January 28, 2016 - Updated on March 8, 2016

Will Hollande dare look Raúl Castro in the eye?

As French President François Hollande prepares to receive Cuban leader Raúl Castro at the Elysée Palace on 1-2 February, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges him not to shirk from his duty to raise the disastrous situation of the media in Cuba with his visitor.
This official visit by Castro, who is not only President of the Council of State and President Council of Ministers but also First Secretary of the Communist Party and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, is repaying the visit that Hollande made to Cuba on 10 May 2015. RSF wrote to Hollande before that trip to remind him of what he once said about the need to end censorship in Cuba. The visit was not however followed by any significant improvement in media freedom. RSF wonders about the reasons for this new meeting with the leader of what is one of the world’s worst countries from the viewpoint of journalists. In Cuba, independent journalists and bloggers are constantly persecuted by the Castro government, which has ruled the island for 57 years. The regime has an almost total monopoly on the circulation of news and information, using harsh laws and police harassment to gag independent and opposition media outlets. Cuban journalists who try to resist government control are subject to intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrest and the confiscation of their professional equipment. “We urge François Hollande not to dodge the fundamental question of media freedom in Cuba during his talks with Raúl Castro,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk. “The Castro government’s many attacks on Cuban journalists are unacceptable. France must use this visit to advance the debate about media pluralism and the protection of journalists in Cuba.” The progressive lifting of the US embargo and the resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States, symbolized by Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Havana in August, have not resulted in any sign of improvement in the lot of Cuba’s journalists. In fact, harassment of the opposition media has intensified in recent months. Reporters who cover the weekly protest march by the “Damas de Blanco” on Sundays are systematically arrested and held for several hours before being freed. When Pope Francis visited Cuba in September, the secret police told opposition journalists and bloggers they would be arrested if they did not stay at home until the pope left. Cuba is ranked 169th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This is the lowest ranking of any country in Latin America.