U.S. clears way for American news bureaus in Cuba
WASHINGTON, D.C.– The Clinton Administration has granted permission to ten news agencies to apply to operate bureaus in Cuba. Of the ten, only CNN has already received permission from the Cuban government. The cable network plans to open a bureau in Cuba in March.
Although the U.S. government allows journalists to travel to Cuba and the Cuban government frequently grants American reporters temporary visas, a CNN move would be the first time in 28 years that Cuban president Fidel Castro has allowed an American news organization to open a bureau on the island. Most major foreign news organizations, including British and French news agencies, already have permanent bureaus in Cuba.
White House spokesman Michael McCurry told The New York Times it hopes that reporting by American news organizations “will keep international attention focused on Cuba.”
Cuban Foreign Minister Roberto Robaina told the Associated Press that the U.S. action was a “publicity show” and that the White House decision to authorize only a few organizations was “selective and discriminatory.” However, a Treasury spokesman said that a publisher or broadcaster must simply show that it is a bona fide newsgathering organization to obtain the license to open a news bureau in Cuba, according to AP.
This move, an exception to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, is supported by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms. Helms told AP that allowing CNN to open a bureau in Cuba could hasten the demise of Castro’s government. McCurry stressed that the administration’s action was in keeping with a policy dating back to October 1995 “supporting an increased flow of information to and from and within Cuba itself.” The administration’s action does not remove restrictions barring Cuban news organizations from having bureaus in the U.S.
The Helms-Burton Act, formally titled the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, was signed into law in March 1996. It treats news gathering as a form of trade, subject to Government license. The act authorizes the President to establish an exchange of news bureaus with Cuba as long as the arrangement is “fully reciprocal,” all of the licensed companies are admitted to Cuba, and distribution or broadcast of anything reported by the news organizations is unhindered. The Treasury Department is required to ensure that only accredited and regularly employed journalists are assigned to Cuba. (Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996)