In a move that the White House believes will help “bring about peaceful democratic change in Cuba,” the Clinton administration cleared the way for CNN to open a bureau on the island and gave nine other news organizations permission to do the same - if Havana agrees.
The decision effectively waives restrictions imposed under the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.
If all proceeds as planned, CNN next month will open its bureau on the 20th floor of a Havana hotel and become the first American news organization to have a permanent reporter in the Communist nation since 1969.
But CNN is the only news organization, so far, that has won Cuban permission to operate there; the other nine await approval by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s regime.
American reporters have been permitted to take brief trips to Cuba but visas for such travel usually have been restricted, as has movement of the journalists once in the country.
CNN lobbied heavily for a permanent presence on the island, taking its case directly to Castro; his government gave its approval in August. But the obstacle of U.S. permission remained.
Last week, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, wrote to the president urging him to let CNN open its bureau.
“I am persuaded that the spotlight of a free press focused on Castro’s tropical gulag will only hasten the day when the Cuban people are free of his brutal Communist tyranny,” Helms wrote Clinton, urging him to drop the ban on American news organizations opening bureaus in Cuba.
Helms argued that a permanent U.S. media presence in Cuba also could provide protection for Cuban dissidents, recording government attempts to repress them for the world to see.
On Wednesday, White House spokesman Mike McCurry echoed Helms’ sentiments: “We in some measure expect that the reporting of truth about the conditions in Cuba would further our policy, which seeks to bring about peaceful democratic change in Cuba.”
He added that one condition imposed by the United States is that the news organizations “be allowed to operate in an unrestricted environment so that they could freely and impartially report the news.”
“It’s important for us to be there because there’s intense interest in the United States and around the world in Cuba,” said Eason Jordan, executive vice president of CNN International.
Cuba remains one of the few countries that prevents foreign reporters from setting up bureaus, said Thomas Kent, Associated Press international editor.
Vietnam had long banned foreign media but now some organizations, including the AP, have been allowed to open bureaus there.
xxxx HOPING TO GO The organizations that have applied for U.S. permission to open bureaus in Cuba are: CNN, the AP, the Miami Herald, Dow Jones, the Chicago Tribune, the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida, ABC, CBS, Univision and the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, which publishes a Cuban newsletter.
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