May 3, 2006)
In the spring of 2003, journalist Raul Rivero was arrested along with 28 of his colleagues and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. He was released from prison on medical parole in November 2004. Poet, journalist and co-founder of the independent news agency CubaPress, Rivero’s career in journalism spans over three decades. Today the journalist resides in Madrid, where he works as a columnist for El Mundo newspaper and editorial adviser for the magazine Encuentro. Rivero wrote this article for the World Association of Newspapers.
Waking up in a prison cell every morning is an experience that weakens the will to live. Breakfasting on a slice of dirty, mouldy bread with sugar-sweetened water, while waiting for a few spoonfuls of rice and herbs for lunch, and the same menu for dinner is an antidote against any glimmer of hope.
If you have to wait three months to see your family for two hours in a cell with stone benches under the watchful gaze of prison guards, you cannot really be restless in anticipation at the prospect of seeing and being with your loved ones.
That was my life for two years. Just as today, on this beautiful spring day in the year 2006, it is the life of Víctor Rolando Arroyo, a journalist with the independent news agency Unión de Periodistas y Escritores de Cuba Independientes (UPECI), in Commander Fidel Castro’s prison in Guantánamo, a human warehouse that has been operating for over 30 years.
The dozens of journalists suffering from hunger, disease and maltreatment in the jails on the island of Cuba are hostages of a group of cronies who took over the power by force and have stayed in power by force for almost half a century, on a throne upheld by the police and propaganda.
The young reporter Pablo Pacheco is undergoing horrendous treatment in the prison of Canaleta, together with his colleagues Pedro Argüelles and Adolfo Fernández Sainz and the young photojournalist Omar Rodríguez Saludes. They were all sentenced to 28 years in 2003 for photographing and filming aspects of Cuban society that the dictatorial regime wants to keep under wraps.
Yet another victim is Normando Hernández, a journalist who launched a small homespun magazine in the city of Camaguey. He only succeeded in publishing the first issue. The revolutionary courts immediately demanded life imprisonment for Hernández, though the sentence was later graciously commuted to 25 years.
Hernández, as many others like him, has also suffered from various inadequately treated ailments due to the lack of medication and overcrowded prisons. In cells originally designed for 20 inmates, there are often 35 or 40, forced to sleep on the floor and to share a single sanitary facility and a rationed water supply.
This exactly is how the poet and journalist Ricardo González Alfonso is living at present in the Combinado del Este penitentiary in Havana. His state is aggravated by the fact that he has undergone two operations in dubious prison operating theatres and that his initial wound, which dates back to November 2004, keeps festering and never seems to heal.
And in much the same way, Fabio Prieto Lorente, a young correspondent confined in a prison on the Isla de Pinos, 120 kilometres south of Havana, sees his youth slowly slip away because he reported on the reality of a land where brutality is freely exercised for lack of diplomatic representation and journalists who can record the abuses.
Meanwhile, in Guanajay detention centre, just a few kilometres from the Cuban capital, military doctors have finally come around to admitting that the ailing journalist José Ubaldo Izquierdo, in jail since March 2003, would never get well in such harsh living conditions. The 40-year-old Izquierdo, who worked as a columnist for an independent Cuban press agency, is currently serving a 16-year sentence.
We know that in Cuba, World Press Freedom Day can only be celebrated with dignity in the cells of the 300 prisons scattered across the map of the small Caribbean isle. The prisoners are locked away in dark cells where they have been sent for wanting to be free in a country where freedom is no more than a hollow, meaningless word in the mouths of scribes, a word that lands free men in jail if they dare utter it.
But only there, in those cells where hope still subsists, one can legitimately and honestly toast to this day—even if only in a dirty aluminum cup filled with murky, tepid water from the subterranean streams of Cuba.
ON THE WEB
For more information about World Press Freedom Day see http://www.worldpressfreedomday.org