Cuba has one of the lowest connectivity rates in the Western Hemisphere, and while the government has significantly improved technical infrastructure and lowered prices in recent years, regular internet access remains extremely expensive, connections are poor, and authorities both monitor usage and work to direct traffic to the government-controlled intranet. The state engages in content-manipulation efforts while blocking a number of independent news sites. Political dissent is punishable under a wide range of laws, including Decree Law 370, which has frequently been used against online journalists. However, despite heavy restrictions, Cubans continue to circumvent government censorship through grassroots innovations.
Cuba is a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.
- Narrow legislation implemented in July allowed residents to set up Wi-Fi routers in their homes and businesses, while restricting many more types of network connections. It also effectively outlawed community networks, including the largest, SNET (see A1).
- The mobile data connections of several activists, journalists, dissidents, and YouTube content producers were reportedly disrupted for up to a few days, possibly to prevent them from sharing content, participating in online events, or reporting on other interference they had experienced.
- Fake progovernment social media accounts known as ciberclarias harassed dissidents during the coverage period, and Twitter temporarily suspended the accounts of official media outlets and government officials, including former president Raúl Castro, for manipulating online information (see B5).
- Numerous grassroots mobilizations took place via social media, including a widespread demand for lower internet prices and a protest against the closure of SNET (see B8).
- Authorities increased their use of Decree Law 370, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic, to arbitrarily arrest, fine, and confiscate the devices of independent digital journalists. Journalist Roberto Quiñones was sentenced under separate legislation to one year of correctional labor in August after he refused to pay a fine (see C3).
- The online intimidation and harassment directed at LGBT+ activists and independent journalists during the coverage period sometimes included death threats (see C7).
Access to the global internet is tightly restricted by Cuban authorities, who control the backbone infrastructure. SNET, the largest community network, was declared illegal during the coverage period, and the cost of internet access remained extremely expensive for most. Activists and journalists reportedly had their mobile connections temporarily severed in an effort to prevent them from sharing content or reporting on harassment they had experienced.
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||2.002 6.006|
While Cuba’s internet penetration rate remains relatively low, the government has taken steps in recent years to improve infrastructure and increase access. The penetration rate reached 57.15 percent in 2017, according to the most recent figures from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)—up from 42.98 percent in 2016 and 37.31 percent in 2015.1 However, these figures likely include users who can only access the government-controlled intranet on an irregular basis, such as from school or the workplace.2 According to the 2020 Inclusive Internet Index, only 18 percent of households had some form of internet access.3 Moreover, most Cubans access the internet through extremely slow connections.4
In December 2018, Cuba rolled out third-generation (3G) mobile service following a series of fitful trial periods in which authorities tested demand and performance.5 The development marked the government’s most important action to date aimed at increasing internet access for the general population. Despite widespread complaints about the service’s high cost and slow and unreliable connections, it quickly became the most popular alternative to previously available options.6 At the time of the launch, the state telecommunications provider, Telecommunications Company of Cuba SA (ETECSA), had enabled 789 of its roughly 1,800 mobile radio bases to handle 3G traffic, covering 66 percent of the island’s population.7
ETECSA expanded 3G and introduced 4G access during the coverage period by setting up more radio bases. By May 2020 there were a total of 1,629 3G bases and 666 4G bases, according to the government, reaching a potential 85.5 percent of the population and 75.3 percent of the country’s land area. Officials also reported that more than a million people were making use of the new 4G network.8 As of December 2019, Cuba had reached 5.7 million registered mobile phone accounts, 3.18 million (56 percent) of which were configured for internet data plans. During the month of November 2019, 2.29 million of the accounts made use of such plans.9
Nevertheless, Cuba still has the lowest mobile-phone penetration rate in Latin America, and complaints about the state company’s high prices, unreliable service, and monopolistic and unresponsive business practices are common. In addition, based on June 2019 data, only 26 percent of users accessed mobile internet daily.10
The rollout of 3G and 4G service capped a six-year period that has featured the introduction of a variety of public access initiatives. These included the establishment of a fiber-optic cable that citizens have been able to access since 2013 at government-run telepuntos (cybercafés) and Wi-Fi hotspots usually set up in public parks. Reports from December 2019 indicate that by the end of the year, ETECSA had equipped 682 such cybercafés and 1,513 hotspots.11
ETECSA’s home-based DSL (digital subscriber line) internet service, known as Nauta Hogar, has been available since late 2016; it began with fewer than 2,000 customers in Old Havana, but as of December 2019 ETECSA counted over 124,000 subscribers spread across all but one of Cuba’s 168 municipalities.12
Devices that use Global Positioning System (GPS) technology or satellite connections are explicitly prohibited by Cuban customs regulations.13 Additional restrictions are placed on modems, wireless faxes, and satellite dishes, which require special permits to enter the country.14 However, in May 2019 the government announced that it would legalize router imports as well as private permits to access ETECSA’s public Wi-Fi hotspots from homes and small businesses.
