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
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.