Iván Hernández Carrillo, a correspondent for the small independent news agency Pátria, returned to his family home in Matanzas province on 19 February after eight years in jail. Sentenced to 25 years in prison during the March 2003 “Black Spring” crackdown on dissidents, he is the second of the “Black Spring” journalists to be allowed the stay in Cuba following their release.
The first was Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, who was freed nine days ago. All the others had to agree to go into exile in return for their release. Hernández has said he plans to resume working as an independent journalist.
Pedro Argüelles Morán is now the only “Black Spring” journalist still awaiting release. We hope he will be freed soon, like Albert Santiago Du Bouchet, an independent journalist who has been jailed since 2009. We are also still waiting to know the exact reasons for former Spanish producer and journalist Sebastián Martínez Ferrate’s detention in Havana since 11 July 2010.
We welcome the fact that the government is finally turning the page on the “Black Spring,” a harrowing chapter in Cuba’s recent history, and we urge it to take this further by respecting the rights of all its citizens, bloggers and human rights activities, who are demanding more freedom of expression.
The repression must stop and the authorities must accept the principle of pluralism. Recent encouraging signs of an opening, including the unblocking of certain blogs and websites, will hopefully pave the way for a real debate between government and civil society.
Albert Santiago Du Bouchet
Pedro Argüelles Morán
14.02.11 - Journalist’s release and unblocking of dissident blogs – signs of real opening?
The 12 February release of Héctor Maseda Gutiérrez, the co-founder of a small independent news agency called the Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, may mean that the page is finally about to be turned on the “Black Spring” crackdown on journalists and dissidents of March 2003. He was not forced to go into exile in return for his release.
Reporters Without Borders hopes it will be soon be followed by the release of the last two journalists still held since Black Spring, Pedro Argüelles Morán and Iván Hernández Carrillo, who like Maseda are refusing to leave the country . If the authorities then also release Albert Santiago Du Bouchet, who has been held since 2009, there will be no more Cuban journalists in prison.
The Cuban government had promised the Spanish government and the Cuban Catholic church last July to release the 52 remaining “Black Spring” prisoners within four months but Maseda, 68, was one of the 11 who refused to go into exile. Since 12 February, six of them have been due to be freed without having to submit to exile.
Their release does not overturn the sentences imposed on them in 2003, as Maseda himself protested after being escorted to his Havana home.
Although good news, Maseda’s release raises many lingering questions about the “Black Spring.” It continues to be a mystery why Cubans were sentenced to such long sentences (ranging from 14 to 27 years in prison) on such outrageous sentences as spying and treason just for claiming the right to freely inform others.
It is also unclear why most of them were forced to go into exile upon release but now some of them are being allowed to stay. These questions will have an impact on the debate about the country’s future. We hope that the journalists who were sent into exile will be allowed to return.
In another positive development, access to about 40 dissident blogs and Internet pages – including Yoani Sánchez’s Generación Y – has been unblocked since 9 February. Foreign press reports quoted Sánchez as saying this easing in online censorship was perhaps due to the fact that an information technology trade fair was held in Havana from 7 to 11 February.
Reporters Without Borders hopes this will continue and will be extended when Cuba’s new fibre-optic Internet cable connection with Venezuela becomes operational in July. Laying of the undersea cable, known as ALBA-1, was completed on 8 February.
If the Cuban government agrees to unblock the Internet and give the country a better connection, will it also agree to legalize online independent media? And privately-owned media? The answers to these questions will determine whether or not the signs of an opening of recent days are real.