Larger local area networks such as Havana’s SNET, a local private network, were unregulated and largely tolerated until new regulations took effect in July 2019. The rules allowed home-based networks but effectively outlawed the popular community networks, despite extensive attempts by their administrators to come to an agreement with authorities. Ultimately, officials took over the services and content offered by SNET, migrating them to ETECSA, with access to be provided through Youth Computer Clubs (JCCEs). This move cost SNET its hard-won ideological and administrative autonomy as a nonpolitical, community-based network and placed it under the direction of the Union of Communist Youth (UJC), which oversees the JCCEs. It remained to be seen how this change would affect the functionality, cost, and content that had been available on SNET; for instance, in the past JCCEs have offered limited access to the Cuban intranet, rather than the global internet.15
Restrictions on equipment have not completely stopped the entry of various devices into Cuba. NanoStations and other similar technologies allow users to amplify and share Wi-Fi signals from ETECSA hotspots; such technologies enable many Cubans to gain home or office access to the internet.16
Moreover, GPS use has grown despite its prohibition. Efforts to control its spread are effectively futile given the fact that most modern devices are already GPS enabled. There is a booming black market in preowned GPS devices, fueled by departing diplomats and business personnel who were legally authorized to purchase them, as well as by professional “mules” who specialize in importing hard-to-get consumer goods. On the demand side, taxi drivers, cyclists, and even potential rafters hoping to flee the country seek out the devices and are willing to pay high prices for them.17
Since 2014, Cuban authorities have worked to develop relationships with US information and communication technology (ICT) companies including Verizon, Google, and Sprint, which offer some services to the island.18 In October 2018, on the occasion of his attendance at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, President Miguel Díaz-Canel met with representatives of a dozen US-based technology companies to discuss their possible collaboration in the “computerization” of Cuban society.19 On the heels of this visit, the president announced that four key Cuban institutions had signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with Google. While the announcement did not include any details on the content of the MOUs, analysts speculated that Google would offer coding training, hosting services, and high-speed connectivity for Cuba’s medical network, as well as for the Ministry of Culture.20 In March 2019, Google and Cuba made the joint announcement that they had signed a new MOU aimed at beginning negotiations and technical discussions toward “a service agreement for the exchange of internet traffic” in the form of a “peering” arrangement that would directly connect their networks, cost free, via an undersea fiber-optic cable.21
Separately, as part of a visit by Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez in November 2018, the Spanish telecommunications giant Telefónica reportedly made an offer to the Cuban government aimed at connecting the island to its own network of undersea cables.22 An agreement had not been reached by the end of the coverage period.
- 1. National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), “Tecnología de la Información y las Comunicaciones 2016 [Information and Communication Technology 2016],” October 26, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170912022856/http://www.onei.cu/aec2016/1…; “Global ICT developments, 2001-2018,” International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2018, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx.
- 2. Cuban programmer Salvi Pascual of Apretaste.com found that while 30 percent of Cubans (3 million people) have some sort of “internet” access, the vast majority of these (2.8 million) have access to e-mail only, with just 5 percent (560,000) enjoying full web access. This estimate is based on an anonymous survey of approximately 1,000 users in Cuba, collected in 2016 through the app Apretaste, which offers uncensored access to the internet via email. See: https://apretaste.com/welcome.
