The epidemic that most affects the country is repression - which rebounded in the last semester with severe sentences for many citizens who participated in the protests of July 11, 2021.
Soon a new Penal Code will come into effect, as retrograde as the previous one - which exaggerates the protection of the rulers to the detriment of the citizens.
One journalist imprisoned, another exiled as a condition for release from jail, another assaulted by individuals with martial arts skills, and the entire independent press under surveillance and intermittent threats (in Cuba there are less than fifty people left, including managers, photographers and designers), show the weak situation in terms of freedom of expression - within a society without respite due to currency devaluation and a compulsive emigration that has already surpassed the figures of the 1990s' Rafters' Crisis.
In the last few months most of the people working in the independent press, as well as hundreds of Cubans who had posted content critical of the regime, experienced varying degrees of police threats and harassment, particularly in mid-November, when hundreds of Cubans were interrogated and threatened - so that they would not divulge, show sympathy or report on the national protest called for November 15.
The environment for press freedom continues to be very hostile - with the silver lining being the growing number of Cubans who connect to the Internet and consume and disseminate information other than the official one. Moreover, ETECSA - the state-owned communications monopoly - continues to operate as a censorship and cyber-bullying tool, blocking media and NGO websites that criticize the dictatorship, enabling cyber-surveillance, charging high prices for substandard service, and selectively cutting off communications to journalists and activists.
Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca is an example of the Cuban dictatorship's persecution. He is one of two Cuban journalists currently imprisoned. He was arrested on June 15, 2021 for filming and disseminating the launching of leaflets containing phrases of 19th century Cuban independence leaders on a central Havana street. Since then he has only been let out of prison to be taken to hospitals - due to health complications. He faces a prosecutor's request for six years in prison for the crimes of "enemy propaganda" and "resistance."
Reporter Jorge Bello Domínguez was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the crime of "contempt" - after participating in the July 11 protests. The popular YouTuber Yoandi Montiel - "El Gato de Cuba" (The Cuban Cat) - who has been imprisoned for more than a year and a half after mocking dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel in a video - was also sentenced for the same offense.
Journalist Esteban Rodríguez was released from prison in January after more than eight months in jail without trial - but had to accept exile in exchange for his release. He had been imprisoned for participating in a protest in Havana. Along with Rodríguez, the communicator Hector Luis Valdés also left the country - declaring he had accepted exile as a condition for the release of his friend, Rodriguez. This verified the first case since 2016 of repressive collaboration between Cuba and another government in the region against journalists, in this case Nicaragua, whose immigration authorities prohibited them from entering Managua - their destination - leaving them stranded at the San Salvador airport. Shortly thereafter, the son of Juan Manuel Moreno - director of an independent newsletter - got the same treatment when he tried to fly to Nicaragua, the only country in the region that does not require visas for Cubans - and from where they try to reach the U.S. by land.
The draft of the new Penal Code may aggravate repression. It establishes heavy prison sentences for anyone involved in sending, transferring or receiving resources directed at organizations not recognized by the State - including independent media and NGOs that monitor human rights violations.
In addition, it retains the death penalty, and formalizes penalties of life imprisonment and forced exile for Cuban nationals.
The chapter on "Propaganda against the constitutional order" punishes with up to four years in prison anyone who "incites against the social order, international solidarity or the socialist State recognized in the Constitution of the Republic, by means of oral or written propaganda or in any other form." It imposes three to eight years in prison for those who "attack the honor or dignity of the head of a foreign state" - a protection for foreign dictators friendly to the regime.
Article 185 on "contempt" silences any and all questioning of the authorities or their agents. "Whoever threatens, slanders, defames, insults, maligns or, in any way, outrages or offends, by word or in writing, in their dignity or decorum, a public official, authority or their agents or auxiliaries, in the exercise of their functions" shall be punished with six to twelve months in prison and a heavy fine. If the offense is against the president or other hierarchical authorities, the punishment will be from one to three years.
