CubaBrief: World Press Freedom Day marks 30 years. Cuba remains worst country for press freedom in Latin America. IAPA President’s World Press Freedom Day message highlights jailed Cuban journalists

Today, May 3rd is World Press Freedom Day. It was established 30 years ago on May 3, 1993. Reporters Without Borders has released the 21st edition of its World Press Freedom Index. Out of a list of 180 countries with Norway identified as first in press freedom in the world and North Korea at 180th in last place, Cuba’s place in the index rose from 173 in 2022 to 172nd this year. Reporters Without Borders in their entry on Cuba states: ” Cuba remains, year in and year out, the worst country for press freedom in Latin America.”

Michael Greenspon, President of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) in his message for World Press Freedom Day highlighted the plight of journalists in the Americas, and the worsening climate for press freedoms as democratic spaces deteriorate.

“The governments of Cuba and Venezuela continued to block the digital sites of national and foreign media. Fifty journalists from Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua were forced to leave the country. At the same time, three remain imprisoned, among them José Rubén Zamora, president of elPeriódico in Guatemala and reporter Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca and influencer Sulmira Martínez from Cuba. In the face of forced exile and imprisonment, it seems senseless that the Cuban government prohibits nine independent journalists from leaving the country.”

Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca was sentenced to five years in prison on July 28, 2022 for “enemy propaganda and resistance,” and he has been jailed since June 5, 2021. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement condemning the so-called “legal proceeding”:

“Cuban authorities have already unjustly held journalist Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca behind bars for more than a year; now he faces years more in prison simply for sharing information,” said CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean program coordinator, Natalie Southwick. “Valle’s sentencing is a clear sign that the Cuban government is back to its old playbook, using the extreme measure of jailing journalists to maintain its censorship regime.”

Sulmira Martínez Pérez, a 21-year-old Cuban black woman, was detained on January 10, 2023 by State Security for sharing memes on her Facebook page in which she expressed her intentions to organize a nonviolent demonstration in Cuba, reported Melissa Martin, Ph.D. in her April 5, 2023 Op-Ed, “U.S. Demands Release of Cuban Sulmira Martínez Pérez Unlawfully Jailed by State Security – Let Her Go”  in  The Published Reporter. On March 17, 2023  Sulmira was transferred to Guatao prison in Havana, reported journalist Mónica Baró who cited the 21-year-old’s mother, Norma Perez. Nearing the three month mark of her arrest, she remains in custody. According to her mom, the charges against  Sulmira have changed from “propaganda against the constitutional order” to “instigating a crime,” a more serious charge applied to many July 11, 2021 protestors.  

These are more reasons why Cuba should be removed from the UN Human Rights Council, and why you should sign the petition to make it happen.

Reporters Without Borders, May 3, 2023

Cuba remains, year in and year out, the worst country for press freedom in Latin America.

Media landscape

Televisions, radios, and newspapers are all closely monitored by the government. The constitution prohibits privately owned media. Tele Rebelde and Cubavisión are the leading TV channels, and Radio Reloj is the radio station with the most listeners. Granma is the most widely distributed newspaper, and like all media, it is under state control. Independent journalists are closely watched by state security officers, who try to restrict their movements and periodically interrogate them, deleting information from their devices.

Political context

Miguel Díaz-Canel, a protégé of Raúl Castro, replaced the latter in 2019 as the country’s president, and then as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. Like Raúl Castro and his late brother Fidel, who had ruled since 1959, he maintains almost total control over news and information.

Legal framework

Access to the Internet is still mostly controlled by the state. Bloggers and journalists can express themselves online but do so at their own risk. They are often subjected to harassment that may range from being held for questioning to being placed under house arrest to prevent them from covering major events. The dream of an open, free and inclusive Internet was rendered even more distant by new regulations in 2021 that completely violated the right to freedom of expression and information in the digital domain. A new penal code adopted in 2022 reinforces the repertoire of Cuban repression with vague terms such as “public disturbances”, “contempt”, and “danger to constitutional order” that can easily be used as grounds for prosecuting journalists.

Economic context

The Covid-19 pandemic and the reinforcement of US sanctions have resulted in Cuba’s worst economic crisis in 30 years, pushing many Cubans to try to emigrate by any means possible.

Sociocultural context

The open dissent expressed in the San Isidro movement in November and December 2020 followed by the massive street protests on 11 July 2021 unleashed a harsh crackdown similar to the one in the Black Spring of 2003.

Safety

Arrests, arbitrary detentions, threats of imprisonment, persecution and harassment, illegal raids on homes, confiscation and destruction of equipment – all this awaits journalists who do not toe the Cuban Communist Party line. The authorities also control foreign journalists’ coverage by granting accreditation selectively, and by expelling those considered “too negative” about the government.

https://rsf.org/en/country/cuba

MercoPress, May 3, 2023

World Press Freedom Day: IAPA anything but optimistic

Wednesday, May 3rd 2023

“It is impossible to sustain democracy without the proper freedom and protection that journalists and the media need…,” Greenspon said

Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) President Michael Greenspon was anything but optimistic in his World Press Freedom Day message after reports showed that, in the last semester, 10 journalists were murdered: 5 in Haiti and the others in Colombia, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, and Paraguay.

