The outlook for journalism and freedom of expression is bleak, marked by political stagnation, the economic crisis, an increase in repression against independent demonstrators and government control preventing free access to the Internet. Raúl Castro, who has headed the government for almost two years, can only point to fits and starts of change and unfulfilled promises about deep structural transformation that he pledged when he took office in February 2008. The exacerbation of the internal crisis has forced the government to begin to eliminate the so-called inappropriate payments to citizens with the unconditional support of government media outlets. The public discussions about the country´s situation, held in schools, work places and neighborhoods since the beginning of the year, did not have true democratic participation by citizens and had little impact in the media. There was no progress in distribution of information, press freedom and alternatives of association and movement inside or outside the country, despite the fact that the government signed in March 2008 two international human rights agreement at the United Nations: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The citizens are not aware of the content of these two agreements because the government has not publicized them inside the country. The Cuban government has not responded to the changed U.S. policy toward Cuba promoted by President Barack Obama. On one hand, the Cuban government says it seeks constructive dialogue with its neighbor, but at the same time it continues the tired old anti-imperialist rhetoric, refuses to take steps in human rights matters and demands conditions such as the freedom of five agents sentenced for espionage on U.S. territory. The number of journalists in jail increased to 27 with sentences ranging from one to 28 years. On May 8 Enyor Díaz Allen, a member of the Centro de Información Hablemos Press in Guantanamo, was sentenced to a year in prison on charges of desacato, or insulting public officials. On May 12, journalist Albert Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, a resident of Havana, was sentenced to three years on the same charge. He had previously served a sentence for similar charges. Dr. Darsi Ferrer, a journalist and human rights activist, was beaten and arrested on July 21 at his home. He is still in a prison in Havana without being charged. The arrest is clearly political, but the authorities are alleging that it is for illegal purchase of construction materials. On November 2, journalist and blogger Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, editor of Hablemos Press, was sentenced to six months incarceration after a lengthy trial that was postponed several times. Guerra Pérez´s sentence was changed to house arrest, but the court told him that he would have to stay in prison if a government job could not be found for him quickly. Guerra Pérez was prosecuted for alleged assault, although he was attacked by two people and was defending his relatives. Relatives, human rights activists and international organizations are still concerned about deplorable conditions in the jails, violations of prisoners´ rights and the lack of appropriate medical care for sick and elderly prisoners. There have been reports of hunger strikes by several prisoners to protest humiliation by prison staff, ranging from physical mistreatment to the confiscation of religious literature. The Cuban government had not responded requests for humanitarian special release for a dozen prisoners from the so-called Case of 75. The most worrisome cases are the following: Normando Hernández is serving a 25-year sentence at Kilo 7 provincial prison in Camagüey after several hospitalizations and medical tests 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 has had a U.S. visa since 2001 that would allow him to emigrate with his wife. Dr. 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 young children emigrated to the United States in early 2007. Dr. Alfredo Pulido López is serving a 14-year sentence at Kilo 7 prison in Camagüey. 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, is serving a 20-year sentence at Canaleta Prison in Ciego de Avila. He has advanced cataracts in both eyes and has lost almost all his vision. He has also been diagnosed with generalized arthritis, hepatomegalia (enlarged liver), prostate hyperplasia, circulatory problems and a herniated disc. Argüelles, 61, has been in isolation because he refuses to wear the prison uniform. Pablo Pacheco is serving a 20-year sentence in the Canaleta prison in Ciego de Ávila. Pacheco has an ulcer on his left leg, a condition exacerbated by the prison’s unsanitary conditions, as well as hypertension, chronic migraines and a serious kidney disorder. International human rights organizations consider these cases of poor health incompatible with a jail sentence. Amnesty International has requested the immediate unconditional release of sick prisoners. In an unprecedented decision in international case law, a federal court in Miami ordered on September 2 that the Cuban government pay $27.5 million to the mother of news photographer Omar Rodríguez Saludes, sentenced to 27 years in the Case of 75. Olivia Saludes, the prisoner´s mother, alleged pain and suffering under the 200-year-old Alien Tort Claims Act that allows citizens of other countries to file civil suits in the United States for violations of international law on foreign territory. Ricardo González, is serving 20 years in Combinado del Este prison in Havana. He has pneumonitis in the right lung; chronic flu symptoms, which are aggravated by the humidity in his cell; hypertension; and the beginning stages of glaucoma Mario Enrique Mayo, a lawyer and journalist who was charged in the Case of 75, traveled to the United States as a political refugee on May 18. He was granted special release for health reasons. Since April, at least 102 acts of repression against independent journalists have been reported throughout the country. The list of violations against the practice of the profession includes temporary arrests (sometimes for up to two weeks), fines, confiscation of money and work equipment, searches of residences, beatings, threats in the street, dismissals from jobs, reprisals against children relatives, tapping of telephones, reading mail, blocking computers, prohibition of participating in public events and obstacles to traveling outside the province of residence. Under Law 217 of April 1997, the National Revolutionary Police, coordinating with neighborhood committees (CDR), control the movement of citizens and whether residents of other provinces can move to Havana. This measure is applied