'Crusade against Castro' and 'on USpayroll' freedom group denies claims

By Dominic Ponsford

International press freedom campaign group Reporters Without Borders
(RSF)n has been accused of carrying out a “single- minded neo-con
crusade against the Castro regime” by a Washington-based think tank.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) has also claimed in an
article that RSF is “on the payroll of the US state department”. It
said RSF received payments of $50,000 from the US government- funded
Center for a Free Cuba and $40,000 for from the publicly-funded US
National Endowment for Democracy.

RSF has also been condemned for “aggressive campaigns aimed at discouraging Europeans from vacationing in Cuba”.

Paris-based
RSF was set up in 1984 to promote press freedom around the world and
has issued a robust defence in response to the COHA article.

In a
statement it said: “Our sole purpose is to defend press freedom
wherever it is being violated. And this is the case in Cuba.

“The
article correctly points out that journalists are not being murdered on
the island. But they are being thrown into prison there, and deprived
of their freedom simply for doing their job. As of now, 21 of them are
still behind bars and are likely to remain there for many years to
come.”

RSF has also pointed out that there is more to its work
than just Cuba: it saidthat in 2004 it produced 781 press releases
concerning 118 different countries and that just 19 of them mentioned
Cuba.

RSF denied that it has encouraged tourists to boycott Cuba,
but it said: “We simply feel that people should know that behind the
beaches, cigars and salsa is the fact that political prisoners are
being held under atrocious conditions. We have undertaken similar
efforts with regard to other tourist destinations such as the Maldives,
the Seychelles, Burma and Tunisia.”

On the funding issue RSF
said: “We have never received a penny from the US government. The only
funds that we are paid from the United States are those provided by the
National Endowment for Democracy foundation.

In 2005 we received,
for the first time, a grant of $39,900 within the framework of a
project whose purpose was ‘to support journalists arrested, imprisoned
or threatened in Africa’.

“This project concerns Africa and only
Africa. It had nothing to do with Cuba, and the amount granted
represents scarcely 1.6 per cent of the organisation’s budget.

“What
is more, although it is true that we received $50,000 in 2004 from the
Center for a Free Cuba, that sum barely comes to two per cent of our
budget. It will be used to assist the families of 21 imprisoned
journalists who are often deprived of medical care, and jailed hundreds
of miles from their loved ones.”

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