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12/08/03 - CUBAN JOURNALIST HONORED - 2003-12-09

The peaceful battle for freedom in Cuba is being waged by men and women who are committed to fundamental rights. Among those fundamental rights is freedom of the press.

The Cuban regime controls all print and broadcast media as a means of denying the public essential information and indoctrinating Cuba on the regime’s viewpoints. Media operates under strict guidelines and must reflect only the regime’s views. In fact, the Cuban constitution says the media are state property and cannot become private property. Cuban state security agents continue to harass, detain, and threaten independent journalists who do not follow the party line and report news fairly and accurately.

The Committee to Protect Journalists recently honored a Cuban, and three other brave journalists, who are devoted to the principle that all people have the right to seek, receive, and impart news and information. Manuel Vázquez Portal was a journalist for several state-owned media outlets before he began working for the independent news agency Cuba Press in 1995. Four years later, he helped establish the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro. Last March, Mr. Vázquez Portal was arrested when the Cuban government launched a massive crackdown on the independent press and the opposition. He remains in jail, where he is serving an eighteen-year sentence on spurious charges.

In the Cuban crackdown, twenty-eight journalists were arrested, convicted, and given prison sentences ranging from fourteen to twenty-seven years. Committee to Protect Journalists executive director Ann Cooper told the Voice of America that the world needs to pay attention to government repression against all journalists, including those in Cuba:

"We hope not only to highlight the plight of Manuel Vazquez Portal, but with all of these more than two dozen Cuban journalists, who are suffering just because they were trying to report the news from Cuba."

Clearly, it is essential to keep speaking out until the Castro regime frees the unjustly imprisoned and respects the rights of journalists like Manuel Vázquez Portal. As President George W. Bush has said, "Focusing our support on activities that promote democratic values will go a long way toward accelerating the democratic transition of Cuba."