Journalists from throughout the Western Hemisphere are calling for the release of Cubans imprisoned in a massive crackdown on dissent one year ago this month. Petitions containing more than six-hundred signatures, including appeals from prominent journalists from the United States and sixteen Latin American countries, have been delivered by the Committee to Protect Journalists to the Cuban government through the U.S. Interests Section in Washington. The petitions call for the release of twenty-nine journalists, including Manuel Vázquez Portal, a recipient of the committee’s 2003 International Press Freedom Award.
Mr. 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 [Working Group on Dignity]. In March 2003, Mr. Vázquez Portal was arrested on spurious charges. The following month, he was sentenced to eighteen years in prison.
Cuba is second only to China in the number of journalists that it imprisons. About a third of Cuba’s independent journalists are currently in jails across Cuba. They are subjected to unsanitary conditions, inadequate medical care, solitary confinement, rotting food, and lack of access to the press.
As these detentions make clear, Fidel Castro’s Communist regime continues to deprive the Cuban people of their fundamental rights. President George W. Bush says this repression must end:
“We must all work for a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba. Together, we will succeed because the spirit of liberty still thrives, even in the darkest corners of Castro’s prisons.”
Throughout the Western Hemisphere -- and beyond -- free people will continue to speak out until the Castro regime frees the unjustly imprisoned and respects the rights of journalists like Manuel Vázquez Portal.