U.S.-Cuba Conflict Over Cuban Journalist

Roberto Jesús Quiñones, a contributor to the independent Cuban news website CubaNet, has a history of harassment by Cuban authorities. He is barred from leaving the country and has been detained several times. [1]

Most Recent Cuban Charges Against Journalist

The most recent Cuban persecution of Quiñones started on April 18, 2019, when police agents forcefully took him off of a bus, brought him to a police station, and interrogated him, with an officer telling him “we are taking note of your articles.”

Three days later (April 21) he was arrested outside of the Guantánamo Municipal Tribunal, where he was covering the trial of two Cuban evangelical pastors facing charges for homeschooling their children. While the police took him to the police station, he was beaten, injuring his mouth, tongue, and right thumb and causing an inflammation in his right ear.

When he was released from jail five days later, Cuban authorities initiated a new proceeding against him, alleging that his conduct during his detention constituted “resistance” and “disobedience,” for which they imposed a fine, which he refused to pay.

This refusal to pay the fine lead to a trial in a municipal court and to its August 7th  sentencing Quiñones, to one year in a labor camp on charges of “resistance” and “disobedience.” His appeal to another court for a new trial was denied on August 19.

After the most recent detention of Quiñones, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick said, “The ongoing pattern of detentions of independent journalists like Roberto Jesús Quiñones shows that recent political reforms have not improved the situation for the press. If President Miguel Díaz-Canel wants to show the world that his government is committed to positive change in Cuba, authorities should immediately free Quiñones without charge and stop harassing journalists.”

The one-year sentence also drew this rebuke from the Committee’s Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. “The fact that Roberto Quiñones is sentenced to prison for failing to pay a fine, while the police agents who beat and detained him for days receive no punishment, is outrageous. If authorities in Cuba want to convey an image of progress and openness to the international community, mistreating, jailing, and fining a journalist sends the wrong message.”

Secretary Pompeo’s Reaction

All of this prompted U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo on August 21 to issue a statement condemning the journalist’s prosecution and calling “upon the Cuban regime to immediately release Mr. Quinones and to cease their abuse and mistreatment.” Pompeo also said his “detention and trial were marked by the flagrant disregard for legal norms that are typical of the Cuban regime.  Cuban authorities did not inform Quinones of the charges against him until minutes before the trial, and did not permit him legal representation in the courtroom.  The regime’s prosecutors did not permit Quinones to present evidence of his injuries at the hands of the police who arrested him. Adding cruelty to injustice, regime officials have refused to allow Quinones to visit his ailing father.”

Pompeo concluded with these words. “Sadly, this is just one more example of the Cuban regime’s ongoing violation of human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and to fair trial guarantees.  We will continue to use targeted sanctions and trade restrictions to cut off resources from the Cuban regime, which uses its income to repress its own people, and to prop up the Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

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[1] Comm. to Protect Journalists, Cuban police detain and beat journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones in Guantánamo (April 24, 2019); The regime sanctions independent journalist Roberto Jeśus Quiñones Haces to one year in jail, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 7, 2019); Comm. to Protect Journalists, Cuba sentences journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones to one-year prison term (Aug. 8, 2019); The journalist Roberto Jesús Quiñones asks to have a new trial, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 12, 2019); The regime refuses to hold a new trial against Roberto Jesús Quiñones, Diario de Cuba (Aug. 19, 2019); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Statement: On the Prosecution of Cuban Journalist Roberto Quinones (Aug. 21, 2019); Assoc. Press, US Urges Cuba to Drop Criminal Charges Against Journalist, N.Y. Times (Aug. 21, 2019).

 

 

 

Drop in Foreign Tourists for Cuba  

For the First Quarter of 2018, Cuban Tourism Ministry’s commercial director, Michel Bernal, told a news conference in Havana that Cuba had a 7% decline in foreign tourists.  The reporting of this press conference by Reuters of London and by Cuban sources has interesting differences.

Reuters’ Report[1]

There are two major reasons for this reduction.

First is the reduction of U.S. tourists, which was only 56.6% of what it was for the same quarter in 2017. Director Bernal said that this decline was attributable to the U.S. restrictions and warning on travel to Cuba that were imposed by the Trump Administration.

Another reason for the overall decline was unjustified foreigners worries about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma last September and that has been largely repaired.

The overall decline has hurt Cuba’s private sector (the self-employed sector in Cuban terms) that operates bed-and-breakfasts, private restaurants and guides.

Cuban Reports

The primary source of information for Cubans is the hard-copy issues of Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. There also are Cuba’s Internet sources: Cubadebate and Diario de Cuba.

  1. Granma’s Report[2]

Granma did not mention the overall 7% decline in tourism for the first quarter of 2018. Instead it stressed (a) that the “growth of the Cuban tourist industry . . . is a sign of the confidence of the sector in the security and stability of the Greater Antilles;” and (b) Cuba’s recent receipt of “the Excellence Award as the safest country for tourism during the XXXVIII International Trade Fair -Fitur 2018, which took place in January in Madrid.”

