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Posted January 13, 2005 by publisher in Cuban Music

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Associated Press |

The alternative Christian magazine Espacios, one of a few independent publications in Cuba’s mostly state-run media market, is closing after eight years because it has run out of funding and local church support.

Espacios, which costs about US$1,400 every three months to print 4,000 copies, had survived eight years on donations from religious institutions in countries including Germany and Mexico. Most contributors work for free, with a few full-time staffers receiving modest salaries.

“We don’t have the money to keep going,” Joaquin Bello, director and founder of Espacios, told The Associated Press. “We’ve gone looking for funding in many places, but nothing has come up.”

The magazine touched on topics that are often rarely expressed in Cuban society, where the communist government controls official newspapers, magazines and TV and radio stations. Espacios’ recent topics have included Cuba’s electricity crisis and criticism of the common practice of abortion in Cuba.

One writer’s critique of Havana’s transportation system drew parallels between the city’s crowded buses and the slave ships that brought ancestors from Africa. Another writer called for the liberation of Cuban political prisoners, while an editorial cartoonist commented wryly on the lack of material goods on the island.

Bello has been careful about the funding the magazine accepts. In a 2003 crackdown, 75 political opponents received long prison sentences after being accused of receiving money from U.S. officials to undermine Fidel Castro’s government - a charge the activists and Washington deny.

“We can’t accept money from just anyone,” he said. “We have to make sure it’s coming from very neutral people. If not, I get myself into trouble, and bring problems to the church as well.”

It became clear last week that the magazine would cease to exist in its current form after Bello met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, lead bishop in Havana and the island’s top Catholic churchman.

The cardinal said the church wanted a publication “much more aimed at the laity,” focusing mostly on events in the religious community, Bello said.

The Catholic Church also has its own monthly magazine, Palabra Nueva, or the New Word. It was unclear if Espacios would be merged into Palabra Nueva, disappear entirely, or keep publishing separately with a different focus.

Orlando Marquez, spokesman for the Bishops Conference of Cuba, said the magazine’s future will be decided by its new director - Jose Ramon Perez, head of Havana’s Diocesan Commission of Laypeople.

Bello, an administrator at the Bishops Conference, said he thought it unlikely Espacios would be resurrected.

“This pains us deeply,” said Fabio Hurtado, editor of Espacios, saying it was wrong to allow the 60-page magazine to disappear. “The magazine always tried to create a channel for authentic dialogue, which is so needed by all Cubans.”

Now out of work, Hurtado says he will likely return to his old job of selling flowers in Old Havana and try to continue writing for other independent media.

Bello, the magazine’s founder, said he will keep working at the Bishops Conference but is sentimental about the end of Espacios.

“We truly tried to provide alternative information, and to rescue our history and Christian values,” Bello said. “Unfortunately, there are not many others doing that.”

Communist Cuba’s relations with the Catholic Church have improved in recent years following four decades of tensions after the 1959 Cuban revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. Pope John Paul II made a historic visit to Cuba in 1998, making strong calls for more freedoms, including that of expression.

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