- 3. “The Inclusive Internet Index 2020 – Availability,” The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020, https://theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com/explore/countries/performance/avai…
- 4. Jack Karsten and Darrel M. West, “Cuba slowly expands Internet access,” Brookings Institute, July 2, 2015, http://brook.gs/1KDrxLF; Note: however that the Cuban Minister of Communications reported in July 2017 that “international broadband speed doubled from 4 Gb/s to 8 Gb/s during 2016;” Oscar Figueredo Reinaldo, Dianet Doimeadios Guerrero, and Irene Pérez, “Diputados analizan Política Integral para el Perfeccionamiento de la Informatización de la Sociedad en Cuba [Delegates analyze Comprehensive Policy for the Improvement of the Computerization of Society in Cuba],” Cuba Debate, July 13, 2017, www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2017/07/13/diputados-analizan-politica-integ…; “Cuban 3G Speeds in Context,” The Internet in Cuba, December 20, 2018, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2018/12/cuban-3g-speeds-in-context.html; “The Inclusive Internet Index 2020 – Availability,” The Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020, https://theinclusiveinternet.eiu.com/explore/countries/CU/performance/i….
- 5. “Cuba is testing 3G Internet access,” The Internet in Cuba, August 15, 2018, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2018/08/cuba-testing-3g-internet-access…; “Cuba's 3G mobile access trial -- is the glass half full or half empty?,” The Internet in Cuba, August 19, 2018, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2018/08/cubas-3g-mobile-access-trial-is… Zunilda Mata, “Etecsa fracasa en su tercera prueba de acceso a internet desde los móviles [Etecsa fails in its third test of internet access from mobile phones],” 14ymedio, September 10, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/Etecsa-fracasa-tercera-inte….
- 6. “The first month of Cuban 3G mobile Internet service,” The Internet in Cuba, January 29, 2019, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-first-month-of-cuban-3g-mob….
- 7. Oscar Figueredo Reinaldo, L Eduardo Domínguez, and Edilberto Carmona Tamayo, “ETECSA: Internet en el móvil a partir del seis de diciembre (+ Video e Infografías) [ETECSA: mobile Internet as of December 6 (+ Video and Infographics)],” Cuba Debate, December 4, 2018, http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2018/12/04/etecsa-internet-en-el-movi….
- 8. Oscar Figueredo Reinaldo and Edilberto Carmona Tamayo, “Más de un millón de cubanos hacen uso de la 4G: ETECSA anuncia nuevas ofertas para el segundo semestre del año [More than a million Cubans use 4G: ETECSA announces new offers for the second half of the year],” Cuba Debate, May 29, 2020, http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2020/05/29/mas-de-un-millon-de-cubano….
- 9. Susana Antón Rodriguez, “Servicio de internet en Cuba: actualizaciones en 2019[Internet service in Cuba: 2019 updates],” Granma, December 3, 2019, http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2019-12-03/servicio-de-internet-en-cuba-actua….
- 10. Henry Lancaster, “Cuba - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses,” BuddeComm, April 22, 2020, https://www.budde.com.au/Research/Cuba-Telecoms-Mobile-and-Broadband-St…; Abraham Jiménez Enoa, “El gobierno cubano pasó de negarle internet a sus ciudadanos a enriquecerse con él [The Cuban government went from denying internet to its citizens to enriching themselves with it],” The Washington Post, February 27, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/es/post-opinion/2020/02/25/el-gobierno-c…; “Las nuevas medidas de Etecsa no aplacan los reclamos por una rebaja de precios [The new measures of Etecsa do not appease the claims for a price reduction],” 14ymedio, April 1, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/medidas-Etecsa-aplacan-reclamos-preci…; 14ymedio, “Cuban Customers Demand, For the Second Time, that Etecsa Lower Internet Prices,” Translating Cuba, June 23, 2019, https://translatingcuba.com/cuban-customers-demand-for-the-second-time-…; “#BajenLosPreciosDeInternet: Seguimiento de la campaña en Twitter [#BajenLosPreciosDeInternet: Follow-up of the campaign on Twitter],” Proyecto Inventario, August 25, 2019, https://proyectoinventario.org/bajenlospreciosdeinternet-bajen-precios-…; “ETECSA modifica ofertas de Internet por datos móviles a casi un año de estrenar el servicio [ETECSA modifies Internet offers for mobile data almost a year after launching the service],” Yuca Byte, December 3, 2019, https://www.yucabyte.org/2019/12/03/internet-datos-moviles-etecsa-4g/; José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “Aumentan quejas a Etecsa por robo de saldo [Complaints to Etecsa for theft of balance increase],” Yuca Byte, May 15, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/05/15/quejas-etecsa-robo-de-saldo/; Alberto C. Toppin, “Internet por datos móviles en Cuba: un año y contando… [Internet through mobile data in Cuba: one year and counting ...],” Yuca Byte, December 6, 2019, https://www.yucabyte.org/2019/12/06/internet-por-datos-moviles-en-cuba-….
