State denies visas to Cuban journalists for press freedom event
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The State Department in late July denied visas to two Cuban journalists who were invited to attend a celebration of National Press Week in Puerto Rico in early August. The State Department said it refused to grant the visas because the journalists are employed by a government that oppresses independent media.
Nelson del Castillo, President of the Association of Professional Journalists of Puerto Rico, invited Pedro Martinez Pires, subdirector of Radio Havana Cuba, and Francisco Garcia Hernandez, director of the Cuban Television network, both of which are state-owned media, to participate in a conference on the press in the Caribbean. The forum was part of Puerto Rico’s National Press Week celebration.
But the State Department called Castillo a week before the conference was to begin and informed him that the Cuban journalists would not be granted visas.
“We felt that under the current circumstances, with the current crackdown of independent journalists, it was inappropriate” to be issuing visas to the journalists, according to Sean Murphy of the department’s Office of Cuban Affairs.
Under a presidential proclamation signed by President Reagan in 1985 and incorporated into the Immigration and Naturalization Act, employees and officials of the Cuban government can be denied entry to the United States, Murphy said. The State Department frequently waives this provision, he said, but would not do so in this instance.
Linda Backiel, an attorney representing the press association, asked the State Department to reconsider the denial. The Committee to Protect Journalists wrote to Secretary of State Warren Christopher, asking him to have the department reconsider the matter. CPJ stated that while they have strongly protested the “insidious actions of the Government of Fidel Castro against members of the struggling free press movement … the United States Government should not make similar professional judgements, a move that is tantamount to licensing.” The State Department did not reconsider its decision, according to Murphy.
Backiel said that the Cuban journalists previously have traveled to Puerto Rico to be interviewed, and faced no trouble gaining access to the country in the past.