International PEN is pleased to note that four more Cuban independent journalists imprisoned since 2003 have been released, making a total of 10 freed since July 12, 2010. Omar Rodríguez Saludes and Normando Hernández González arrived in Madrid on July 14, Mijail Bárzaga Lugo landed on July 15, and Alfredo Pulido López on July 22. All traveled to Spain with their families as a part of a deal brokered by the Catholic Church and the Spanish government. PEN welcomes these new developments, but remains concerned that the prisoners are apparently obliged to leave Cuba as a precondition of their release. It continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of the 15 other Cuban writers, journalists and librarians still in prison for their writings.

Background Information

Omar Rodríguez Saludes and Normando Hernández González arrived in Madrid with their families on July 14, 2010. They were taken to a hostel in the neighborhood of Vallecas, where they joined six colleagues who had been freed and exiled to Spain the day before (Julio César Gálvez Rodríguez, José Luis García Paneque, Ricardo Severino González Alfonso, Léster Luis González Pentón, Pablo Pacheco Ávila and Omar Moisés Ruíz Hernández). Mijail Bárzaga Lugo arrived in Madrid with his family the next day (July 15) and was taken to the same hotel, while Alfredo Pulido López landed in Madrid with his family on July 22 and was driven to a hotel in Mostoles, south of Madrid.

Two other journalists are reportedly due to be released and sent to Spain in the coming days: José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández and Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez.

Under the surprise deal brokered by the Catholic Church and the Spanish foreign ministry, the Cuban government has reportedly agreed to release all 52 dissidents imprisoned since the March 2003 crackdown. However, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, has gone further, telling a congressional committee in Madrid on July 12 that all of Cuba’s political prisoners—now estimated to number at least 150 in total—would be freed. According to a July 20 report by the BBC, the president of Cuba's parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, has confirmed that the Cuban government is ready to release more political prisoners beyond the 52 it has already promised.

One of the conditions of the prisoners’ release is apparently that they agree to be exiled to Spain, although they will be free to move elsewhere thereafter. Both the USA and Chile have reportedly offered to take in the dissidents. The remaining detainees are due to be released over the next three to four months. However, some are reportedly refusing to leave Cuba, including the journalists Pedro Argüelles Morán, Iván Hernández Carrillo and Régis Iglesias Ramírez. It is not yet clear what will happen in these cases.

The Cuban government has not explained why it has agreed to the releases. A rare TV appearance by the former leader Fidel Castro hours before the dissidents’ departure on July 12 made no mention of the fact, focusing instead on international affairs. However, the regime has come under increasing pressure from the international community following the February 23 death of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike for better prison conditions, harassment of the dissident group Ladies in White during protests in March and April, and reports in early July that the journalist Guillermo Fariñas, who went on hunger strike following Zapata’s death, was himself in danger of dying. Fariñas reportedly called off his hunger strike after the releases were announced.

Twenty-two of the 52 dissidents to be released are writers, independent journalists and librarians whose cases have been followed by International PEN. Following the release of the 10 independent journalists since July 12, a total of 15 other writers remain in jail, 12 of whom have also been held since March 2003.

Details of the four journalists released and sent to Spain between July 14 and 22:

  • Mijaíl Bárzaga Lugo: journalist (Agencia Noticiosa de Cuba); brother of well known human rights activist Belkis Bárzaga Lugo. Date of birth: April 25, 1967. Sentence: 15 years. Honorary Member: Netherlands PEN.
  • Normando Hernández González: director of the news agency Camagüey College of Independent Journalists (Colegio de Periodistas Independientes de Camagüey), journalist (Cubanet). Date of birth: October 21, 1969. Sentence: 25 years. Expires: April 2028. Honorary Member: American, Canadian and English PEN. Recipient of the 2007 American PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
  • Omar Rodríguez Saludes: director of the independent press agency, Nueva Prensa Cubana. Date of birth: July 11, 1965. Sentence: 27 years. Honorary member: Finnish PEN Centee.
  • Alfredo Pulido López: human rights activist and freelance journalist (director of El Mayor news agency, Camagüey). Date of birth: November 14, 1960. Sentence: 14 years.

    Details of the two other writers reportedly due to be released and sent to Spain in the coming days:

 

  • José Ubaldo Izquierdo Hernández: freelance journalist (independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro and Cubanet), librarian (director of Sebastián Arcos Bergnes library) and pro-democracy activist. Date of birth: November 6, 1965. Sentence: 16 years. Izquierdo reportedly intends to resettle with his family in Chile, which has offered him political asylum.
  • Blas Giraldo Reyes Rodríguez: librarian (20 de Mayo Library, Sancti Spiritus) and member of the steering committee of the pro-democracy Varela Project, Sancti Spíritus. Date of birth: August 7, 1955. Sentence: 25 years.

Write A Letter

  • Welcoming the release of four more independent journalists—Mijail Bárzaga Lugo, Normando Hernández González, Alfredo Pulido López, and Omar Rodríguez Saludes—as well as the Cuban government’s reported intention to release the 12 other writers who have been imprisoned since March 2003;
  • However, expressing concern that the journalists have apparently been obliged to leave Cuba as a precondition of their release;
  • Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the 15 writers, journalists and librarians still held in violation of their right to freedom of expression, 12 of whom have been imprisoned since 2003.

Send Your Letter To

Head of State and Government
Raúl Castro Ruz
Presidente
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +53 7 8333085 (via Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
+1 2127791697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Email: cuba@un.int (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Su Excelencia/Your Excellency

Interior Minister
General Abelardo Coloma Ibarra
Ministro del Interior y Prisiones
Ministerio del Interior, Plaza de la Revolución, La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +53 7 8333085 (via Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
+1 2127791697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)
Salutation: Señor Ministro / Dear Minister

Please send also appeals to diplomatic representatives of Cuba in your country if possible.

Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after September 22, 2010: ftw [at] pen.org