President takes first step in opening Cuba to journalists
WASHINGTON, D.C.–President Clinton in early October gave permission to domestic news media to explore opening bureaus in Cuba, but statements by Cuban officials indicate that their country may not be receptive to the idea.
In a speech delivered on October 6 to Freedom House, a self-described bi-partisan human rights group, Clinton announced, “We will tighten the enforcement of our embargo to keep the pressure for reform on, but we will promote democracy and the free flow of ideas more actively. I have authorized our news media to open bureaus in Cuba.”
State department official Tom Casey said that the policy change is part of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992. Casey added that the change does not require an executive order or a change in legislation.
Under the terms of the U.S. embargo of Cuba, which began in 1963, American journalists could work on stories in Cuba temporarily by obtaining permission from the Treasury Department.
While keeping that requirement intact, the new policy also allows applicants to visit the country to investigate the possibility of opening a bureau there. The policy does not explicitely grant a right to travel to Cuba to run a news bureau, and administrative officials could not say whether that was allowed under the new rule.
Richard Nuccio, Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Cuba said that the new policy would be effective as soon as the regulations defining the exchanges were published, which he expected to happen during the week of October 15.
However, Nuccio and Casey agreed that the approval of the bureaus themselves would be likely to take much longer.
When asked whether the policy means that the domestic media are free to establish bureaus or just to investigate the possibility, Casey said, “That is the $64,000 question. The President has made it possible for the U.S. government to allow this to occur. Whether Cuba will allow it to occur is the question. We have had no formal response from the Cuban government.”
Nuccio agreed, and added that the U.S. government would like to see Cuba grant permission to all groups that are interested, so that a range of opinions would be represented in news coverage.
Reactions to Clinton’s announcement have not been favorable among Cuban officials, according to media reports.
An Associated Press report said that Foreign Ministry spokesman Miguel Alfonso said Clinton’s announcement was meaningless because it did not affect the longstanding U.S. economic embargo against his country.
Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon, according to the AP report, said the U.S. “made a big noise over something that is absolutely nothing.”
Representatives of several media organizations including The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Associated Press said their organizations were interested in the possibility of establishing bureaus in Cuba.
Miami Herald Executive Editor Doug Clifton said, “For some time we’ve had in a request to the U.S. and Cuba to establish a bureau in Cuba. That is now and will always be our interest.”