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U.S. newspapers given go-ahead in Havana
CHICAGO (Reuters) -- The Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News said in their Friday editions that Cuba has granted permission for them to open reporting bureaus in the communist-ruled island nation, the first permanent U.S. newspaper presence in Cuba since the early 1960s.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told executives for the newspapers that approval of the news bureaus had been granted in meetings at the Cuban mission to the United Nations in New York, where Cuban President Fidel Castro has been attending the U.N. Millennium Summit.
Although news organizations such as Reuters and other non-U.S. agencies and a scattering of non-U.S. newspapers have long had a presence in Cuba, CNN and The Associated Press are the only U.S.-based news organizations to have bureaus in Havana. These two were granted permission in the last four years.
Other U.S.-based journalists can make only limited reporting trips to the island.
"The Cuba story is one that needs to be told properly," Tribune Chairman John Madigan said. "Being there allows you to do that. We have a lot of interest in events in Cuba and this is another way to bring to our readers in-depth coverage of subjects important to them. We are very excited about this bureau."
The Tribune also owns the Sun-Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel, both newspapers in Florida which has a large and vocal Cuban American population.
Cuba's approval of the newspaper bureaus is bound to be viewed as signaling widening acceptance of U.S. media by Havana and also continues a recent trend of closer "people-to-people" ties between two nations, which have no diplomatic relations.
But at a government level, relations remain chilly. Washington maintains a 38-year-old economic embargo on Cuba aimed at pushing it into change, while Castro, 74, in power for the last 41 years, remains committed to his one-party socialist system.
The U.S. government in 1997 gave permission to several U.S. newspapers to open bureaus in Cuba but the newspapers have up to now been unable to get authorization from Havana. CNN opened its office in 1997, while the AP was approved in 1998.
The New York Times was the last U.S. newspaper to have a bureau on the island in the early 1960s, not long after Castro's 1959 revolution. The Associated Press became the last U.S.-based news organization to leave, in 1969.
As it realigns its economic ties after the collapse of its old ally the former Soviet Union, Havana has become more open to Westerners, allowing investment from Canada and European nations such as Spain and Italy and rapidly expanding its tourism sector over the last decade. But Castro's government remains wary of Western reporting.
Non-domestic reporters working in Havana, who number more than 100, are not subject to censorship but officials scrutinize their work continually and critically and occasionally dole out informal or formal complaints. Over the decades reporters have occasionally been expelled from the island, although this has seldom happened in recent years.
"Cuba is like any authoritarian society where they watch you," said Stuart Loory, a professor at Missouri School of Journalism and a former CNN news executive.
"You learn to accommodate with (being watched) and still develop sources and opposing points of view. I think it's harder for people who go in for a quick trip to do that."
It was not immediately clear exactly when the U.S. newspapers would open their bureaus.
"This is an important recognition of the role The Dallas Morning News has played in bringing insight and understanding of Latin America to Texas and throughout the United States," said Dallas Morning News publisher Burl Osborne.
"This will enable us to do an even better job in the future as the distance between countries and peoples continues to shrink."
Havana has denied a bureau to the U.S. newspaper that would arguably have most interest in having one, the Miami Herald, which it sees as partisan and hostile to it.
The Herald and its Spanish-language sister paper El Nuevo Herald have a large Cuban American readership and their columnists regularly rail against the Castro government.
The Herald Friday quoted its executive editor Martin Baron as saying "We are not pleased to have a competitor who has a bureau in Havana," referring to the Tribune-owned papers. "We will continue to cover Cuba as best we can ... and to have reporters get in there. And there are other sources of information besides the Tribune bureaus. We'll rely on those sources until we get a bureau. We hope it's soon," he said.
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