CUBA: “SILENCE BY CUBA’S FRIENDS WOULD BE A FORM OF COMPLICITY” –
FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE, 2003
PUBLISHED ON THURSDAY 7 MAY 2015.
On 11 May, François Hollande will become the first French president to
visit Cuba since 1959 and the first western leader to do so since the
United States and Cuba announced on 17 December that they planned to
restore diplomatic relations. An historic visit requires historic
responsibility, that of “telling the truth,” as Hollande rightly said in
the headline of an op-ed in Le Nouvel Observateur in 2003. Reporters
Without Borders has written an open letter to Hollande asking him to
press Cuban leader Raúl Castro to dramatically improve freedom of
information on the island.
President François Hollande
Palais de l’Elysée
55 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
Paris, 7 May 2015
Dear President Hollande,
Before your trip to Cuba, Reporters Without Borders, an organization
that defends freedom of information, would like to draw your attention
to the still very critical situation of journalists, both professional
and non-professional, in that country.
Year after year, Cuba has had the western hemisphere’s lowest position
in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. It is ranked 169th
out of 180 countries in the 2015 index. This position reflects the
glaring lack of pluralism and the difficulties and dangers that
independent journalists and bloggers encounter when trying to circumvent
censorship and publish freely-reported information.
An historic visit requires historic responsibility. In a 27 February
2003 op-ed in Le Nouvel Observateur, headlined “Telling the truth,” you
got straight to the point when you said: “Silence by Cuba’s friends
would be a form of complicity with a system we would criticize anywhere
else.” You said we should, “Give full support to the Cuban people and
tell the truth about the inhumanity of the embargo and the Cuban regime
– both are unjustifiable.” You were also clear about the role France
should play: “We must demand the release of all political prisoners and
the abolition of censorship.” So, for the sake of these principles,
France cannot remain silent now.
Despite demonstrating a desire for an opening at the diplomatic level,
the Cuban government maintains an almost complete monopoly of news and
information and tolerates no independent news media on the island. Both
the traditional and online media continue to be censored and the
Internet is subject to close surveillance.
The one exception is the website of Hablemos Press, an independent news
agency. Its website had been inaccessible in Cuba since 2001, but
Reporters Without Borders unblocked it on 12 March as part of an
anti-cyber-censorship operation. This exception, with which the Cuban
government had nothing to do, should be the rule.
You, as France’s president, must point out that no opening will be real
and benefit the population unless Cuba also opens up to pluralist and
independently-reported news and information.
Independent journalists and bloggers continue to confront hardships and
risks. Their equipment is confiscated. Their mobile phones are
disconnected. They are summoned by the department for internal security
and told to change their editorial policies. They continue to be exposed
to death threats, intimidation, smear campaigns, arrest, arbitrary
detention and physical violence.
Even the most recent World Press Freedom Day, on 3 May, was used to
crack down. Three independent journalists were arrested in Havana while
covering a march by the Ladies in White at which copies of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights were distributed. You, as France’s
president, cannot remain silent about the arbitrary imprisonment of
The Cuban authorities seem increasingly inclined to use arrests of short
duration to silence independent news providers and prevent them doing
their work. But some are still serving long sentences. They include
Yoeni de Jesús Guerra García (a Yayabo Press blogger sentenced to seven
years in prison in 2014), José Antonio Torres (a journalist with the
government daily Granma, who was given a 14-year sentence in July 2012)
and Angel Santiesteban-Prats (who was given five years in 2013 for
criticizing the government in a blog called Los hijos que nadie quiso).
And what were their alleged crimes? Circulating information regarded as
“counter-revolutionary” or “defamatory.” Santiesteban-Prats was
convicted on a trumped-up charge of a non-political nature in a bid to
limit the international impact of his imprisonment. He has been
subjected to mistreatment and torture since his arrest and his current
legal status is unclear.
You, as France’s president, cannot fail to request the immediate and
unconditional release of Yoeni de Jesús Guerra García, José Antonio
Torres and Angel Santiesteban-Prats.
France has no choice but to urge the Cuban authorities to end the
harassment and censorship of independent news providers. France must
also intercede with the Cuban authorities to request access to Cuba for
international NGOs such as Reporters Without Borders that defend human
rights, free speech and freedom of information – always keeping in mind
the goal you hold dear: “telling the truth.”
I thank you in advance for the attention you give to this request.
Source: Cuba: “Silence by Cuba’s friends would be a form of complicity”
– François Hollande, 2003 – Reporters Without Borders –