The slap given by the Culture Minister to independent journalists symbolizes the relationship between the Cuban state and press freedom during the last six months - marked by protests, repudiation rallies against dissidents, television campaigns against civil society, and a generalized discontent with the ever-worsening economic crisis.
In November, more than a dozen artists, activists and journalists were besieged by agents from the Interior Ministry (MININT) inside a house located in the Havana neighborhood of San Isidro, and some of them - such as journalists Iliana Hernández and Esteban Rodríguez - went on hunger strike. The protest ended when MININT agents, posing as doctors, broke into the house and removed them under the pretext of protecting their health - since among them was journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez, who had arrived from abroad and had not complied with part of the Covid-19 protocol. The operation coincided with the first national shutdown of all Internet services - the purpose of which was to prevent the disclosure of the attack on the house.
Then more than 300 people protested outside the Ministry of Culture asking for an end to the repression of independent artists - the largest demonstration in more than sixty years. The protest self-dissolved in the early morning hours, at the same time a huge repressive operation - made up by civilians and agents of the Interior Ministry - was being deployed.
Since then, the regime has launched a smear campaign through social networks, newspapers and the National Television News, exposing the leaders - Iliana Hernández, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Mauricio Mendoza and Nelson Álvarez Mairata - and attacking them at intervals. The attacks spilled out to the media for which they work. The defamation of the journalists was focused on their subordination to the orders of the U.S. government, an old resource of the Cuban authorities to persecute all those who upset them.
On January 27 - two months after the protest outside the Ministry of Culture - seven independent journalists went to the same place to report on the meeting of a small group of artists, but the gathering was cut short by the Culture Minister himself - Alpidio Alonso - who went out into the street and assaulted the journalist who was filming him - Mauricio Mendoza. Afterwards, officials and plainclothes agents pushed and arrested the journalists.
The legal panorama continues to be restrictive against the exercise of freedom of the press, expression and information, due to the absolute control of the political police over the justice system, and the existence of a general legal framework aimed at silencing critical individuals. During this period, the use of the state monopoly Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, SA (ETECSA), as the executing arm of State Security in silencing independent journalists - through the suspension of Internet and telephone service to certain journalists for varying periods of time - has also stood out.
Other concerning events during this period:
Yoennis Domínguez La Rosa - sentenced to a five-year prison term on charges of "attempt" and "public disorder" - remains in prison after publishing a video of a protest against MININT Special Troops in Santiago de Cuba.
Luz Escobar, Yoandi Montiel (youtuber known as El Gato de Cuba), María Matienzo, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Nelson Álvarez Mairata, Mauricio Mendoza, Katherine Bisquet, Yunier Gutiérrez, Iliana Hernández, Héctor Valdés Cocho, Esteban Rodríguez, Yoel Acosta Gámez, Reinaldo Escobar, Alejandro Hernández Cepero, Ismario Rodríguez, Enrique Díaz, Vladimir Turró, Rafael Vilches and Adrián Góngora, have been arrested at various times for several hours because of their journalistic activities.
Camila Acosta, Iliana Hernández, Héctor Valdés Cocho, Luz Escobar, María Matienzo, Carlos Manuel Álvarez and Katherine Bisquet, were placed under house arrest without compliance with the legal requirements.
Yoel Acosta Gámez was fined under Decree Law 370 - which punishes free speech on the Internet.
Journalist Yoe Suarez's wife, as well as Nelson Alvarez Mairata's mother; editor Henry Eric Hernandez, writer Lien Estrada, and influencers El Gato de Cuba and Ari Guibert, were subpoenaed for police questioning.
Jancel Moreno, Katherine Bisquet, Héctor Valdés Cocho and Nelson Álvarez Mairata were evicted from their homes.
Reports have increased regarding people being punished with dismissal from schools or state jobs for publishing opinions or information on Facebook - as was the case of medical student José Carlos Santos.
Pastor Manuel Cecilio Ramos and physician Sandor Fenollar, among others, were threatened for their opinions on Facebook - although not expelled. Sadiel González had his phone snatched by a policeman for filming a repudiation rally against dissidents. Activist Bárbaro de Céspedes has had his phones taken away several times for transmitting directly from the street.
Also, the Cuban Institute for Freedom of the Press (ICLEP) reported sustained harassment against all the people in charge of the community newsletters it produces. Police subpoenas, house searches, confiscation of work property, communication cut-offs and threats of prison, are the most common incidents reported by collaborators.
The printed edition of the Vida Cristiana newsletter - the only non-state media authorized to be distributed nationally and in print - was reportedly shut down. It frequently published critical articles. The alleged cause was the lack of paper for the product in the country.
Several communicators - mostly women and members of the LGTBI community - reported cyber harassment and threats of violence on social networks. The theft or destruction of journalists' cell phones by police continues to be a common practice.
Dozens of websites run by the independent press and international human rights organizations - as well as platforms for collecting signatures, continue to be blocked. The regime finances an extensive system of hacking against the accounts of activists and independent journalists.