in particular to opposition politicians and independent journalists, who are under more rigorous surveillance because of their illegal activities. The police persecution of more than 70 independent journalists who are active in the country, has been extended to the growing movement of bloggers who defy state control on information and use of the Internet. A typical case of government harassment is the maintenance of a barrier since October 10 around representatives of the Cuban Network of Community Communicators, an alternative project of journalists from all over the country. The Network distributes news and photographs on a blog that has been gaining credibility and followers inside and outside Cuba. The members held a sit-in at the home of dissident Vladimiro Roca, who sponsors the group, to denounce the daily harassment and confiscation of work tools by State Security agents. The official response was to block access to the house, cut off telephone service and send pro-government mobs to stage demonstrations yelling insults and throwing things at it. The emergence of a bloggers´ movement outside government-controlled domains is becoming more prominent, especially in Havana. While it still has no leaders or established structure, it constitutes a new challenge to the government´s censorship mechanisms. Residents of Cuba today produce about 30 personal blogs with information about the situation of the country. At first they were hidden behind pseudonyms, but now more and more are signed with the bloggers names. Most of them are under 35. They coexist in the Cuban blogosphere with 300 others sponsored by government agencies and officially recognized sites. However, almost none of the independent blogs can be accessed from Cuba because the government has increased computer surveillance and blocks those pages it considers harmful to the national interest. The content is updated from abroad by collaborators in the United States, Latin America and Europe. The independent bloggers organized a contest called Una Isla Virtual (A Virtual Island) in September. The contest was sponsored by the digital magazine Convivencia and the portal Desde Cuba, to encourage the Cuban blogosphere and the use of the Internet to express ideas, information and testimonies. The most visible reprisals have been against Yoani Sánchez, who is a pioneer in the Cuban blogosphere with her blog Generacón Y (Generation Y). This year Sánchez received a special mention by Columbia University´s Maria Moors Cabot Award in New York. For the third time authorities refused to allow her to leave the country. Sánchez had also been invited to Brazil to present a book and give lectures. Representatives of the Brazilian Senate asked the government of Raúl Castro to grant the permission Cuban citizens must have to leave the country temporarily or permanently. But their efforts were fruitless. In October Sánchez set up the Academia Blogger to help beginners and others interested in using technological tools for the free expression of ideas. On October 29, authorities refused to allow a group of independent bloggers to enter a public debate (Último Jueves) at the Instituto de Cine (ICAIC), the cinema institute in Havana. The topic was the Internet in Cuba. On November 6, State Security agents stopped Sánchez in the street and punched her. She and two other independent bloggers, writer Orlando Luis Pardo (blog Lunes de Post-Revolución) and philologist Claudia Codelo (Octavo Cerco) were going to a peace demonstration called by young artists in central Havana. Plainclothes policemen forced Sánchez and Pardo into a car, hit them and let them out shortly afterward far from where they were stopped. Codelo was also stopped and taken out of the area in another car, but she was not beaten. Independent professionals´ aspirations to benefit from new technologies and access the worldwide network are not limited to the capital. Journalist and blogger, Yosvani Anzardo Hernández, creator of a rudimentary digital site called Candonga was arrested September 10 and charged with editing an independent publication in violation of Law 88/1999, the Gag Law. Police conducted a thorough search of his home in San Germán, Holguín. Anzardo, an engineer, founded the digital newspaper Candonga using a “homemade server” that he programmed on his laptop that readers throughout the island could access through ordinary telephone lines. He was released September 25, and the charges were dropped. At the end of October, the government blocked, a popular classified advertising site that allowed Cubans with Internet to conduct business on a virtual free market. An average of 1.5 million ads are seen every month on the site, based at a server in the United States, to buy and sell everything from automobiles to places on waiting lists to request Spanish or U.S. visas. The Computer Science and Communications Ministry (MIC) announced at the end of last year strict rules for Internet service providers in Cuba (Resolution 179/2008). Under this law, providers are required to “adopt necessary measures to block access to sites with content that violates social interest, morality and good conduct as well as the use of applications that affect the integrity or security of the state.” At the same time, Cuba continues to promote the preparation of a force trained to face the challenges of the computerization of society and protect the interests of national security On July 7, the University of Computer Sciences(UCI) in Havana graduated 1,617 computer engineers, added to the more than 3,000 others who graduated from the school since it was founded in 2002. The Cuban government bases limits on mass access to the Internet on barriers imposed by the U.S. embargo, alleging that Washington blocks its access to underwater fiber optic cables and forces the island to connect to the Web by satellite which is slower and more expensive. The charges for an hour on the Internet in cybercafés and hotels are between $6 and $8 an hour, and it is reserved mostly for foreigners. In September the MIC announced a decree authorizing post offices to provide Internet service. But so far it has not been implemented in any post offices in the capital or the provinces Cuban authorities demand to connect to the Miami-Cancun fiber optic cable, which is only 32 kilometers from the island. At the World Telecommunications Policy Forum held in May in Portugal, the Cuban government protested discrimination by the United States on interconnection and access to public sites on the Internet. It was also mentioned that the search engine Google restricts use from Cuba for observation of the planet Earth in real time and other search functions. In May, the