The state of press freedom has worsened in this period due to increasing attacks on independent journalists and their families, as well as on social media users, by police forces of the Interior Ministry in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice.
The increase in attacks is also a result of the political context: the transfer of power in February 2018 to someone outside the Castro family, and the more strained relations with the Donald Trump administration. Compounding this is an increasingly tense social climate due to the economic situation as part of more stringent restrictions on private activity.
The main problem is that citizens have no control over the laws. They cannot question them publicly or use them to defend themselves against the government or its agents. Impunity is absolute.
The main legal obstacle is Article 53 of the Constitution, which recognizes freedom of speech and freedom of the press provided that they are used "in accordance with the goals of the socialist revolution." This article also prohibits private ownership of media outlets.
The Penal Code is the device most often used by authorities to curb freedoms. Article 149 of the Penal Code on "usurpation of legal capacity" is the provision that is increasingly being used to prosecute or threaten journalists who lack a college degree.
Article 103.1 on enemy propaganda calls for punishment for anyone who creates or distributes propaganda, which is how the government describes any critical material. Also, among other provisions, it punishes anyone who disseminates false news.
Article 130 punishes anyone who may have investigated government secrets, and therefore any access to public information rests on the sole discretion of the State. Article 144.1 penalizes anyone who disrespects authority or public officials. Article 147 penalizes anyone who disobeys the orders of the authorities, and Article 204 punishes anyone who denigrates government institutions. Article 210 penalizes anyone who prints and circulates publications, and Article 228 punishes anyone who conducts commercial activity without a government license.
The School Regulations, which have been in effect since 2012 for all students ages 5 to 18, state that students must "love and be willing to defend the Socialist Homeland" and that they may not bring subversive material to school, under penalty of losing the right to study at a university.
In higher education, journalism students are required to join the Union of Young Communists — the youth political arm of the Cuban Communist Party — and to perform mandatory two-month internships at government-controlled media outlets.
Incipient news outlets face not only the aggressiveness of the National Police and State Security, but also legal and economic constraints. A 500-sheet ream of letter-size paper costs one-third of the average salary in Cuba. Two hours of internet connection cost US$3. Laptops and printers can only be purchased on the black market.
Law 88, also known as the Gag Law, whose Articles 4.1, 6.1, 7.1, 8.1, 9.1, 10, 11 and 12 are ambiguously worded, allows for practically anyone who talks about freedom to be tried and convicted, although the authorities prefer to use the Penal Code to exercise censorship.
The internet continues to be controlled by the state telecommunications monopoly ETECSA, which charges exorbitant fees (nearly US$2 per hour of connection) and approximately US$0.40 per minute for a cellphone call, in a country where the average monthly salary is US$25, and which constantly violates users' security and privacy, going so far as to allow Interior Ministry agents to access the personal accounts of some users and to steal their identity.
Contracts for internet access and cellphone usage contain warnings that users will forfeit the service if they violate "the norms of ethical behavior promoted by the Cuban state" or if they use it "against morale, public order, and state security," respectively.
Attacks are also targeted to new communication initiatives, such as Convivencia (in Pinar del Río), Palenque Visión (in Guantánamo), and La Hora de Cuba (in Camagüey), which makes them more vulnerable to police action as well as for technological reasons.
Below are the most prominent developments of this period:
Karina Gálvez Chiu, a member of the editorial board of Convivencia magazine and its chief writer on economic issues, was sentenced to three years of house arrest. Her home, which served as headquarters for the magazine, was seized for alleged tax evasion. She had already been fined more than US$1,000 for the purchase of her home.
Sol García Basulto, a journalist and graphic designer for the magazine La Hora de Cuba, has been officially under house arrest since July 24 as a precautionary measure. The investigation continues into her alleged "usurpation of legal capacity" (Article 149 of the Cuban Penal Code, which carries up to one year in prison) for "conducting interviews in public without authorization," a charge made against her on March 20. Since then she has been barred from leaving the country. In addition, she is being followed in public, her neighbors are being used to monitor her, the police are interrogating her journalistic sources and friends, her cellphone and internet usage is being tapped, and she is the target of online harassment on anonymous blogs and social media sites.
