Freedom of speech in Cuba is in a deplorable state, exacerbated by the economic crisis that deepened as a result of three hurricanes that hit the island in late 2008, by the diminished financial capacity of the government, and by the recent political purge at the highest levels of the government. Prospects are hardly encouraging for the Cuban government, which for 50 years now has ignored the demands of the international community for democratic change. The natural disasters caused US$10 billion in losses. Thirty percent of all crops were destroyed. Food and fuel prices are rising on the world market. One year into the rule of Raúl Castro, expectations of change and promises of “deep structural transformations” have given way to stagnation, a recentralization of power in the hands of military leaders and longstanding figures of the Cuban bureaucracy, and tight control over the media and access to information. Fidel Castro, now retired, continues to play a key role through his “reflections” published in the press. Last year the government signed several international human rights agreements at the United Nations: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But beyond this rhetorical commitment, no concrete progress has been made in the circulation of information, freedom of assembly, and treatment toward journalists behind bars. The number of journalists behind bars remains at 26, and they are serving sentences ranging from one to twenty-eight years. The government is torn between the necessity of opening up to the outside world and its reluctance to open the internal floodgates. The Supreme Court issued Instruction 88/2008 to stiffen sentences and move with maximum speed to act against crime. The so-called Operation Victoria was carried out in some cities outside Havana as a sort of siege to crack down on illegal vendors and speculators. The public’s freedom of movement is still restricted to prevent unauthorized migration to Havana by residents of other provinces, as established in Decree-Law 217 of April 1997. This restriction particularly affects dissidents and independent journalists. In Havana more than 1,000 new police officers have been put to work so far this year to bolster surveillance and crack down on crime. Since late October, 85 actions have been documented as part of the crackdown on independent journalism in Cuba, including fines, confiscations of money and work materials, acts of intimidation, home searches, temporary arrests, layoffs, deportations to one’s province of origin, phone taps, interceptions of correspondence, and Internet blackouts. This number is greater than in the previous six-month period. The government harassment not only affects the more than 60 independent journalists in Cuba, but also the incipient blogger movement, which is active despite government control over Internet access. About 20 independent blogs — a number of them under pseudonyms — are in addition to the more than 300 blogs that either belong to government-sanctioned publications or operate with the consent of the authorities. In early December, the police tried to break up a bloggers’ workshop in Pinar del Río province, which was called by the alternative magazine Convivencia. At least five bloggers, including the internationally known Yoani Sánchez (Generación Y), were cited by state security agents and warned that the event would not be allowed on the grounds that it was a “counterrevolutionary action.” Almost all of these independent blogs are inaccessible from inside Cuba because the government scrambles the signal. The Cuban authorities restrict the people’s Internet access, claiming that a “collective approach” to the Internet is necessary because of the U.S. embargo, which prevents Cuba from connecting to the Internet through underwater fiber optic cables and forces it use satellite to access the Web. Resolution 179/2008 of the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MINTEL), published in November, sets forth strict rules for Internet service providers in Cuba. One provision requires ISPs to “adopt the measures needed prevent access to sites whose content is contrary to social interests, morale, and good manners, as well as the use of applications that compromise the integrity or security of the State.” Anyone who fails to comply will be subject to heavy fines and the permanent revocation of their operating licenses. The government projects that a fiber optic cable connection from Venezuela will be ready by 2010, though this does not mean that the authorities will allow free Internet access, as MINTEL clarified. The government officially reports 1.4 million Internet users in Cuba, but the number of people with full Internet access barely totals 300,000. Internet cafes and hotels charge US$6 to US$8 for one hour of Internet access, but this service is largely reserved for foreigners. In early March, a group of independent journalists and dissident activists launched a massive nationwide petition campaign to request that Internet service be granted to the entire population. In December, Cuban activists and journalists