The “loss of democratic spaces” in the Americas and the “precarious situation of sustainability and viability” of the media in the region mark World Press Freedom Day to be celebrated on May 3, Greenspon said. “The balance is not very encouraging,” he added.

“Our country-by-country reports recorded hundreds of attacks against journalists due in many cases to the climate of general public insecurity, to the police’s lack of skill during the coverage of public demonstrations, and also due to the advance of drug trafficking in countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, and Paraguay,” he also pointed out.

In the last six months, he explained, 10 journalists were murdered. Five of them in Haiti and the others in Colombia, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, and Paraguay.

The IAPA president, who is also the global director of Print Licensing and Innovation at The New York Times, said that “simply covering the news has become a risky activity.”

In countries such as Venezuela and Cuba, “governments continued to block Internet sites of national and foreign media”. While “the Nicaraguan regime continued confiscating media” while El Salvador’s digital newspaper El Faro had to transfer its offices to Costa Rica “to avoid government persecution.” In addition, some fifty journalists from Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua “were forced into exile”, he added.

According to Greenspon, women journalists were “victims of cyber-attacks and stigmatization in numerous countries”. At the same time, reporters from El Salvador and Mexico were victims of cyber espionage.

The IAPA president highlighted “the governmental opacity … in almost all the countries of the region, including the most democratic ones such as Canada, the United States, Panama, and Puerto Rico, where governments violate the laws of access to public information.”

The executive highlighted “the precarious situation of sustainability and viability of the media” in the Americas, where, he said, “many have had to suspend their operations, with severe consequences for our democracies.

”It is impossible to sustain democracy without the proper freedom and protection that journalists and the media need to work. And without the economic health that the new digital ecosystem requires,” remarked the IAPA president.

May 3 was proclaimed World Press Freedom Day in 1993 by the UN General Assembly.

https://en.mercopress.com/2023/05/03/world-press-freedom-day-iapa-anything-but-optimistic

Inter American Press Association (IAPA), May 2, 2023

Message from the President of the IAPA – World Press Freedom Day*

Michael Greenspon, Global Head of Licensing & Print Innovation for the New York Times

Miami (May 2, 2023) – A few days ago, we concluded the midyear meeting of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) with an emphasis on the hard loss of democratic spaces in the Americas due to the unfavorable climate for freedom of expression and press freedom.

The balance is not very encouraging. In the last six months, ten journalists were murdered, five in Haiti and others in Colombia, the United States, Guatemala, Honduras, and Paraguay.

Simply covering the news has become a risky activity. Our country-by-country reports recorded hundreds of attacks against journalists due, in many cases, to the general climate of public insecurity, police violence during the coverage of public demonstrations, and due to the advance of drug trafficking in countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Mexico, and Paraguay.

This harsh climate also affected dozens of media outlets that suffered attacks, as happened in Ecuador, where unknown individuals sent pen drives with explosives to newsrooms. Although many attacks came from organized crime gangs, the states were also responsible for the violence. The government closed eighty radio stations in Venezuela, the Nicaraguan regime continued confiscating media outlets, and the digital newspaper El Faro moved its offices to Costa Rica to avoid government persecution in El Salvador. The governments of Cuba and Venezuela continued to block the digital sites of national and foreign media.

Fifty journalists from Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua were forced to leave the country. At the same time, three remain imprisoned, among them José Rubén Zamora, president of elPeriódico in Guatemala and reporter Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca and influencer Sulmira Martínez from Cuba. In the face of forced exile and imprisonment, it seems senseless that the Cuban government prohibits nine independent journalists from leaving the country.

Women journalists have been the victims of cyber-attacks and stigmatization in numerous countries. In addition, reporters from El Salvador and Mexico were victims of cyber espionage. Many presidents continued to use the public platform to discredit and undermine the media’s and journalists’ credibility, including those of Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and Paraguay.

In security, we highlighted positive intentions to install official protection systems in Chile and Paraguay, which we hope will encourage other regional governments. Guaranteeing the exercise of freedom of the press, and creating or reinforcing prevention and protection mechanisms, is crucial so journalists and the media can carry out their oversight work without fearing for their safety and self-censorship. We also advocated that these protection systems be backed by public policies that help reduce impunity.

We also highlighted the governmental opacity experienced in almost all the region’s countries, including the most democratic ones, such as Canada, the United States, Panama, and Puerto Rico, where governments violate the laws on access to public information and transparency.

Also, on this World Press Freedom Day, I highlight the precarious sustainability and viability of the region’s media. Many have had to suspend their operations, creating severe consequences for our democracies. Therefore, journalism’s sustainability is an open debate and a pending issue that governments, digital platforms, the press, and civil society organizations must take on.

It is impossible to sustain democracy without the proper freedom and protection that journalists and media need to work and without the economic health that the new digital ecosystem requires.

*World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on May 3, was established to commemorate the Declaration of Windhoek. This document contains principles on the defense of press freedom, drawn up in 1991 during a meeting of African journalists, launched by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.

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