Journalists do not expect improvements with Castro's departure from power

No person is seen with sufficient weight and Raúl Castro will keep the role of First Secretary of the Communist Party.

Journalist Henry Constantín, editor of the newspaper La Hora de Cuba, was prevented from leaving the country to read this report at the IAPA Mid-Year Meeting in Medellin, Colombia:

A mute, deaf and blind country is the goal of the government regarding communication, journalism and the Internet. It is a goal ever more difficult because of the increasing, although slow, connection to the Internet by the people and the perseverance of independent journalists and media that do not cease their work despite the restrictions.

The political context is less stable due to the change in government on April 19. For the first time since 1959 no Castro will be heading the power base and the relations with the United States, after a beneficial period with the previous government, are tense. There are not expected any improvements with the change of President. No person is seen with sufficient weight and Raúl Castro will keep the role of First Secretary of the Communist Party.

Following the announcement of President Donald Trump of creating an "operative group" to support Cubans' access to the Internet and the development of independent media State Security increased aggressiveness towards journalists that are not pro-government.

To the political problems there is added the increasingly complicated economy, with a sustained increase in prices and a shortage of food and construction products. Corruption is out of control.

The independent press it trying to survive and grow. Hundreds of journalists, photographers, video makers, Facebookers and communication activists, signing with their name or under a pseudonym when they still keep work links with the government, report amid reprisals by the government and State Security.

There have been attacked the Press Pro-Liberty Association, the CoExistence Thinking Center, the online newspaper 14ymedio, video news agencies Palenque Visión and En Caliente Prensa Libre, the platform Cuba Posible and the magazine La Hora de Cuba, also projects outside Cuba such as Diario de Cuba, Martí Noticias, Cubanet, ICLEP, El Estornudo, among others.

Fired from state jobs were Iris Mariño, Sol García Basulto and José Raúl Gallego, professors, and Amaury Valdivia, a journalist in an official media outlet, the three for having collaborated with independent or foreign press. Spied upon were Sol García Basulto, Reinaldo Escobar, Henry Constantín and practically all those who embrace independent journalism.

Threatened with reprisals being taken against their families were Adriana Zamora, Luz Escobar and Iris Mariño. Seized was the work equipment, using legal pretexts, of Rudy Cabrera, Sol García Basulto, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and Anderlay Guerra. The homes of Iris Mariño, Rudy Cabrera, Osmel Ramírez and Eliecer Palma were raided.

Other journalists were the victims of discrediting campaigns in their neighborhoods and on the Internet – Inalkis Rodríguez Lora, Iris Mariño, Sol García Basulto, Osmel Ramírez and Karina Gálvez.

Prohibited from leaving their homes were Inalkis Rodríguez Lora and Henry Constantín and many were not allowed to leave the country, among them Amarilis Cortina, Miriam Herrera, Yusimí López, Iliana Hernández, Rosalia Viñas, Karina Gálvez, Sol García Basulto, Raúl Velázquez, Dagoberto Valdés, Yoandy Izquierdo, Osmel Ramírez, Augusto César San Martín, Jorge Enrique Rodríguez and Henry Constantín.

Arrested under various circumstances were Amarilis Cortina, Sol García Basulto, Boris González Arena, Rudy Cabrera, Ignacio González Vidal, Eliecer Palma, Manuel Alejandro León, Osmel Ramírez and Raúl Velázquez. Others were subjected to inspections and exhausting questioning on entering or leaving the country, such as Alejandro Rodríguez and Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina. Many were also referred by agents to the Interior Ministry, such cases being those of Iris Mariño, Luz Escobar, Ana León, Rosalia Viñas, Dagoberto Valdés and Yoandy Izquierdo.

All these aggressions are being made in a climate of total lack of legal defense and of a government that rules over everything.

The telecommunications monopoly is through ETECSA, although in the past year almost all of the 169 municipalities had at least one external public area for wireless connection and another for cable. In some neighborhoods of certain cities users of landline telephones have the right to be connected to the Nauta Hogar home plan. In Camagüey, Cuba's third largest city, only three of the 20 neighborhoods have this service.

The connection continues to be expensive, although it was reduced to the equivalent of $1.50. The average monthly salary enables only 30 hours of connection a month.

The government is blocking websites and e-mail addresses related to journalism and human rights. Several national and foreign journalistic websites are blocked in Cuba, such as those of 14ymedio, Diario de Cuba, Cubanet, Martinoticias, Cibercuba, El Estornudo and Café Fuerte, also the portals of GIJN and of the Inter American Press Association. Government mail servers, those most used throughout the country, have blocked access to news via e-mail, such as those of Diario de Cuba, Cubanet and 14ymedio, and to subscribers to blogs by the same route, such as Furia de los Vientos, by writer Pedro Armando Junco.

Spying on surfing and telephone data and hacking of personal profiles on social media is current. The personal account on Facebook of human rights activist Sayli Navarro was hacked and used to make public messages harmful to his work by State Security. The telephone communications of the majority of independent journalists are spied upon by the Interior Ministry.

There continues to be unalterable the legal apparatus that impedes free speech. The Constitution of the Republic, Penal Code, Law 88, Associations Law, Foreign Investment Law, school regulations of the Ministries of Education and of Higher Education, the duties of the user of ETECSA services, the regulations of the Customs Service, and other laws and state regulations penalize in various ways any expression and journalistic work, from the acquisition of materials to the publication of contents and their distribution.

Universities continue to be ruled by the principle that "the university is for the revolutionaries," which excludes all those that make expressions contrary to those of the government. The schools of humanities, communication or journalism continue to be the object of control by the political apparatus. Especially at the University of Camagüey students and professors are called to frequent meetings of "orientation" with officers of the Communist Party, in which there often is reiterated the danger that they contact media of the independent press.

Other events that had a repercussion regarding freedom of expression included that three Catholic priests expressed in a letter that circulated widely that "the monopoly and control of the social news media makes it that no one can access public news media freely" and that "Cubans live in fear" of expressing themselves. The Catholic Church runs the only non-state news media with public circulation, especially the bulletin Vida Cristiana, of national extent.

The government prohibited access to the country in March by former presidents Andrés Pastrana of Colombia and Jorge Quiroga of Bolivia, who had been awarded the "Oswaldo Payá" prize. They were deported on their arrival. For the occasion the government deployed a wave of police harassment of Cuban activists and independent journalists who sought to take part in the award ceremony.