Zapatero should press Cuba on jailed writers

September 23, 2008

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero

President of the Spanish Government

Palacio de Moncloa

Madrid, España

Via facsímile: 34-913- 900-217

Dear President Zapatero:

The Committee to Protect Journalists urges you to make your government’s commitment to obtain the release of all imprisoned Cuban journalists a priority of Spain’s foreign policy.

Since you first took office in April 2004, your government has played a decisive role in helping to secure the release of several dissidents, including nine independent journalists. In February, shortly after Spain announced the resumption of cooperation programs with Cuba, the government of President Raúl Castro released four prisoners, including independent journalists José Gabriel Ramón Castillo and Alejandro González Raga, who are now living in exile in Spain.

While we appreciate your efforts to win the release of these journalists, Spain should insist that improved economic and political ties depend on the release of all remaining political prisoners, including imprisoned journalists. Cuba should not be rewarded for its cynical strategy of releasing small handfuls of dissidents in exchange for improved international relations.

During the June meeting of the Council of the European Union in Brussels, the EU agreed to suspend sanctions imposed after Cuba’s 2003 massive crackdown on dissidents, provided that Cuba improve its human rights record. Under the conditions, the Cuban government must unconditionally release all political prisoners. The EU also called on Cuba to ratify and implement the international covenants on human rights that the nation has already signed, and to grant freedom of expression and information, including through the Internet. In late June, CPJ sent a letter to European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel urging the EU to hold Cuba accountable for press abuses.

Progress, however, has been halting. Five years after the government’s crackdown on the independent press, 22 journalists remain behind bars, making Cuba the world’s second-leading jailer of journalists, after China.

Journalists are held in inhumane conditions, and their health is rapidly deteriorating, according to a December report by CPJ . 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 report released in March in Spain.

CPJ calls on you as host of Wednesday’s evening dinner with Ibero-American leaders attending the U.N. General Assembly to forcefully address human rights violations in Cuba and to urge President Raúl Castro to immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned journalists. Through your leadership, we believe Spain has a great opportunity to engage Latin American dignitaries in pressing President Castro’s government to tolerate dissent by granting all Cubans the right to free expression.


Joel Simon

Executive Director