Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cuban journalist who wrote exposé of bungled aqueduct project reportedly faces espionage charges

Posted on Wednesday, 07.18.12

Cuban journalist who wrote exposé of bungled aqueduct project reportedly
faces espionage charges

The Granma journalist wrote a hard-hitting expose of a bungled aqueduct
project in eastern Santiago de Cuba.
By Juan O. Tamayo

A top Cuban journalist faces a 15-year prison sentence for spying, just
two years after Raúl Castro issued an unusually public praise for his
exposé of a scandalously botched public works project, according to reports.

José Antonio Torres was the correspondent in eastern Santiago de Cuba,
the island's second largest city, for the newspaper Granma, the official
voice of the ruling Communist Party, until his arrest in February 2011.

Prosecutors sought the 15-year sentence on a charge of espionage during
a court hearing in mid-June, according to a post Wednesday in the
Spain-based blog Diario de Cuba — Cuba Diary — which first reported the
Torres case in March of 2011.

Dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer said prisoners he met in April in a
Santiago police station during one of his frequent detentions arrests
had told him that Torres was being held in Aguadores prison on the
outskirts of the city and had been charged with spying.

Torres told fellow inmates that he was innocent and remained a staunch
government supporter, Ferrer said. His wife turned down offers of
assistance from Havana human rights activist Elizardo Sánchez.

Diario de Cuba noted that its unidentified sources reported Torres had
sent a letter to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana "showing an
interest in providing information about military objectives" and "high
officials … to whom he had access."

Other reports have indicated Torres was arrested in a corruption probe
or in retaliation for his July 2010 report on a botched aqueduct
construction project in Santiago. Cuba's state-run news media, including
Granma, have never reported on his arrest.

His 5,000-word report listed a string of blunders in the massive
project, used strong words like "mistakes" and "bad job" and quoted Vice
President Ramiro Valdés, who supervised the project, as saying that the
situation was improving.

Castro attached a personal note to the end of the Granma report praising
Torres, by name, "for his steadfastness in following this project … I
believe this is the spirit that must characterize the Party newspaper,
to be transparent, critical and self-critical."

The Castro postscript also praised Valdés, widely reported but never
officially confirmed to have clashed with Castro many times when he was
minister of the interior in the 1960s and 1970s and Castro was minister
of defense.

"I ratify my praise for compañero Ramiro Valdés for the way in which he
has been carrying out the control and requirements of this project."
Castro wrote.

Granma's introduction to the postscript noted Castro read the report
before it was published and told the newspaper to omit the names of the
national and provincial officials mentioned in the Torres report "except
for those of … Valdés and Inés Chapman," at the time coordinator of the
aqueduct project.

That decision, Granma added, was taken "because the majority of them
pointed out errors that happened but were not self-critical, even though
they were the ones responsible for the shortcomings in the execution of
the project."

Four months later, in November of 2010, Torres wrote a story on the
laying of a fiber-optic cable from Venezuela to Siboney Beach near
Santiago and noted that Valdes, at the time also minister of information
and communications, was supervising the work.

The cable project has been marred by reports of corruption. Valdés was
replaced as communications minister in January of 2011. The announcement
of his departure said he been named to supervise the ministries of
communications, construction and hydraulic resources.

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