Argentine writer blocked at Havana airport

New York, February 21, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Saturday’s deportation of writer, columnist and historian José Ignacio García Hamilton by Cuban authorities at Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

Immigration authorities barred the Argentine writer from entering Cuba, saying that they were following government orders but could not provide further explanation, the Argentine press reported. García Hamilton and his wife held tourist visas approved on Thursday by the Cuban Embassy in Buenos Aires.

According to Argentine press reports, a Cuban immigration officer told García Hamilton that only the writer’s wife would be allowed into the country. García Hamilton and his wife were escorted back to their plane, which was routed to Panama.

García Hamilton told the press that he had planned a one-week vacation on the island. He said he also scheduled meetings with Cuban intellectuals and several gatherings to publicize his new book, Simón. Vida de Bolívar, a biography of Simón Bolívar. García Hamilton is a contributor to newspapers and magazines in Argentina, Uruguay, and the United States.

García Hamilton met with dissidents in visits to Cuba in 1996 and 2005, according to press reports. A 1997 book by García Hamilton analyzed authoritarian governments in Latin America and included a preface by Carlos Montaner, an opponent of the Castro regime, the Argentine press reported. In an interview with an Argentine radio station today, he said he believed the deportation may be related to the book and its preface.

Argentina’s Embassy in Cuba sent the Cuban government a letter on Saturday asking for an explanation. That was followed on Monday by an official request for information from Argentina’s Foreign Ministry.

“The Cuban government’s actions make clear that it is continuing a longstanding pattern of retaliating against writers who offer critical viewpoints,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.