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Few independent journalists challenge Cuba's restrictions

Cubans que for paper

March 18, 1997
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EST (2120 GMT)

From Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman

HAVANA (CNN) -- Cuba may well be the only country in the world where people line up at 6 a.m. for a chance to buy a Sunday paper. And a skimpy paper it is -- only 16 pages -- because of the acute shortage of newsprint in this cash-poor country.

Only 100 papers are delivered to each kiosk -- not enough to go around -- meaning many Cubans leave empty-handed, and furious.

Cubans, thirsty for information, rarely miss the government- run television newscasts.

There's also the Communist Party daily, but virtually all of Cuba's media outlets carry but one message -- that of the island nation's Communist Party, which controls all public information here.


Not quite all -- independent journalist Ana Luisa Lopez bangs out reports almost daily on a dilapidated typewriter. She writes for Cuba Press, one of Cuba's half dozen fledgling independent news agencies. The agencies offer the only voice of opposition to the Castro regime.

Lopez, who lives alone with her 20-year-old daughter, has been publicly denounced as a traitor by the neighborhood Communist Party committee.

"I perceive the danger," she says. "It's always present. We haven't been put in jail but we've been threatened with prison."

Lopez phones in most of her reports to Radio Marti, a network beamed to Cuba from Miami by the U.S. government which hopes to contribute to the fall of the Castro regime. The signal is jammed by Havana, but does get through.

Lopez radio

The Castro government justifies the total absence of opposition press by saying that Cuba is at war, under attack by the world's biggest superpower, and cannot leave itself open to internal attack.

A senior U.S. official criticized Cuba on Monday for restricting press freedom.

"There is no press freedom at all," Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Jeffrey Davidow said. "The United States' commitment to a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba includes support for the open flow of information," he said.

The director of the Communist Party's youth newspaper condemns independent journalists like Lopez.

"Right now I think they are providing a servile service to the imperialists," says Ayleen Rodriguez, director of Juventud Rebelde. "They are at the service of people who want this country to disappear."

Lopez says it's not the country but the one-party system she would like to see disappear.


Lopez has received a series of obscene and unsigned letters since she began working for Cuba Press -- including one slipped under her door while she was speaking with CNN's Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman.

"This is meant to intimidate us, to destabilize us psychologically," she said. "But we are prepared for this and a lot more."

There are signs the government may not tolerate the activities of opposition journalists much longer.

Cuba has recently passed what it calls the "law of defense of Cuban sovereignty and dignity." It punishes those who are seen as giving information to the enemy. In Cuba, the enemy is anyone who does not defend Castro's revolution.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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