01 November 2013

Press freedom, free speech show no signs of improvement in Cuba

Miami (November 1, 2013)—Freedom of the press, of expression and of association in Cuba continue without improvement, despite the economic reforms, and meanwhile official repression with paramilitary characteristics is gaining ground against those who seek to demonstrate their political discrepancies and come up with choices different to those of the authorities.

Miami (November 1, 2013)—Freedom of the press, of expression and of association in Cuba continue without improvement, despite the economic reforms, and meanwhile official repression with paramilitary characteristics is gaining ground against those who seek to demonstrate their political discrepancies and come up with choices different to those of the authorities.

This emerges from the report on the state of press freedom in that country presented by Yoani Sánchez, vice chair for Cuba of the Inter American Press Association’s Press Freedom Committee during the organization’s General Assembly held in Denver, Colorado, in mid-October.

To see the video on the reading of the Cuba report, go to http://bit.ly/leCpie3

Report to the 69th General Assembly

Denver, Colorado

October 18-22, 2013


In recent months there has been no improvement seen in Cuba with respect to freedom of the press and of expression. The repression has been characterized by an increase in arbitrary detentions and the systematic maintenance of acts of repudiation in which a part of the population is led, through pressures and incitement, to attack and insult other citizens who peacefully express their disagreement with government policy. This without a doubt amounts to incitement to commit acts that can be described as hate crimes. One of the objectives of the repression is to isolate opponents and terrorize those who have still not been brave enough to cross the vague border between loyalty and opposition.

In mid-October five independent journalists were arrested and held for several days, later to be released. The arrests occurred within the framework of the second anniversary of the death of the leader of the Ladies In White, Laura Pollán, and had as their objective preventing reports on the remembrance activities. The Inter American Press Association came out against those arbitrary arrests and pointed out their repressive and unlawful nature. It is worth mentioning that the government of Raúl Castro continues to be characterized by the “paramilitarization” of the repression, with much physical and verbal violence but aiming not to leave legal traces of that.

Those belonging to the Ladies In White, members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, activists of the Citizens’ Demand For Another Cuba who are calling on the government to ratify human rights pacts and numerous journalists, bloggers and independent librarians have been victims of police harassment. There has been no lack of verbal attacks, threats, beatings and humiliation of all kinds. According to data compiled by the Cuban Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission from January this year to the date this report is being presented arbitrary detentions amounted to some 4,000, a number to which there has to be added the 12,800 cases reported since 2010, the year that the release from prison of the “black spring” political prisoners began.

Author and blogger Ángel Santiesteban, the 2006 Casa de las Américas award winner, remains in prison, serving a five-year sentence for alleged common crimes. The independent press and several non-governmental juridical organizations have denounced irregularities in the legal process and demanded his release from prison. This author’s Web site is nourished by the stories of imprisonment that he lives every day and becomes a raw and heartbreaking testimony of the Cuban penitentiary system.

At 10 months now since there was put in place the so-called migratory reform several opponents and independent journalists have been able to leave the island and return. Without doubt that has contributed to voices of civil society reaching international settings where previously there could be heard only the official version of what was happening in Cuba. However, the making it easier to leave the country has not benefitted all Cubans. The former “2003 Black Spring” former prisoners that still live in Cuba are not allowed to leave. The authorities say that these dissidents are still under “post-prison license.” In the list of those prevented from traveling abroad are José Daniel Ferrer, Martha Beatriz Roque, Héctor Maseda, Oscar Elías Biscet, Iván Hernández Carrillo, among other prominent activists.

Cuban exile has been the great forgotten part of the Migratory Reform in preventing many people from visiting the island or returning once and for all. Just one week ago it was learned of the sad case of the death of the father of Blanca Reyes – leader of the Ladies In White living in Spain – who had been denied permission to enter Cuba. Not even under the humanitarian plea to say goodbye to her sick father did the Cuban authorities grant the request. Another familiar drama that is added to the long list of those affected by the migratory absurdity under which Cubans have lived for decades.

This cannot be perceived in the political sphere, where the single party system is maintained as the government model. Public discourse continues to maintain intransigence and intolerance as its fundamental pillars. Schools and centers of higher learning maintain in their study plans a high presence of the dominating ideology, with a big dose of indoctrination and personality cult. Just in these last few days the young man San Miguel Molina Cobas of the Santiago de Cuba University was expelled from the School of Medicine for belonging to the opposition organization Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba – UNPACU).

One step forward, two steps back

In this year 2013 the Cuban government announced the opening up of 118 points of access to the Internet throughout the country. Under the name Nauta the new service includes e-mail and surfing at prices ranging from 1.50 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) to 4.50 CUC per hour of connection. The step, insufficient but welcome, has enabled more than 100,000 people in just two months to become users of this service. However, such flexibility did not meet the expectations concerning the fiber optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela. The majority of those consulted about this had hoped that they would have been allowed access to the Internet – without ideological considerations and in local currency – from their homes.

The professional sector is one of the most affected by the limitations on entering the great worldwide Web. The so-called “human capital” is reduced in that a surgeon, an engineer or a lawyer cannot be up-to-date on world trends in their respective specialties. To be able to read a current bibliography, exchange views via chat or other digital platforms, join in thematic forums and also be present via teleconferences in panel discussions and debates is of vital importance for any professional in this 21st century. Such restrictions of connectivity are in detriment to the professional quality existing on the island.

Even so one can speak of an increase in new connection alternatives. The appearance of wireless networks of exchange of files; the recognition of USB memory as a means of transferring information; the so-called audiovisual “combos” or “packages” that circulate in the illegal marketplace and the outlawed parabolic antennas to capture the television signals of neighboring countries, among others, are some of the parallel paths used by the Cuban people to access news, documentaries, online books and information drawn from Web sites.

The official press has attempted to open up some spaces of criticism and debate in the last five years, among them the pages of letters to the newsroom of the newspaper Granma. The appearance also of sections of analysis of matters of national interest in television newscasts points to an intent to get closer to reality. There continues to be, however, strict party monopoly of mass media. There have not been any legal advances regarding allowing the existence of a press not associated to the Communist Party. Nevertheless, in recent months there has been a considerable increase in the number of Web sites, bulletins, periodical publications and blogs made from the critical sector and without official permission.

According to the latest report by Freedom House Cuba is classified in the last but one place – along with China and above Iran – in the list of countries regarding its people’s access to the Internet. With 91 points out of 100 possible taken into account for the listing, Cuba remains as a nation where there is violation of users’ right to access Web content and tight limits are imposed on accessible information. The report, however, does not include the period following the opening up of connection centers known as Nauta. Even so it reflects the repressive environment in the use of informational and communications technology. The text also points out that the majority of Cuban “internauts” can navigate only on a local intranet.

Twitter has become in the last year the tool par excellence at the time of reporting abuses of activists and violations of human rights. A small community of tweeters – around 150 – report throughout the country through text-only messages. This has changed the informational spectrum which leaves the island, as it has enabled voices critical of the government to be able to narrate what is occurring with immediacy and autonomy.

Remaining in place are the penalizations and fines to those who possess a parabolic antenna – illegal in Cuba – to capture TV channels of Florida in the United States and of other countries of the region. The entry into the country of such equipment, including Direct TV and satellite radio, is prohibited. Contractor Allan Gross, 62, is serving a 15-year prison sentence after being accused of committing offenses against State Security in delivering communication equipment to people regarded as opponents. Several attempts to secure his release have failed.

Cuba continues to be a country where freedom of the press, of assembly and of expression have not been able to be enjoyed by at least three generations of Cubans.