Cuba is one of our priorities. This is because there is no press freedom on the island. The state has a monopoly on news and information. Everything from Internet use to possession of a fax machine or computer needs permission. There are virtually no independent publications aside from one or two Catholic church newsletters. A small number of journalists manage to write articles for foreign websites or publish underground newsletters, producing fewer than a thousand copies with a photocopier.
But there is worse to come. Twenty-one journalists are still imprisoned in Cuba in very harsh conditions. They were arrested in March 2003 and sentenced to very long prison terms, some of them to more than 20 years. Most of them have been deprived of medicine or food brought by their families, denied family visits, subjected to harassment by prison staff or threatened by other inmates.
The foreign press is also watched closely in Cuba. At the end of May, the authorities expelled two Polish journalists and an Italian journalist who had come to cover a meeting organised by the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, a dissident coalition. The authorities said they had come on tourist visas instead of press visas. This is true. But they had no choice. They knew they would never be given press visas to cover this meeting. Reporters Without Borders has been trying for years to visit Cuba in an official capacity. We are still waiting for permission from Havana.
Does Reporters Without Borders give Cuba special treatment?
Cuba gets no special treatment form Reporters Without Borders. Our organisation criticises press freedom violations all over the world, without regard to ideology or politics. Fidel Castro’s champions accuse us of taking an interest in Cuba alone. This is wrong. A few figures suffice to demonstrate this. Reporters Without Borders put out 781 releases on 118 countries in 2004. Fifty-eight were about China, 56 about Iraq, 38 about Iran, 30 about Pakistan, 25 about Algeria, 25 about Côte d’Ivoire and… 18 about Cuba.
We have issued 13 releases about press freedom in Cuba since the start of 2005. But we have also put out 12 on Peru and 11 on Mexico. In other continents, Reporters Without Borders has reacted 38 times to events in China so far this year, 30 in Nepal, 28 in Iran and 17 in Russia.
Where are these attacks coming from?
Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly been accused of bias against Cuba. Many of these attacks originated in the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma and were then picked up by websites and Internet discussion forums.
A handful of dedicated Castro supporters seem bent on trying to discredit our work by means of slanderous accusations without any basis. "Reporters Without Borders is funded by the CIA, everyone knows that." You keep hearing this from fans of the Cuban revolution. "Everyone knows that." Unsourced claims, rumours and lies are the preferred weapons of those behind these attacks.
Disinformation rules and ill will inspires these crusaders for the Castroist revolution. Several articles, for example, have said Reporters Without Borders paid French actress Catherine Deneuve 50,000 euros to attend an event dedicated to press freedom in Cuba. It is true Deneuve agreed to take part. But she did it because she wanted to. She was not paid a cent by our organisation. She has on the other hand acknowledged being paid 50,000 euros to attend a ceremony to launch the Algerian TV station Khalifa TV. But that had nothing to do with Reporters Without Borders or Cuba.
Why are these attacks happening?
Cuba has many admirers all over the world, more than any other government. The Cuban revolution retains a deep-seated, romantic appeal many still find hard to resist. Castro fans find reasons to forgive or turn a blind eye to the revolution’s crimes and shortcomings. Many who have never set foot in Cuba see it as a symbol of the struggle against US imperialism and therefore think it should be spared all criticism. Even if that means ignoring its human rights violations.
Where does Reporters Without Borders get its money?
Our accounts are public and transparent. They are verified each year by an auditor and posted on our website, www.rsf.org. We get no money from the US state department, the CIA or USAID. The only grants we receive from US sources come from the Center for a Free Cuba and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The Center for a Free Cuba allocated us 50,000 dollars in 2004, which was just 1.3 per cent of our total budget for that year. We received funding from the NED for the first time in 2005, in the form of a grant of 39,900 dollars. This is 1.3 per cent of this year’s projected budget and has had no impact on the positions we have taken. It should be pointed out that the NED funds are for a project to "support journalists arrested, imprisoned or threatened in Africa." The project concerns Africa and just Africa. It has nothing to do with Cuba. The Center for a Free Cuba funding is used to support the families of journalists imprisoned in Cuba and to carry out projects to promote their release.
Accepting money from US foundations has never stopped us from criticising press freedom violations in the United States. Reporters Without Borders spoke out 10 times in 2004 about US army abuses against journalists in Iraq. It also issued a detailed report about the shelling of the Palestine Hotel by a US tank in April 2003, which killed two journalists. Six releases have been published so far this year on the threats to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources in the United States. On 27 June, Reporters Without Borders condemned a "retrograde and freedom-curtailing decision" by a US court. This is not very flattering language from journalists who are supposedly "funded by the US administration." Our website also has a special page entitled "US courts threaten right to keep sources secret."
Paris, 6 July 2005