in exile announced plans to resume publication of the bimonthly magazine De Cuba in Spain, with funding from private sources. The magazine will be devoted to journalism in Cuba. The publication, which began as an alternative publishing effort in 2002, managed to put out only three issues from inside Cuba and was used as “criminal evidence” against its journalists in the trials of the so-called Case of the 75 in the spring of 2003. The initiative seeks to financially support for independent journalists by paying them for their contributions. As for the 26 journalists jailed under appalling conditions, the government has not heeded the requests of international organizations and family members to grant humanitarian releases to the dozen who suffer from chronic health ailments. Among the most alarming developments are the following: Normando Hernández, serving a 25-year sentence, was moved on February 25 to the Kilo 7 provincial prison in Camagüey after a one-month stay in the infirmary at the Combinado del Este prison in Havana. He suffers from intestinal malabsorption, gall bladder polyps, and hypertension. He is also under psychiatric treatment. The Cuban government has refused to let him leave the country under a humanitarian visa granted to him by the Costa Rican government in April 2007. He also has a U.S. immigrant visa that would allow him to emigrate with his wife. Doctor José Luis García Paneque, serving a 24-year sentence, is held at the Las Mangas prison in Granma province. He suffers from anemia and malnutrition as a result of intestinal malabsorption syndrome. He was also diagnosed with a cyst on his kidney and has severe nervous disorders. His wife and four small children migrated to the United States in early 2007. Doctor Alfredo Pulido López is serving a 14-year sentence at Kilo 7 prison in Camagüey. His situation has worsened this year. He suffers from occipital neuralgia, osteoporosis, neck problems, chronic gastritis, bleeding intestinal hemorrhoids, chronic respiratory problems, and mental disorders. His wife, Rebeca Rodríguez, has requested support from organizations such as the International Red Cross in the hope that they will intercede to seek his release. Pedro Argüelles Morán, serving a 20-year sentence, suffers from advanced cataracts in both eyes and has lost almost all his vision. The 60-year-old Argüelles was put in isolation on March 1 because he refused to wear the prison uniform. Pablo Pacheco, serving a 20-year sentence, was moved to the Canaleta maximum security prison in Ciego de Ávila. Pacheco requires daily treatment for an ulcer on his left leg, a condition exacerbated by the prison’s unsanitary conditions. On several occasions he has refused to walk in handcuffs from his cell to the prison infirmary where he receives treatment. One of the journalists behind bars is disabled: Miguel Galván Gutiérrez, an engineer by profession, serving a 26-year sentence. The foreign press working in Cuba also faces pressures from the government. The authorities have tightened restrictions on visas for foreign correspondents who intend to travel to Cuba on temporary reporting assignments, and have limited the options of journalists accredited as permanent correspondents. In November, the International Press Center (CIP), which oversees the foreign press, warned accredited correspondents that they could not travel to areas hit by the hurricanes without proper authorization from the Cuban authorities. For those wishing to cover government events, the CIP has imposed strict rules ranging from prompt arrival for a “technical check” of foreign journalists to the use of “appropriate attire.” The government-controlled press runs letters from readers attacking foreign correspondents who allegedly distort the situation in Cuba or who cannot assess “popular sentiment” toward Fidel Castro. Fidel Castro himself complained in one of his recent reflections (dated February 12, 2009) that “some agencies and publications” would describe him as old, or as recovering from a serious illness, or would use “some other description aimed at diminishing the modest value” of his statements. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the government-controlled press has been devoting considerable space over the past year to historical speeches and episodes in the life of Fidel Castro, who is described as a “guide and permanent inspiration for the work of journalists.” In February, the Cuban government submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The section of this report on civil and political rights states: “In Cuba there is wide-ranging debate on the most varied issues of political, economic, social, and cultural life, for both the country and the entire world … the freedom to create is promoted, which brings about an intense intellectual activity that is reflected in the various publications that habitually circulate throughout the country, and the various works generated by the great diversity of our artistic movement. Cuba has 723 periodicals, 406 of them in paper format and 317 online, as well as 91 radio stations.”