On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, journalists who have died in performance of their duties are honored. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a U.S.-based organization founded in 1981, observed the day by naming the “World’s Worst Places to be a Journalist.” The CPJ placed Iraq as number one because of the number of journalists who were killed during the war. Other countries on the list include Colombia, where 15 journalists were killed over the last year. The West Bank and Gaza, where five journalists were killed, also made the top ten.
However, according to the CPJ, neither Colombia nor the occupied territories ranked number two. They placed Cuba as second on the list, yet not one journalist has been killed there.
Recently, the Cuban government was forced to arrest and try 24 “independent journalists,” who were found guilty by the Cuban courts on charges of treason. The trials and sentences have raised some questions, including among some on the left, about whether the Cuban Revolution is silencing the “independent press” of that country. But who are these “independent journalists,” what do they report on, and where do they get their funding from?
The website of Nueva Prensa Cubana, which features the writings of these journalists, is owned by Nancy Pérez-Crespo, and is located in Miami, Florida, the center of extreme right wing political and terrorist attacks against Cuba.
Pérez-Crespo has a radio show on Radio Martí, a set up owned by the U.S. government to broadcast anti-Cuban propaganda to the socialist island with the express purpose of overthrowing socialism. She also has a show on Radio Mambí, an extreme right local Cuban radio station. Armando Pérez Roura, Radio Mambí news director, is the chairman of Cuban Unity, a coalition of ultra right-wing groups, including terrorist groups Alpha 66 and Comando F4. His editorials are rebroadcast to Cuba on Radio Martí.
In the world of the Cuban “independent press” it’s as though the U.S. embargo against Cuba does not exist. For them all problems that Cuba faces are directly the fault of Fidel Castro or of the socialist system. There is not one laudatory word about a social system where everyone is guaranteed free healthcare and education, where the literacy rate is 96 percent (compared to its neighbors Pueto Rico with 89 percent, and the Dominican Republic with 82 percent).
In an Associated Press interview, Aleida de las Mercedes Gondínez who worked undercover as a secretary for Marta Beatriz Roque, a leader of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, a so-called dissident group, said that up to $5,000 came through the U.S. for that organization. Gondínez herself reported receiving $700 monthly from the Interest Section. Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a so-called independent journalist, had $13,600 when he was arrested and evidence gathered by Cuban investigators showed that in a one year period he had received at least $7,154.
Those funds came through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID sees itself as “furthering America’s foreign policy interests.” USAID’s Cuba Program, authorized by the Helms-Burton Act, has donated over $20 million to groups that help the counter-revolutionaries in Cuba. Among the organizations getting these monies is the International Republican Institute, which seeks to promote “President [Ronald] Reagan’s vision” to rid the world of socialism; and the U.S.-Cuba Business Council, which aims to develop a capitalist “free market future” for Cuba.
Jorge Insunza, a leader of the Communist Party of Chile, remembering some of the activities leading up to the U.S.-sponsored fascist coup that overthrew the government of the socialist Salvador Allende, said, “To carry out an act of aggression, there needs to be a softening up of world public opinion.”
While these “journalists” call themselves independent, it is obvious that they are dependent and work in the interest of the U.S. government. They have nothing in common with democratic traditions of real independent media, such as the independent media centers (IMCs) organized throughout the world. IMCs were set up to provide “a forum for independent reporting about important social and political issues” in opposition to the mainstream media and their corporate viewpoint.
At a press conference where the Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez spoke about the trials there were 82 foreign journalists representing 59 news agencies from 22 countries. This includes CNN, Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Presse, BBC, the Mexican news agency Notimex, and Financial Times of London, and The Tribune Co., which has eleven newspapers throughout the U.S. The opportunity exists in Cuba for news to be published that is not “controlled” by any Cuban institution.
The CPJ’s placement of Cuba on their list seems to be short-sighted and politically naïve.
Jose Cruz is the editor of Nuestro Mundo and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org