Argentine professor detained for interviewing independent journalists

New York, February 14, 2003—Cuban authorities detained Argentine journalism professor Fernando Ruiz Parra, who was researching a book about Cuba’s independent journalism movement, on February 11 and held him incommunicado. He was released on February 12 and was deported the following day.

Ruiz Parra, who arrived in Cuba on February 3 on a tourist visa, told CPJ that he was detained at around 7 a.m. at his hotel in the capital, Havana. Officials took him to a Ministry of Interior detention center in the municipality of Plaza. He had just returned from a trip to Cuba’s central provinces, where he interviewed and took pictures of several independent journalists.

Although Ruiz Parra was not mistreated, he was subjected to four interrogation sessions, lasting about two hours each, during which he was asked why he was in Cuba, why he had chosen to interview independent journalists, and if he knew them personally. The professor was also accused of violating the terms of his tourist visa by engaging in journalistic work. Cuban authorities did not report his detention to the Argentine Embassy, and he was not allowed to call embassy officials.

Argentine Embassy officials reached Ruiz Parra late in the afternoon of February 12, after his wife and friends phoned the embassy. He was released later that evening into the custody of embassy officials and slept at the embassy. Cuban authorities returned his video and photographic cameras but confiscated his research materials, including notes, audio and videotapes, and film. On the morning of February 13, he was deported to Argentina via Panama.

Independent journalists told CPJ that Ruiz Parra had been in contact with them for two months. Ruiz Parra said that he also wanted to meet with journalists who work for the official press, as well as journalism professors at Universidad de La Habana. He had originally planned to return to Argentina on February 15.

Under Cuban immigration regulations, foreign journalists who visit the island to do journalistic work must apply for D-6 visas, which are processed through Cuban embassies abroad and granted selectively, a practice that CPJ has condemned. Cuban law further specifies that foreign media professionals who travel to the country on a tourist visa or any type of visa other than the D-6 “should abstain from practicing journalism.” In recent years, CPJ has documented the cases of several foreign journalists who have been detained, deported, and had their research materials confiscated after meeting with independent journalists while traveling to Cuba on tourist visas.

“During the last three years, the Cuban government has repeatedly tried to prevent independent Cuban journalists from working with their foreign colleagues. We urge President Fidel Castro to cease this practice and allow all journalists to work freely on the island,” said CPJ’s acting director Joel Simon.