By Juan Tammayo, McClatchy Newspapers
MIAMI — A top Cuban journalist faces a 15-year prison sentence for spying, just two years after Raul Castro issued an unusually public praise for his expose of a scandalously botched public works project, according to reports.
Jose 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 Sanchez.
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 Valdes, 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.” 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 … Valdes and Ines 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.”