FOR THE FIRST time in a quarter century, U.S. media will be allowed to open and maintain news bureaus in Cuba.
Whether Cuban authorities want them there, however, remains to be seen.
Among the "new steps to encourage" Cuba's "peaceful transition to a free and open society" announced by President Clinton, was the opening of news bureaus.
"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," Clinton said during a speech to Freedom House in Washington, D.C.
In addition, the president said the U.S. would allow "more people to travel to and from Cuba for educational, religious and human rights purposes. We will now permit American nongovernmental organizations to engage in a fuller range of activities in Cuba."
As far as Cuban news organizations opening bureaus in the U.S., published reports quoted administration officials who indicated that once Cuban President Fidel Castro allows U.S. media into his nation, the U.S. would reciprocate.
Although U.S. journalists are allowed to travel to Cuba on limited visas, the last U.S. correspondent based in Havana was expelled in September 1969.
In retaliation for the expulsion, President Nixon banned Cuban correspondents in the U.S., except for those covering the United Nations, whose movements are limited.
A number of anti-Castro organizations protested Clinton's announcement, but the move was met with general approval of many in the news media.
"We're eager to have a news bureau in Cuba," said Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr., who also is incoming president of the Inter America Press Association.
"We've applied for it several times over the years. It's never been approved," he said, adding that the Herald has sent people "catch as catch can."
"We're ready to have one tomorrow," he said of opening a Cuban bureau. "I can't think of anything more fundamental to democracy."
The Associated Press also is interested in opening a bureau in Cuba, said international editor Thomas Kent.
"At the moment, this is an administration proposal. It has not been signed off on by the Cubans. If it is, we're interested," he said.
"We have had contacts with the Cubans for years on this subject," Kent continued. "The conversation has always gone nowhere because of the relations between the U.S. and Cuban authorities."
Kent was not worried about potential roadblocks in Cuba, pointing out that the AP has "operated in many countries that are difficult to cover."
"We have made reporting trips into Cuba many times in recent years and have been able to generate [copy and] to have the kind of coverage we wanted," he said.
"We would hope and expect that we are able to operate with as much freedom as possible," Kent added. "Clearly, our operation will depend on the freedom to report."
American Society of Newspaper Editors president William B. Ketter,
editor of the Quincy, Mass., Patriot Ledger, called the announcement "a
"The American public needs to know what is happening in Cuba," he said. "The only way for us to get more information is through the eyes of our reporters being there.
"Any sort of eyes on that country, first-person reports from American journalists, will bring insight into the conditions there," Ketter said, pointing out that "we have been basically blacked out" from news about "a country only 90 miles from our shore."
While in Cuba, in 1979, with a group of journalists, Ketter said he found "a tremendous amount of interest in what was happening in the U.S. in Cuba."
In addition, Ketter said, "I think some of the developments in Cuba in the past few years, we would've known a lot more about them had we had news bureaus there."
Castro has been invited to speak at the upcoming ASNE convention next spring in Washington, Ketter added, noting that Castro last spoke to the ASNE in 1959, shortly after gaining power.
At the time, there was concern about honoring "a dictator who has ordered mass lynchings after fake trials," but then-ASNE president George W. Healy Jr. of the New Orleans Times-Picayune assured members that Castro could be questioned after his prepared remarks (E&P March 21, 1959, p. 14).
"In my opinion, it is one of my responsibilities to permit members of the Society of which I am president as wide an opportunity as possible to see and hear men and women who have made news or who handled news in an outstanding manner," Healy wrote in the ASNE Bulletin.
"I hope," Ketter said, "as president of ASNE, that this [announcement] will open the door to our request that Castro appear before the ASNE next April, so that editors from all over the country will have the opportunity to question him and hear firsthand his opinions," Ketter said.
The editor noted, however, that the Cuban president ? known for his lengthy discourse ? will be required to stick to the ASNE format of 30 minutes for remarks, followed by member questions. When he appeared before the ASNE in 1959, Castro spoke, in English, for two hours and 15 minutes.
"I'm sure a large number of editors want him to come under the condition that we be able to ask him questions. We don't want him to come and spout propaganda for three hours," Ketter said.
National Association of Hispanic Journalists president Gilbert Bailon, assistant managing editor/Metro at the Dallas Morning News, said he believes "any time there is a loosening of restrictions on press access and freedom to move about it is generally good news."
"Overall, particularly for the U.S. media and the types of coverage that could come out, there are good objectives," he said, noting that some people may be suspicious of any Castro moves "to look more democratic without full repeal of the communist system. They suspect that he is trying to control the media."
Bailon said covering Cuba might be similar to the former Soviet Union and Czech Republic, where there was limited access and attempts to control the media.
He does not believe, however, that Cuban authorities will have much success controlling the U.S. press, both because of its size and the competition.
"There will be so many media, a lot of different news organizations will go, that there will be a competitive drive to get the stories and find the stories they [Cuban authorities] do not want done," he pointed out.
Reginald Stuart, president of the Society of Professional Journalists and assistant news editor for Knight-Ridder in Washington, called the announcement "excellent" and "long overdue."
"It hasn't made sense for a long time to bar the American press from covering a nation 90 miles off our coast. So this is good news all the way around," he said.
"I think Cuba should not miss this opportunity to have an expanded presence of American press there," Stuart added. "They might be leery of having the American press there, but as the saying goes, the fleas come with the dog."
The Committee to Protect Journalists has been lobbying for easing the restrictions for years, and just over a year ago wrote to both Clinton and Castro urging them to repeal the restrictions (E&P, July 30, 1994, p. 14).
"We welcome the decision," said Ana Arana, CPJ Americas Program Coordinator.
"The legacy of the Cold War was not conducive to press freedom in Cuba and gave a lopsided view of the U.S. in that country," she said.
"We hope President Castro will also issue a reciprocal decision," Arana added. "The ball is now in Cuba's court . . . . We'll see if they come up with the goods.
"In the end, I think this will contribute to bettering the situation in Cuba," she said.
"This definitely will help independent journalists in Cuba," Arana said, although, CPJ is "concerned now that as this announcement has been made, there have been a number of attacks against independent news agencies in Cuba."
Journalists working for independent media in Cuba have had their phones cut off and their movements limited, among other things, Arana explained.
?(Although U.S. journalists are allowed to travel to Cuba on limited visas, the last U.S. correspondent based in Havana was expelled by Cuban President Fidel Castro in September 1969. Above, a 1959 photo of a youthful Castro during a visit to the U.S.) [Photo & Caption]
By: Debra Gersh Hernandez President Clinton gives permission for news outlets to operate there, for the first time since 1969, but it is unclear whether the Cuban government will permit it sp.