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Cuba journalist convicted of spying

By Juan O. Tamayo, The Miami Herald –

MIAMI — A journalist with Cuba’s Granma newspaper was sentenced to 14 years in prison for spying, a charge filed soon after he reported on the government’s mishandling of a critical construction project, according to dissidents.

Jose Antonio Torres was the correspondent for Granma, the official publication of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party, in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest.

Arrested in February 2011 and tried around mid-June, he was sentenced more recently to 14 years in prison and the suspension of his university degree in journalism, said dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia.

Cuba’s government-controlled news media has made only a few brief references to the Torres case, despite his well-known reporting and the charge against him. Only about a half-dozen Cubans are known to be jailed on spying charges.

Ferrer, head of the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union, said he received information on Torres from government opponents jailed in the same prisons on the outskirts of Santiago, at first Aguadores and more recently Boniato.

“We know he appealed the 14-year sentence but fears a worse outcome” because the appeals court could increase it, Ferrer told El Nuevo Herald by phone from his home in Palmarito de Cauto in Santiago province. Prosecutors sought a 15-year sentence.

Torres also has not had conjugal visits with his wife in 20 months, Ferrer added, a sign that government security officials may be trying to persuade his wife to cut off their relationship.

The journalist insists he is innocent and that the government will eventually realize its “mistake” in putting him in prison, Ferrer noted. Torres has rejected his many requests for details of the case so that dissidents can publicize his defense.

Ferrer paraphrased him as saying that he “trusts in the revolution’s justice, and that he does not want any relations with counter-revolutionaries.”

Little is known of the spying charge, Ferrer added, although one unconfirmed version has Torres depositing a CD with confidential information in the mailbox of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana.

The Spain-based blog Diario de Cuba reported earlier this year that Torres apparently had sent a letter to the mission offering to provide information about military targets and government officials in Santiago.

Torres was arrested after Granma published his 5,000 word report on the scandalous mismanagement of the construction of an aqueduct for Santiago province, a marquee government project in a region long marked by water shortages.

The July 2010 report used words like “errors,” never corruption, and noted in neutral terms that Vice President Ramiro Valdes, one of Cuba’s most powerful officials and the project’s supervisor, had indicated that the situation was improving.

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro heaped unusually public praise on Torres for the article, writing in a postscript to the Granma article that “this is the spirit that should characterize the (Communist) Party press, transparent, critical and self-critical.”

The postscript also praised Valdes for his handling of the project, even though the two men reportedly clashed often in the 1960s and 1970s, when Castro was minister of the armed forces and Valdes was minister of the interior, in charge of domestic security.

Torres may have kicked up more dust four months later when he wrote about the fiber optic cable laid from Venezuela to Siboney Beach just east of Santiago. He noted that Valdes, at the time minister of communications, was supervising that project.

Several ministry officials were arrested later on corruption charges apparently linked to the cable. Valdes was promoted out of the ministry in early 2011 to an at-large job supervising the ministries of communications, construction and hydraulic resources.

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