Constant repression, the progressive collapse of the economy and the largest exodus in history mark the life of the independent press. More importantly, the repressive structures against freedom of the press remain in place - involving the legal and justice system, police repression, propaganda by the State media and control of telecommunications.
Reporter Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca is serving five years in prison with serious health problems. He was convicted for filming and publishing the distribution of leaflets with patriotic phrases on a Havana street. "Continuous enemy propaganda and resistance" are the legal grounds for his conviction. There are also several citizens who are in jail for having filmed popular protests - such as a YouTuber who mocked President Miguel Díaz-Canel and was convicted of contempt of authority.
The Internet is spied on and censored with the support of the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S. A. (ETECSA) - a state monopoly that blocks dozens of websites of independent media and NGOs related to human rights. ETECSA usually cuts or restricts Internet connections in the entire country or by regions during commemorative days when protests can be encouraged, such as May 1st, July 11th and July 26th. This semester - before those dates - most of the independent journalists received one or more of these aggressions: police summons, detention, home siege, and Internet cut-off.
ETECSA inspectors use threats and fines under Decree 370, art. 68, section i, created to repress freedom of expression in social networks. In this semester, at least 12 people were fined 3,000 pesos. Among them were university student Leandro René Hernández, journalists Boris González Arenas and Adrián Martínez Cádiz, activists Ángel Cuza, Víctor Javier Arias, Sayli González, Pedro López and opponents Hilda Diéguez, Juan Michel López, Dayanis Salazar and Osvel Bárzagas.
Ismario Rodríguez was fined 4,000 pesos for "illicit economic activity" - an excuse to punish those who do journalism without the regime's permission. Camila Acosta was fined 1,000 pesos for "public disorder" - accused of trying to cover the protests of July 11, 2021. Her work equipment and personal items were seized.
The new Penal Code - which will go into effect on December 1 - goes after all aspects of journalistic work with prison sentences for any criticism of state officials - and guarantees impunity for the authorities. In Article 143, it establishes up to 10 years' imprisonment for receiving, using or possessing funds coming from abroad. State Security agents use this argument to threaten reporters and independent media with prison - in addition to the usual crimes of enemy propaganda, mercenarism, contempt, incitement to commit a crime or insult to the symbols of the homeland.
Repression and the exodus are used to harass the journalists who remain inside Cuba. Some 20 reporters, photographers and illustrators resigned from the independent press after six of them were forbidden to travel to a journalistic event, followed by harassment by State Security and blackmail tactics - threats of not being allowed to leave the country.
In some cases, they were implicitly forced to "resign" and return to the country. Other threats against this group of colleagues included prosecution, confiscation of property or harm to family members. Wimar Verdecia, Mary Esther Lemus, Iran Hernandez Castillo, producers of the Xel2 graphic supplement, were victims of these "offers." Also, Meilin Puertas, José Leandro Garbey, Mauro Díaz, Aleiny Sánchez, Claudia Bravet, Laura Seco, Cynthia de la Cantera, Yadiris Luis Fuentes, Nelson Álvarez Mairata and Jancel Moreno. Yoe Suárez, Nelson Alvarez Mairata and Luz Escobar have already gone into exile after several years of being forbidden to leave the country.
Ismario Rodríguez, Manuel de la Cruz, Mel Herrera, Anay Remón, Boris González Arenas, Geisy Guía and María Lucía Expósito also received these threats, along with Amarilis Cortina, José Antonio Fornaris and Julio César Álvarez, from the Pro Press Freedom Association team.
Journalists Vladimir Turró and Yoel Acosta were arrested three times; Enrique Díaz and Henry Constantin, twice; Camila Acosta, Yania Suárez, Neife Rigau, Dunierky Martínez, Lisbeth Moya, Antonio Abad Sánchez, Pedro Yoel Rivas, Osniel Carmona and Orisvey Díaz, at least once. Pedro Luis Hernández was detained in the capital and sent back to his province.