Also punishable with one year in prison is "publishing clandestinely," or whoever "makes, disseminates or circulates in any format, publications, without indicating the printing press or the place of printing or without complying with the rules established for the identification of their author or their origin, or whoever reproduces, stores or transports them."
The threat of being charged with "instigation to commit a crime" has been received by dozens of people before November 15 - for disseminating the call for the protest that day on their social networks.
Also, Article 270 of the Penal Code imposes sentences of six to twelve months in prison and heavy fines for those who defame the heroes and martyrs of the regime.
Several Cuban journalists abroad, such as Karla Pérez, are banned from entering the island. Likewise, several independent journalists are banned from leaving the country, including Yoe Suárez, María Matienzo, Boris González Arenas, Camila Acosta, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, Claudia Montero, Fabio Corchado, Reinaldo Escobar, Luz Escobar, Henry Constantin, Mary Karla Ares, Juan Manuel Moreno and Yunier Gutiérrez, as well as the designer of the Convivencia magazine, Rosalia Viñas, and the director of La Hora de Cuba, Iris Mariño.
Yoan de la Cruz is the most prominent case – but not the only one - of a person sentenced to prison for broadcasting live on her social networks the July 11 protests. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
During this period, more people were fined under Decree 370 - which regulates social networks and allows the confiscation of cell phones from users who criticize the regime. Among them, Saily González, and several relatives of the political prisoner Jonatan López, as well as Henry Constantin.
Access to official information is very limited. The government publishes brief statistics and its officials publish messages praising the regime on social networks and the official media continue their propaganda.
During this period, the regime arrested communicators Pedro Luis Hernández, Camila Rodríguez, Orlidia Barceló, Martha Sánchez, Alberto Corzo, Juan Manuel Moreno, Mabel Páez, Yanela Reyes, María Matienzo, Yadiris Luis, Yoe Suárez, Héctor Luis Valdés, Yoel Acosta, Rolando Rodríguez, Yanaisy Quezada, Flora Quiñones, Héctor Miguel Sierra, Yeris Curbelo, Niober García, Ariosmi Ramos, Reina Baños, Diznaikis Hernández, Ever Fonseca, Raúl Pérez, Frank Abel García, Melba González, Yunieski Ferrer, Laritza Contreras, Carlos Manuel Cárdenas, Dallan Calderín, Sheila Delgado, Israel López, Luisbel Piloto, Reisel Acosta, Fernando Donate, Orelvys Cabrera, Henry Constantin, Neife Rigau and Vladimir Turró.
The house arrest warrants affected the following reporters: Luz Escobar, Iris Mariño, Neife Rigau, Claudia Montero, Fabio Corchado, Reinaldo Escobar, Yoani Sánchez, Henry Constantin, Abraham Jiménez, Yadiris Luis, Flora Quiñones, Héctor Luis Valdés, Héctor Miguel Sierra, Yohandri Salas, Aimé Redondo, Amaury Sáenz, Josué Peraza, Yusleidy Romero, Rosaida Crespo, Moisés Corona, Daniel Tamayo, Onelcys Díaz Becerra, Jorge Luis Romero, María del Carmen Vergara, Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, Martha Liset Sánchez, Alberto Corzo, Pedro Luis Hernández, Ariosmi Ramos, Yaima Cabrera and Duznaikis Hernández.
The following media workers were victims of threats and psychological aggression during summonses or arbitrary arrests: Luis Cino, Yoe Suárez, María Matienzo, Sol García, Nachely Rivero, Henry Constantín, Yanela Reyes, Yadiris Luis, Orelvys Cabrera, Jorge Amado Robert, Mary Karla Ares, Yander Serra, Yeris Curbelo, Niober García, Yunieski Ferrer and Laritza Contreras.
On February 2, during the arrest of reporters Neife Rigau and Henry Constantín, the attitude of a policeman revealed the feelings of the regime towards the independent press: "I would just gouge out their eyes and that's it."