National Circle of Journalists from Cuba Passes on Honoring a Cuban Journalist

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For the first time in its 15-year history, the National Circle of Journalists from Cuba did not give out an award recognizing a heroic colleague on the mainland when they commemorated Cuban Journalist Day on October 25.

It wasn't that reporters on the island were no longer risking arrest by stealthily passing information to a foreign correspondent. Or that there weren't still those posting anonymous blogs on the tightly State-controlled Internet. Or even that mimeographed dispatches were no longer being surreptitiously distributed.

The problem, group leaders say, was that the circle couldn't contact any of the candidates to inform them they would be winning an award that could place them "at great risk."

"There is a repressive wave in Cuba that has risen," says Jose R. Carreño, the group's president and a former political prisoner under the Castro regime. "We tried to make contact through various means."

"Before, we just made a phone call or used the internet," says the group's secretary, Marta R. Hanono.

Carreño, who like many of the other members of the circle comes from a generation that clacked on the keys of a manual typewriter, says he spent 16 years in a Cuban jail for undermining the government-controlled propaganda machine.

After the revolutionary regime "took over all 200 printing presses and every newspaper" on the island -- including the two Carreño wrote for, Excelsior and El Pais -- he and some of his colleagues secretly tried to print their own small paper every two weeks. Carreño said he was jailed in 1963 and stayed behind bars until 1979, when international pressure led to the release of 40 Cuban journalists.

Group members view the award as a vote of confidence for those trying to write their mind under a totalitarian regime that has effectively crushed free speech. They periodically send $100 to the island to make sure journalists can buy paper and pens and other necessities, such as shoes.

They're also trying to raise money to spruce up the 20-year-old Plaza de los Periodistas at S.W. 13th Avenue and 11th Street and update the plaques bearing the names of all the Cuban journalists who have died in exile.

If El Circulo didn't honor a journalist on the island this year, they used the opportunity to present a special award during the group's luncheon at La Habana Vieja, an old-style Cuban restaurant near Coral Gables where the waiters are all men and the columns bear the names of streets in Old Habana.

There, in the back room, after singing the American, Honduran and Cuban national anthems, Carreño presented the award to "Roberto Micheletti and his valorous Honduran people who have made manifest their love of liberty with courage and determination" for keeping Mel Zelaya out of power.
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