U.S. urges freedom for Granma journalist

The U.S. government urged Cuba Wednesday to free a former Granma newspaper reporter who was arrested after he wrote about the mismanagement of a government project and is now serving a 14-year prison sentence for spying.

José Antonio Torres was the correspondent for Granma, the official voice of the Communist Party of Cuba, in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Torres was arrested in early 2011 after he published a report on the mismanagement of a public works project, and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Ventrell mentioned the Torres case during a briefing as part of the State Department’s “Free the Press Campaign,” which is spotlighting one case per day in the lead-up to World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

“The United States calls on the government of Cuba to release him,” Ventrell said. “Journalists are being silenced around the world. In too many places, they are imprisoned, attacked, intimidated, disappeared, exiled or murdered for trying to report the news or exercise their freedom of expression.”

Although Cuba’s state monopoly on the news media has not reported on the Torres case, it has drawn much interest among Cuba-watchers because of the journalist’s aggressive reporting and the spying charges against him.

His 5,000-word report published in July 2010 detailed the mistakes in the government’s construction of a critically needed aqueduct for the province of Santiago de Cuba. Torres also wrote about the many problems with the Alba-1 fiber optic cable from Venezuela.

Although both projects were supervised by Vice President Ramiro Valdés, one of Cuba’s most powerful officials, Torres never pointed a finger directly at Valdés.

Cuban President Raúl Castro even praised the aqueduct report and added a post script to the version published by Granma describing it as an example of the kind of transparent and critical reporting the country needed.

Torres was arrested in February of 2011 and tried that June. Several Ministry of Communications officials were arrested later on corruption charges apparently linked to the Alba-1 cable.

Torres has told fellow prison inmates that he’s no spy and remains loyal to the Castro government, according to José Daniel Ferrer García, head of the dissident Patriotic Union of Cuba. Several Union members met Torres in the Aguadores and Boniato prisons.

Little is known of the spying charge, although the Spain-based blog Diario de Cuba has reported that Torres apparently sent a letter to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana offering information about military targets and government officials in Santiago de Cuba.

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