New York, March 16, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today sent more than 600 appeals—including more than 50 from some of the most renowned journalists in Latin America—to Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz calling for the release of jailed Cuban journalist Manuel Vázquez Portal, a recipient of CPJ’s 2003 International Press Freedom Award, and the other 28 imprisoned Cuban journalists.

The petitions were sent by courier to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. Because the United States and Cuba have no diplomatic relations, the Cuban Interests Section carries out consular duties.

Also today, CPJ launched a special link on its Web site titled “Libertad para Vázquez Portal.” Visitors who click on the link are invited to add their names to the petition.

Vázquez Portal, a journalist with the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, has been in jail since he was arrested in March 2003 in a massive government crackdown on political opposition and the independent press. A total of 29 journalists are currently imprisoned in jails across Cuba, which now ranks as one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists, second only to China.

In recognition of the efforts by Cuban independent journalists to disseminate news in a climate of harsh government repression, CPJ honored Vázquez Portal with one of its International Press Freedom Awards in November 2003. Since he was in jail, however, he was unable to attend the awards dinner on November 25. The guests in attendance signed the petitions, which call on President Castro to release Vázquez Portal as well as the other 28 journalists. Since November 2003, prominent Latin American journalists and writers have also signed the petition.

U.S. signatories include the following journalists: Carl Bernstein, Clarence Page, David Remnick, Ed Bradley, Anthony Lewis, Gwen Ifill, and Michael Massing.

Latin American signatories include [see full list] the following: Tomas Eloy Martínez (Argentina), Sergio Ramírez (Nicaragua), Elena Poniatowska (México), Alejandra Matus (Chile), Javier Darío Restrepo (Colombia), Michèle Montas (Haiti), Ricardo Uceda (Peru), Teodoro Petkoff (Venezuela), Jorge Canelas Sáenz (Bolivia), Rosental Calmon Alves (Brazil), Rubén Darío Buitrón (Ecuador), Jaime López (El Salvador), Benjamín Fernández Bogado (Paraguay), Nelson Fernández (Uruguay), Armando González (Costa Rica), and José Rubén Zamora (Guatemala).