Granma did acknowledge that Mr. Bernal had mentioned there had been a “slowdown caused mainly by hurricanes Irma and Maria,” but that Cuba still expected five million tourists this year. Also mentioned was what it called the U.S. “’unjustified ‘travel alert, ‘which tells the citizens of that country “’to reconsider travel to Cuba.”‘ The measure of aggression it tried to justify with the supposed risk of suffering ‘acoustic attacks’ on which, after months of research, there is no evidence or scientific evidence.”

  1. Cubadebate’s Report[3]

This report mentioned the 7% overall decline in the first quarter, the projection of 2 million foreign visitors through May and 5 million for the entire year.

It also reported that the largest number of visitors were Canadians followed by Cubans living abroad. In third place were “American visitors, who because of the blockade imposed by their government cannot travel to the island as tourists and whose arrivals decreased at the end of 2017 due to the passage of Irma, in addition to the restrictive measures promoted in September [2017] by the President Donald Trump. [The reduction of American visitors also was] influenced by travel alerts to Cuba, issued by the State Department after the alleged incidents that occurred in previous months in which officials of the US Embassy in Havana were implicated.”

Cubadebate is a Cuban website published by the Circle of Cuban Journalists against Terrorism , in which Cuban journalists and other nationalities collaborate. It aims to be “a space for information and exchange on topics related to subversion actions and defamatory campaigns organized against Cuba.”  It is published in seven languages, including Spanish and has become the most visible digital medium on the Cuban website.

  1. Diario de Cuba’s Report[4]

A more detailed report of the press conference appeared in Diario de Cuba. It had the 7% decline of tourists in the first quarter. It also said that after Canadians and Cubans living abroad, “US visitors appear in third place, despite measures taken by President Donald Trump, late last year, which included a travel alert to its citizens after the symptoms experienced by diplomatic personnel in Havana.”

Although this blogger has not been able to ascertain much information about this source, it is believed to originate outside Cuba, probably in the U.S., and is believed to be affiliated with Cubanet, which describes itself as an independent source of Cuban news since 1994.

Conclusion

It is not surprising that the number of American visitors to Cuba has declined and that it is attributable in substantial part to the Trump Administration’s harsh rhetoric against Cuba[5] the new U.S. regulations about Americans’ travel to Cuba[6] and the new State Department Travel Advisory about Cuba.[7]

Americans, however, should recognize that there are still 12 categories for legal travel to Cuba by Americans,[8] that the new State Department Travel Advisory for Cuba does not ban travel to the island and instead suggests Americans reconsider any plans to travel to the island and that the asserted basis for the Department’s urging Americans to reconsider is the reported adverse health incidents experienced by some U.S. diplomats who were staying in only two hotels in Havana (Hotels Nacional and Capri).[9] Moreover, Americans also should recognize that visitors to Cuba, especially from the U.S., help to support the privately owned bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, tour guides and others, which now has nearly 30% of the Cuban economy and which is a potential force for changes in Cuba.

In short, as a three-time traveler to Cuba, I urge my fellow Americans:  go to Cuba and have a great time![10]

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[1] Acosta, U.S. visits to Cuba plunge following Trump measures, Reuters (April 24, 2018); Reuters, U.S. Visits to Cuba Plunge Following Trump Measures, N.Y. Times (April 24, 2018).

[2] Pérez, We are a safe tourist destination, Granma (April 24, 2018)

[3] Rectified note: 7% decrease in tourist arrivals to Cuba in the first quarter, Cubadebate (April 24, 2018).

 

[4] The arrival of tourists to Cuba in the first quarter of the year decrease by 7%, Diario de Cuba (April 25, 2018).

[5] See, e.g., President Trump Announces Reversal of Some Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017)

[6]  See, e.g., New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities,  dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017); Reactions to New U.S. Regulations About U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Cuban Entities, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 9, 2017); Additional Reactions to New U.S. Regulations Regarding Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 11, 2017).

[7] See, e.g., A New Travel Warning for Americans Traveling to Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 19, 2017); State Department’s New Travel Advisory System for Cuba and Other Countries, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2018); Perplexing Status of U.S. Travel to Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 30, 2018).

[8] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Frequently Asked Questions Related to Travel to Cuba (Questions 5 through 37).

[9]U.S. State Dep’t, Cuba Travel Advisory.

[10] Given the new requirement for U.S. person-to-person travel to be with an organized group, one organizer of such groups worthy of consideration is the Center for Cuban Studies based in Brooklyn, N.Y. It specializes in small groups  with different themes such as African Roots of Cuban Culture, Art & Architecture and Cuba in Transition. In addition, for groups between 4 and 20 persons, it will create customized journeys.