Notes from the Underground, Part 2

The latest dispatch from independent journalists in Cuba: Castro is cracking down

"These demonstrations have been converted into a boomerang [against the government]," Torres asserts. He believes most people attended the rallies because they feared that skipping them would have branded them opponents of the regime. "People on my block who didn't know about my activities [with the independent press] now know who I am, and they greet me in a different way, as if they want to tell me they are with me."

Ironically, the rallies coincided with news that CNN had received U.S. government permission to open the first American news bureau on the island in almost 30 years. Although the Cuban government had granted its assent months earlier, the juxtaposition -- Cuba opening up to the foreign press as it clamped down domestically -- was striking.

Comments Torres, who once worked with a CNN crew visiting the island: "It's very characteristic that the Cuban government will accept CNN but it won't accept us."

Lucia Newman, the CNN reporter assigned to the Havana bureau, publicly pledged to broadcast future demonstrations and to interview both the targets and the accusers. "If a public demonstration occurs in a country where [such things] are rare, that is newsworthy," Newman told the Mexican news magazine Proceso.

A week after the rally outside Lopez Baeza's apartment, independent journalists in the city of Santiago de Cuba, on the eastern end of the island, reported that two of their colleagues had been detained by authorities. Daisy Carcaces, of the Agency of the Free Eastern Press, is said to have been accused of threatening to kill two people and was held for two days at a local police station; upon her release, she was warned to stop her activities with the independent press.

On February 19 another Santiago-based journalist, Nicolas Rosario Rozabal of the Agency of Independent Press of Cuba, was reportedly visited by representatives of the SUVP, who requested that he cease his journalistic activities. That evening he was called to the local police station, where he was accused of distributing counterfeit U.S. dollars.

Two days later in Havana, says Joaquin Torres, a state security agent who goes by the name Aramis showed up at his house. Journalists describe Aramis as a young, invariably courteous official who attends directly to the independent press in Havana. Torres invited him to sit down. "He told me that I had to shut down the agency, because if I didn't I could be thrown in prison at any moment," Torres recounts. "It was the same conversation as always. He said we are going to be charged in accordance with the new law. I told him that I wasn't going to stop the work of Havana Press, and that they could stop threatening me. They know perfectly well where to find me. They are fully aware of all my activities. If they were going to throw me in prison, they should do it already."

The same day, Aramis reportedly repeated his threats to Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez Amaro, the president of the Union of Independent Cuban Journalists and Writers. Along with another journalist, de los Angeles had attempted to distribute twenty photocopies of a four-page pamphlet that reproduced articles written by the independent press. Such publications are explicitly banned by the Cuban penal code; no one has attempted to physically produce a dissident publication since the late 1980s.

De los Angeles says her home was searched and she was taken to a local jail, where she was interrogated for the next two days; her co-publisher, Nancy Sotolongo, was also detained. "They said they were going to annihilate the independent press," de los Angeles reports from her home in Havana.

Cuban officials referred to the Foreign Ministry New Times's request for comment regarding the allegations that the independent journalists are being threatened or harassed, but no spokesman was available. A Cuban state security official who was also contacted refused to answer questions on the telephone. Instead he suggested: "If you want to know anything about this, you can travel here and talk to anyone in the street."Before Law 80 was passed, the independent press was rarely mentioned by the official media. Since January, however, various articles attacking independent journalists have appeared in the newspapers Granma and Juventud Rebelde. References have also reportedly been made on national television; Joaquin Torres says he even heard a radio sports commentator weigh in on the subject, interrupting his observations on baseball to rail against "the treason of some colleagues."

A recently published article in Juventud Rebelde titled "Without Frontiers but with Principles" -- a dig at the Paris-based press-freedom group -- accuses the journalists of being tools in the worst campaign of disinformation ever waged against the island. The independent journalists are actually "dependent gossips," writes Jose dos Santos, vice president of the Union of Cuban Journalists. "Of course they are dependent because it is no secret they are paid by Washington to foment fifth-columnism in Cuba.... Their actions are in accordance with the ignominious and absurd Helms-Burton law." An article in Granma a few days later described the journalists not only as having been conceived by Washington, but also as being linked to Cuban exile leader and Miami resident Jorge Mas Canosa.

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