Journalist Maykel González Vivero has twice been arrested while conducting interviews, and State Security erased his material on both occasions. Along with his partner, who is also a journalist, he was forced to strip nude for a search and he was photographed.
Karla Pérez Sánchez, a first-year journalism student at Marta Abreu Central University in Las Villas, and a contributor to the Somos Más political movement, was expelled from the university after a political trial for having published critical opinions on independent websites.
Henry Constantín Ferreiro, editor of the magazine La Hora de Cuba and regional vice president of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, has been under investigation since March 17 for "usurpation of legal capacity" for conducting interviews in the street. He is barred from leaving the country, and when he attempts to travel to other parts of Cuba he is summoned by police to prevent him from traveling. His telephone and the phones of his main collaborators, as well as his Internet access and his home, are being monitored. La Hora de Cuba is the target of online harassment on anonymous blogs and on Facebook accounts of government officials.
Dozens of people are serving prison terms — in unsanitary conditions with inadequate nutrition and extremely poor health care, among common inmates who have frequently assaulted them — simply for having expressed themselves in the media. The most significant case is that of Eduardo Cardet of the Liberation Christian Movement, who was arrested, tried, and convicted after he stated opinions following the death of Fidel Castro.
Also in this period, prosecutions and threats of prosecution were used against Karina Gálvez, Iris Mariño, Inalkis Rodríguez, Sol García Basulto, Jorge Bello, Manuel León, and Henry Constantín.
A number of journalists were prevented from traveling abroad, including Regina Coyula, Sol García Basulto, Maykel González Vivero, Yoandy Izquierdo, Anderlay Guerra, Raúl Velázquez, Roberto de Jesús Quiñones, Iván Hernández Carrillo, Abel Estrada, and Henry Constantín.
Others, such as Dagoberto Valdés, Yoandy Izquierdo, and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, where thoroughly searched at airports.
Official warnings were issued to many journalists: Iris Mariño, Sol García Basulto, Irina León, Lisandra Orraca, Iván García Quintero, Dagoberto Valdés, Yoandy Izquierdo, Jorge Bello, and Ramón Góngora.
Numerous journalists had their work implements confiscated and their photos, audio and visual recordings, and records erased: Karina Gálvez, Martínez Jerez, Maykel González Vivero, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, and Iván Hernández Carrillo.
A number of journalists, such as Iris Mariño, Sol García Basulto, Serafín Morán, Maykel González Vivero, Mario Echevarría, and Esteban Ajete, reported that they were being followed in public.
In addition, the relatives of journalists such as Iris Mariño, Sol García Basulto, Iván García Quintero, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, and Henry Constantín were harassed by the authorities.
When special public events were scheduled, the authorities barred the following journalists from leaving their homes, or in some cases from leaving their provinces: Sol García Basulto, Karina Gálvez, Tania de la Torre, Santiago Márquez, Yordani Blanco, Roberto Moreno, Yuniel Blanco, Carlos Torres, Raúl Velázquez, Osniel Carmona, and Henry Constantín.
Journalists Iris Mariño, Sol Basulto, and Henry Constantin were continuously spied on and targeted in online harassment on social media and anonymous websites.
There have been some positive developments.
Some communication initiatives and journalists have persevered, despite harsh attacks against them, as they insist on working inside Cuba and in Cuban provinces.
High-level European delegations were sent to Cuban provinces outside Havana, so that they could visit the Convivencia project team and the headquarters of the magazine La Hora de Cuba.
Internet access was extended to neighborhoods in multiple Cuban cities. Despite the high prices, at least this breaks the hegemony whereby the only people who could access the internet were those in senior government positions.