July 27th, 2007 15:13 EST
Americas Press Freedom is Under Attack
Washington -- Press freedom in the Americas is deteriorating, especially in such countries as Cuba and Venezuela, according to several organizations that advocate for a free and open press.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says Cuba has made no improvement in its human rights and press freedom situation since Ra"l Castro took over from his ailing brother Fidel as the country`s acting president on July 31, 2006.
Caleb McCarry, the U.S. State Department`s transition coordinator for Cuba, went even further in his denunciation of the Castro regime, telling USINFO July 27 that "repression in Cuba has increased" since the transfer of presidential power a year ago.
"Independent journalists and young opposition leaders in Cuba are especially being targeted for repression," he said, and added that the Cuban regime relies on intimidation against journalists and opposition groups "by threatening to kill them."
McCarry oversees day-to-day operations of the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, created in 2003 to ensure that the U.S. government is prepared to assist Cuba`s peaceful transition to democracy. The commission is co-chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. (See related article.)
Reporters Without Borders said in a July 26 statement that since Ra"l Castro became acting president, three Cuban journalists have been imprisoned and some 40 others have been subjected to searches, summonses for questioning by the political police, physical attacks or threats.
The group said Ra"l Castro`s "repressive methods have evolved slightly" from his brother`s dictatorial ways, going from "massive roundups and Stalinist trials to everyday brutality against dissidents."
"Cuba continues to be the world`s second-biggest prison for journalists," after China, said Reporters Without Borders.
The Miami-based Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) decried the worsening health conditions of independent journalists held behind bars in Cuba and reiterated its demand that the journalists be released. The IAPA charged the Cuban regime with endangering the lives of nine of the 28 reporters in prison by denying them "even the most basic health care despite their serious medical conditions."
The IAPA cited the case of Cuban independent journalist Armando Betancourt Reina, who was sentenced July 7 to 15 months in prison despite the fact that no formal charges were made against him.
At its July 18-20 conference in the Dominican Republic, the IAPA called on governments in the Western Hemisphere to "rescue freedom of the press" in order to strengthen democracy in the region. Participants at the Hemispheric Conference: The Judiciary, the Press, and Impunity, which included the region`s Supreme Court justices, academics and journalists, said violent crimes against journalists in the Western Hemisphere constitute a serious violation of the public`s right to be informed.
The IAPA also rebuked the Venezuelan government for its May 27 closing of an independent station called Radio Caracas Televisi"n (RCTV). No sooner had RCTV`s license been canceled than the Venezuelan government took over the frequency to begin operating a new government-run station called Venezuelan Social Television. The new station is using broadcasting equipment seized from RCTV.
IAPA President Rafael Molina said in a July 21 statement that "it is increasingly clear that a political climate reigns in Venezuela in which freedom of the press and freedom of speech are more and more restricted." He was alluding to the closure of RCTV and the more than 100 reported assaults in Venezuela on journalists and media outlets in recent months.
The State Department and a number of other entities also have criticized the Venezuelan government`s closing of RCTV. Those groups include the U.S. Senate, the Chilean Senate, the European Parliament and Human Rights Watch. (See related article.)
Gonzalo Marroqu"n, chairman of the IAPA Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said the Venezuelan government "has no respect for pluralism and diversity in the media and is determined to open up outlets for government propaganda. This is clearly restricting people`s opportunities to voice dissent and criticism, which is so crucial in a democracy."
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also has described press freedom in the Americas as "deteriorating," singling out Venezuela for criticism.
The commission said May 25 that the Venezuelan government has engaged in "intimidating acts" against journalists in that country.
Reporters Without Borders says RCTV`s closure was a "political move without precedent in Latin America, a key element in a government takeover of the broadcast media that is part of a determined effort to control and occupy the entire public arena."
Following its May 24-28 fact-finding trip to Venezuela to examine the effect of RCTV`s closing, Reporters Without Borders said it would ask the U.N. Human Rights Council, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the 47-member-nation Council of Europe to investigate human rights abuses in the South American country.
The statements by the IAPA, Reporters Without Borders and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are on the groups` respective Web sites.
For more information on U.S. policies, see Freedom of the Press.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Eric Green
USINFO Staff Writer