How do journalists get into Cuba these days? Not easily— if at all. The days of journalists pretending to be tourists or slipping a few illicit dollars inside a passport are over.
Cuba requires foreign journalists to hold special visas, and since news broke of Fidel Castro's mystery illness, the rules have been tightened up, a one reporter for the Washington Post discovered.
When Eugene Robinson admitted he was a journalist, his passport was seized and he was made to sleep the night on the floor of the airport. The next morning, he and several colleagues were put on the first plane to Mexico.
Reporting on the experience in the Washington Post, Robinson wrote: "For years I have been able to get in and out of Cuba with little attention. Now its strictly by the book."
When an official noticed on his passport how often he had visited Cuba he asked if he was journalist.
Not many newspapers have bureaus these days in Havana. The Associated Press, Reuters, and CNN have bureaux in the Cuban capital, but they are the exception.
A few journalists have managed to get through the strict airport controls, but they are also the exception. Scores of journalists are reported to be waiting at airports in Mexico, notably Cancun.
Some papers – the New York Times for example – have employees in Cuba and are using them but won’t name them or use their bylines.
Only two big American newspapers, the Chicago Tribune and the South Florida Sun Sentinel, have bureaus in Havana – and the Sun Sentinel’s reporter was out of Cuba when the big story broke and hasn't yet been able to get back.
One big news organizations has found a way of getting the inside story – if there is one. CNN has hired Fidel Castro's illegitimate daughter Alina Fernandez to be a special correspondent.
She admits she hasn't spoken to her father for 13 years, but hopes to be able to provide a commentary on what or may not be happening in Cuba. "I know the way my family thinks and acts" she says. She is one who doesn't believe Castro is at death's door.