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    Does last Black Spring journalist’s release mark turning point for free expression?

    Does last Black Spring journalist's release mark turning point for free
    Published on Monday 7 March 2011.

    The last journalist detained since the March 2003 "Black Spring"
    crackdown, Pedro Argüelles Morán, was released from a prison in Ciego de
    Ávila, his home town, on the evening of 4 March and was reunited with
    his family, concluding a sad episode in Cuba's history for Reporters
    Without Borders.

    There is now only one journalist in prison in Cuba. It is Albert
    Santiago Du Bouchet, who was given a three-year jail sentence in April
    2009 on a charge of "disrespect for authority." Reporters Without
    Borders hopes he will be released soon.

    So the Cuban government kept its word. The release of the 52 remaining
    Black Spring detainees, mediated by the Cuban Catholic church and the
    Spanish government, is now virtually complete. Only four are still
    waiting to be freed.

    The end of the Black Spring will inevitably raise retrospective
    questions about the purpose of this crackdown and the seven years of
    persecution and hate propaganda against its victims and their defenders.
    Neither the 40 who were forced into exile nor those who were allowed to
    stay – including Argüelles and two independent journalists released
    previously – had their sentences annulled.

    Most of the crackdown's victims, who just demanded the right to express
    their views freely and to report news and information, were absurdly
    convicted under Law 88, which punishes threats to Cuba's "territorial

    The end of the Black Spring could be the start of a new situation for
    civil liberties in Cuba if the authorities are prepared to learn all the
    lessons from it. Gestures have recently been made in the form of
    unblocking certain websites and blogs. But more physical repression was
    used to prevent a tribute to the dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo on 23
    February, the first anniversary of his death in detention.

    Such a situation is no longer tenable. The government, which is clearly
    worried by the current revolutions in the Maghreb and Middle East,
    should accept pluralism as the way forward. Choosing this option would
    require a dialogue with civil society and legalization of independent
    news media that are not controlled by the state.

    It would also eventually entail the rehabilitation, or at least an
    amnesty, for prisoners of conscience and permission for exiles to
    return. Finally, the Cuban authorities must also honour their
    international obligations by ratifying the two UN conventions on civil
    and political rights which they signed in 2008.

    The international community, for its part, must take note of the
    progress that has been made. Reporters Without Borders reiterates its
    call for the lifting of the unfair US embargo of Cuba that has been in
    place since 1962. It also urges the European Union to review its common
    position, under which normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba is
    conditioned on respect for human rights.


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