computer giant Microsoft cancelled its instant messaging service for countries with which the United States has commercial sanctions, including Cuba. The battle for Internet access and new technologies in Cuba has entered an important stage. On April 13, President Barack Obama authorized U.S. telecommunications companies to negotiate with Havana. On September 8, the Commerce Department gave the green light to the shipment to Cuba of packages containing electronic and communications technology products, such as Internet connection devices, laptop and desktop computers, Bluetooths, memory sticks, modems and operating systems. According to the announcement, these regulations “have the intention to improve the free flow of information to and from Cuba… and they are consistent with the ongoing support the United States has provided to individuals and nongovernmental organizations that support democracy-building efforts in Cuba.” U.S. companies from Florida to Texas have shown interest in bringing fiber optic cable to Cuba. But along with the complicated permit process required by federal agencies, the key to the matter is still the position of the Cuban government which has said it would not be in its interest to have a fiber optic cable from Florida for reasons of “national security.” Cuba´s bet on the Internet is basically political and tied to a strategic ally, Venezuela. It is a project to lay fiber optic cable from La Guaira, in northern Venezuela, to Santiago de Cuba (in the southeast) with the stated proposal of “taking a step toward technological independence of Latin America” without affecting any connection to the United States. Venezuelan and Cuban authorities announced that the megaproject will begin before the end of this year with a $70 million investment. The link should be ready to provide communication between the two countries by the first half of 2011 with a connection capacity 3,000 times higher than today´s. In May, the MIC announced that it is studying with foreign advisers the possibility of providing digital television in Cuba within 15 years. This would increase the number of channels and improve the signal in remote areas. In the meantime, Cubans still seek alternatives for information and entertainment by obtaining pirated signals of Spanish television programs from Miami. It is estimated that there are more than 10,000 illegal parabolic antennas in Havana. The contraband signal is distributed in neighborhoods using coaxial cables, amplifiers and frequency multipliers that are hidden among the electric wires. There are frequent police raids in neighborhoods identified as receiving satellite signals by the tracking done by MIC and Interior Ministry specialists. In March the official press reported the arrest and prosecution of several people who had obtained large amounts of hard currency by pirating television signals in cooperation with U.S. residents. The Havana province court sentenced the offenders to three years of limited freedom and work punishment on charges of illegal economic activity. The punishments for possession and installation of parabolic antennas can vary from three to five years in jail, seizure of possessions, and fines of up to 30,000 pesos ($1,250). Police authorities also prosecute illegal satellite Internet connections made with the assistance of intermediaries who send equipment and support the link from south Florida. Beginning in September, the program for a journalism degree was extended to seven Cuban universities as part of a policy agreed to by the official Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC). The effort to train reporters is consistent with a hemispheric plan promoted by the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP) to create a “line of paying attention to youth in our craft.” On the other hand, Cuban authorities do not allow any professional training for young people outside state institutions and official ideology. In April there was a wave of arrests, threats and citations by the State Security agency to prevent a group of students, some from the University of Havana, from attending a journalism course they had signed up for offered by professors from the United States. The course, held by videoconference at the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, was sponsored by Florida International University. It was learned in August that the government of Raúl Castro had prevented thirty Cuban university students who had received scholarships to attend U.S. academic institutions to study information technology, communications and journalism from leaving the country. The Interest Section offered the scholarships in mid-2008 and received more than 750 applications in a few weeks. The government´s reaction was to begin an investigation at the universities and purges of the students who had applied. The 13th meeting of Latin American university level social communications schools was held in Havana from October 19 to 22, with 1,300 delegates from 23 countries of the region. Acting as host for the event for the first time, Cuba defended its system as a “prototype of an alternative model for five decades” and urged the delegates to move communication toward “positions that are more in tune” with the political, economic and social changes in Latin America. Government pressure on the stationing and movement of foreign correspondents in Cuba is still intense. The authorities in the International Press Center (CIP) have intensified controls on visas for correspondents who want to travel to the island for short-term assignments, such as the Peace Without Frontiers concert sponsored by the Colombian singer Juanes on September 20. Renewal of licenses for accredited resident journalists has been pending for months. Meanwhile, CIP officials recommend to agencies and accredited media outlets which correspondents they should keep in Cuba based on the views expressed in the journalists´ reports about life in Cuba. The official media have been channeling complaints and criticism by publishing letters which generally merit commentaries by journalists or a response from the official in charge of the matter. One journalist who frequently responds to readers´ letters is veteran columnist José Alejandro Rodríguez. In a recent article he lashed out against excessive controls imposed on information by high levels of power and the hyperbolic aspect of the television program Mesa Redonda (Round Table) as a place that makes journalism bureaucratic. The article, called “Against the Demons of Kidnapped Information” appeared for a short time in the digital edition of Juventud Rebelde on October 16 and was quickly withdrawn from the Web without explanation.