June 25, 2008
European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid
Berlaymont 10 /165
1049 Brussels - Belgium
Dear Mr. Michel,
In light of the European Union's recent decision to lift
2003 diplomatic sanctions on Cuba,
the Committee to Protect Journalists is writing you to ensure that President
Raúl Castro's government will effectively improve human rights conditions on
the island by unconditionally releasing all imprisoned journalists and by
granting freedom of information and expression to all Cubans.
During the meeting of the Council of the European Union in Brussels on June 19 and June 20, the EU agreed to suspend
sanctions imposed on Cuba
in 2003, after Fidel Castro's crackdown on political dissidents and the
independent press. The EU said the bloc was ready to resume an open dialogue
with Cuban authorities on "all topics of mutual interest." The
suspension of the sanctions, which had banned high-ranking official visits by
Cuban authorities to EU countries, took effect on Monday.
Yet five years after the Cuban government's crackdown on the
independent press, 22 journalists remain behind bars in Cuba, cementing its title as the world's
second-leading jailer of journalists, after China. Twenty have been in prison
since the massive crackdown on the press in 2003.
The imprisonment of journalists under inhumane conditions
has taken a toll on their health, according to CPJ research. At home, their
families, unable to work, scrape for basic necessities while being regularly
watched and often harassed by state authorities, CPJ found in "Cuba's Long Black Spring," a
special report released in March in Spain.
For the past five years, Cuba has used imprisoned
journalists and dissidents as political leverage, sporadically releasing a few
in exchange for international concessions. Last February--just months after Spain announced the resumption of some
cooperation between the two countries--Cuba freed four more prisoners,
including independent journalists José Gabriel Ramón Castillo and Alejandro
The Cuban government owns and controls all media outlets and
restricts Internet access. Authorities do not tolerate any kind of independent
journalism. Journalists are constantly followed, harassed, intimidated, and
jailed. The Cuban constitution grants the Communist Party the right to control
the press; it only recognizes "freedom of speech and the press in
accordance with the goals of the socialist society."
The EU has agreed to lift the sanctions, provided Cuba improves
its human rights record. Under the conditions, the Cuban government must
unconditionally release all political prisoners. The EU also called on Cuba to facilitate access of international humanitarian
organizations to Cuban prisons, to ratify and implement the international
covenants on human rights signed by Cuba, and to grant freedom of
expression and information, including through the Internet.
CPJ is optimistic about the EU's decision to always address
human rights issues during high-level visits to Cuba. The EU announced that, in any
case, relations with Cuba
will be reviewed annually. The bloc will evaluate in June 2009 the progress and
commitment made by the Cuban government. According to press reports, the EU
could restore sanctions if human rights do not improve.
With Raúl Castro as president, there have been significant
economic, agricultural, and administrative reforms, but there has been no real
progress on human rights issues, including freedom of the press. While
encouraged by the European Union's decision to scrutinize human rights
conditions in Cuba, we urge you to ensure that Castro's government
unconditionally releases all dissidents, including the 22 journalists, and
grants freedom of expression and information, including Internet access to all