September 7, 2011
By Juan Tamayo, The Miami Herald
The Cuban government has denied entry to a French news agency correspondent who had been assigned to Havana, part of what other journalists on the island describe as a severe tightening of controls on their work under Raúl Castro’s rule.
Juan Castro Olivera, an Argentine correspondent last assigned to the Miami bureau of the Agence France Press, was denied the Cuban journalist’s visa required for his new assignment to the AFP bureau in Havana.
“Cuban authorities never explained the reasons for the refusal to grant the visa,” said Francis Kohn, AFP’s regional director for Latin America. “We have been in contact with the Cuban authorities . . . and we defended our choice of Juan Castro Olivera.”
Several Cuban and foreign journalists in Havana who work for international news media have long complained of increased government attempts to control their work since Castro succeeded his ailing brother Fidel in 2006.
Spain’s El País newspaper reported over the weekend that its correspondent in Havana for the past 20 years, Mauricio Vicent, had been denied a renewal of his press accreditation by the Foreign Ministry’s International Press Center (CPI).
Vicent’s credentials in fact expired nearly two years ago, but the CPI did not deny his renewal until now as a way of trying to pressure him and his newspaper to moderate their reporting on the island, according to fellow El País writers.
Cuba regularly uses the CPI accreditation as a pressure point to keep journalists in line. Without one, Vicent, who is married to a Cuban, can still live in Cuba but would be breaking the law if he publishes any stories.
CPI officials in Havana complained that Vicent’s reports painted “a partial and negative image” of Cuba, and likely rejected Castro Olivera because of his previous assignment in Miami, other Cuban and foreign journalists based in Cuba said.
They noted that since 2008 they have received an increasing number of complaints about some of their stories on dissidents, and warnings to stay away from others.
Authorities have been especially sensitive about stories on Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner who died in 2009 after a hunger strike, and Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia, a dissident who died after an alleged police beating in May, said the journalists.
Foreign journalists in Havana have reported virtually nothing on the recent spate of complaints by dissidents in eastern Cuba of violent crackdowns by pro-government mobs and security agents against opposition activists.
CPI officials also have tightened some of the regulations on correspondents, such as those governing the purchases of cars and equipment such as air conditioners, according to the journalists, who all requested anonymity to avoid government retaliations.
Just one year after Raúl Castro took power, his government withdrew the accreditations of three foreign correspondents, including the Chicago Tribune’s Gary Marx and Cesar Gonzalez-Calero of the El Universal newspaper in Mexico. They left Cuba.
The third was a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corp. who stayed in the country and managed to renew his accreditation later.
Some foreign journalists in Havana acknowledge in private that they must watch what they write in order to avoid the wrath of the CPI, but argue that the compromise is needed to continue providing at least some coverage from the island.
“We recognize it’s a tough balancing act for many of these foreign journalists,” anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver-Carone wrote in his blog, Capitol Hill Cubans. “But people who do not follow Cuba on a daily basis are unaware of these nuances [and of the nature of the Castro dictatorship] — thus, it sadly leads to disinformation.”
El País, in an editorial Tuesday, noted that Cuba had rejected Vicent at almost the same time that Iran expelled the newspaper’s correspondent there, Angeles Espinosa.
“When those regimes have turned into nothing more than a bad dream, as they will sooner rather than later, the fact that they were ordered to shut up will be a motive for pride for those who, like the two El País correspondents, wrote the truth,” the newspaper said.
“Because when a regime perceives the truth as a threat, it is because the lie that supports it has only a limited amount of time left,” it added.