Lone Havana-based U.S. Newspaper Reporter Is Coming Home

In yet another symbol of the fall of American newspapers, the man billed as the "only U.S. reporter based in Havana" is leaving Cuba. 

Sun-Sentinel Executive Editor Earl Maucker told staff during a meeting on Friday that the newspaper is shutting down its bureau in Havana and bringing reporter Ray Sanchez, whose Sentinel photo at left still includes his former distinction in Havana, to work in Fort Lauderdale, a newspaper source confirmed.

Since the Dallas Morning News bureau in Cuba was shut down in 2004, the Sun-Sentinel's Havana bureau, jointly run with the Chicago Tribune, has been the only U.S. newspaper operation on the island. The only American news organizations left with a presence on the island are AP, NBC, and CNN.  

The Chicago Tribune recently pulled the plug on its funding for the newspaper's Havana bureau, Maucker told the staff on Friday. That combined with the fact that the Sentinel is cutting costs of its own -- including the loss of a total of 12 staffers to lay-offs and resignations during the past two weeks -- spelled the end of the operation in Cuba.

Sanchez' column, "Direct from Havana," which was published every Tuesday and Thursday, hasn't appeared since last Tuesday. Sanchez came to the Sentinel from Newsday, where'd he'd worked for 15 years. His first Sentinel column with a Havana byline, about a Cuban journalist who was jailed after a political rally, was published on November 23, 2006.

"I left Newsday after nearly 15 years of work there because I was fortunate enough to land a job in Havana," Sánchez said at the time. "It's an incredible time to be in Cuba. ... Many Newsday reporters have grown frustrated with the direction of the paper: the emphasis on local news, the tighter stories, cuts in travel, etc. The few foreign news bureaus at the paper are closing. ... That's why I made the switch.... It was Havana or Hempstead."

The Sentinel bureau in Cuba was approved by Fidel Castro in 2000 and opened the following year. Its first chief was Vanessa Bauza, who worked in Havana for more than four years.    

"Our goal all along has been to provide our readers the most comprehensive coverage available on a vitally important region to South Florida," Maucker said when the bureau was approved in 2000. "A bureau in Cuba brings us a step closer to providing that level of coverage."

In the same meeting on Friday in which he announced that the bureau was closing, Maucker told staff that there would be another round of layoffs coming up in June that would hit copy editing and design departments harder than other areas at the newspaper. There are about 220 staff members left in the newsroom and that number will be reduced to about 180, which equals about half of the peak levels of two or three years ago.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman