, 10 days ago an unidentified aggressor with a machete almost severed the right hand of an independent newsman. Two weeks ago the State Security Police arrested an independent female journalist. They told her that unless she agreed to collaborate by feeding Radio Marti with false information, she would be taken to court for conspiracy and jailed for two to four years. Their objective is to reduce Radio Marti's credibility among the Cuban people.
After four days in solitary confinement, the woman agreed to sign a "contract'' by which she appeared to accept all conditions for her release. She was let go soon after, and immediately she called Radio Marti. She said that she had no intention of carrying out the "contract'' and that she would rather go to jail than betray her fellow independent journalists. Signing, she explained, enabled her to get out and speak. She also wanted to arrange protection for her 18-year-old son; she asked also that we keep her statement secret until she had. (The Catholic Church will provide him protection.)
In the face of such increasing repression, a way must be found among U.S. and Latin American news institutions to give effective support to these men and women who so valiantly struggle in Cuba for a free press and a transition toward democracy.
Journalists need help to survive
That is what freedom of the press is all about. Empty words will not suffice. The kind of support that these journalists need to survive and win goes beyond periodic reports saying what almost everyone knows: That there is no freedom of the press in Cuba.
The European association Reporters Without Borders on Dec. 10 gave independent journalist Raul Rivero an award for his work. Rivero said that he only hoped that the award would focus worldwide attention on the independent journalists' difficult and dangerous work in Cuba. Perhaps Rivero's plea will move colleagues in America to take an active role in helping the brave Cuban independent journalists with whatever means they have. I only hope that they do it before it is too late.
Copyright © 1997 The Miami Herald