Reporter Alberto Corzo is forbidden to leave his municipality, Los Arabos, because he is under police investigation after a protest against blackouts in that town.
Yunia Figueredo, Yankiel Gutiérrez, Pedro Yoel Rivas and Henry Constantin were physically assaulted. Figueredo, while trying to cover the trial of reporter Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca; Gutiérrez, after photographing the ruins of a children's playground, and Constantin, on April 30, while being detained for publishing a Facebook post critical of the pro-government march of May 1. The police officer grabbed him by the neck and pushed him to the ground, and then stepped on him forcefully without warning or explanation - in front of another officer. In another occasion, his motorcycle was damaged by Security agents and he was followed and photographed while walking with his daughter - the photos were displayed on digital sites controlled by the State Security.
The "regulation" - euphemistic name for the prohibition to leave the country - is still affecting Anay Remón and Camila Acosta, Reinaldo Escobar, 14ymedio; Ismario Rodríguez, Periodismo de Barrio; Rosalía Viñas, Revista Convivencia; Boris González Arenas, Diario de Cuba and freelancer Yunia Figueredo. La Hora de Cuba is the most punished media, with four reporters forbidden to travel abroad: Iris Mariño, Yunier Gutiérrez, Inalkis Rodríguez and Henry Constantin. These prohibitions are not justified by court order or penal causes.
For those who refuse to emigrate, but are not forbidden to leave Cuba, it is possible that on their return from an event or activity abroad they will not be allowed to re-enter Cuba without legal justification or prior notice.
The regime also does not allow entry to critical foreign journalists, such as Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony DePalma - who was held for six hours at Havana's airport and then forced to leave the country. Several members of the AP, Reuters and EFE journalistic teams accredited in Cuba denounced limitations to their journalistic work.
House arrest without a court order, investigation or police report can last from a few hours to several weeks. The regime pressures landlords to evict their tenants if they are journalists critical of the regime - such as photographer María Lucía Expósito.
The Internet - although the largest and most powerful arena for expression - has also served as a repressive venue. LGBTI activist Jancel Moreno was coerced into shutting down his website and publicly announce it. Teacher Austin Llerandi was threatened with termination if he did not resign from his job after publishing a viral post on Facebook. Also threatened by MININT agents for their critical publications on Facebook were the popular theater director Freddy Núñez Estenoz, the broadcaster Yunior Morales, the twitterer Raúl Alejandro Oropesa, as well as several Catholic priests, relatives and friends of political prisoners, housewives and private business owners.
In the State media, the termination of Armando Franco - editor of the official magazine Alma Mater - for publishing information on detainees arrested in the protests of July 11, 2021, was striking. In addition, sports reporters Boris Luis Cabrera, Joel García, Norland Rosendo González and Jhonah Díaz González - of the State media - were denied access to the press conference of a government entity after criticizing one of its directors.
The popular YouTuber Yoandi Montiel - known as El Gato de Cuba - remains in prison. He was sentenced to two years for contempt - due to his publications on Facebook with mocking criticisms of the authorities and the president. Montiel was denied "parole" after having served half of his sentence.
Yoennis Domínguez de la Rosa - sentenced to five years in 2021 for recording and posting on social networks the video of a confrontation between residents and members of the Special Troops in a neighborhood of Santiago - remains in prison.
Among those imprisoned is Mayelín Rodríguez Prado - known on Facebook as "Lachamaca dechamaco ya estaostinada" - jailed for having interviewed two girls who were beaten by agents of the Interior Ministry (MININT) during protests over blackouts in the city of Nuevitas. She was forced to record a self-incrimination and a statement of denial - which the regime broadcast on the nightly news.
Rosmery Almeda, known as Alma Poet, and Danilo Martínez - young artists who filmed the recent protests in Havana during the blackouts - were imprisoned for more than two weeks.
Yoan de la Cruz - who transmitted the first viral videos that triggered the July 11, 2021 protests - continues to serve a six-year sentence in house arrest. He was released from prison in May after 10 months behind bars.