- 11. “5G for fixed connectivity in Cuba,” The Internet in Cuba, November 17, 2019, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2019/11/5g-for-fixed-connectivity-in-cu…; Cuba en Datos: A un año del Internet por el móvil [Cuba in Data: One Year of Mobile Internet], Cubadebate.cu, December 6, 2019, http://www.cubadebate.cu/especiales/2019/12/06/cuba-en-datos-a-un-ano-d….
- 12. “More than 110,000 Cuban families have internet at home,” OnCuba News, October 31, 2019, https://oncubanews.com/en/cuba/more-than-110000-cuban-families-have-int…; Susana Antón Rodriguez, “Servicio de internet en Cuba: actualizaciones en 2019 [Internet service in Cuba: 2019 updates],” Granma, December 3, 2019, http://www.granma.cu/cuba/2019-12-03/servicio-de-internet-en-cuba-actua….
- 13. General Customs of the Republic of Cuba, “Artículos que necesitan autorización a la importación [Articles that require authorization for importation],” January 17, 2017, http://www.aduana.gob.cu/index.php/necesitan-autorizacion.
- 14. See Website of the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba http://www.aduana.gob.cu/.
- 15. “Cuba claims new regulations expand Internet access to homes and businesses, but here's the downside,” The Internet in Cuba, July 30, 2019, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2019/07/cubas-new-private-network-regul…; “Questions raised by the takeover of SNET, Havana's community network,” The Internet in Cuba, August 21, 2019, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2019/08/questions-raised-by-takeover-of…; “SNet: inicio o final? [SNet: start or end?],” The Internet in Cuba, August 19, 2019, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2019/08/snet-inicio-o-final.html; “Cuba’s new WiFi regulations – A step forward, backward or sideways?,” The Internet in Cuba, June 13, 2019, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2019/06/cubas-new-wifi-regulations-good…; Kirk Semple and Hannah Berkeley Cohen, “Cuba Expands Internet Access to Private Homes and Businesses,” The New York Times, July 29, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/29/world/americas/cuba-internet-technol…; Luz Escobar, “Los Joven Club de Computación están lejos de poder competir con SNet [The Young Computer Clubs are far from being able to compete with SNet],” 14ymedio, August 21, 2019, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Joven-Club-Computacion-competir-SNet_….
- 16. Marcelo Hernández, “Redes inalámbricas, la telaraña que envuelve la Isla [Wireless networks, the web that covers the island],” 14ymedio, January 4, 2017, www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/Redes-inalambricas-telarana-envuelv…; “An innovative street net with Internet access,” The Internet in Cuba, June 27, 2016, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2016/06/an-innovative-street-net-with-i…; “Three generations of Cuban WiFi hotspot sharing,” The Internet in Cuba, March 7, 2017, laredcubana.blogspot.com/2017/03/three-generations-of-cuban-wifi-hotspot.html.
- 17. “Crece un 25% el uso de redes sociales en Cuba desde 2017 [The use of social networks has grown by 25% in Cuba since 2017],” 14ymedio, November 2, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/Crece-uso-redes-sociales-Cu…; Marcelo Hernández, “El uso del GPS crece en Cuba a pesar de la prohibición [The use of GPS grows in Cuba despite the ban],” 14ymedio, July 16, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/GPS-crece-Cuba-pesar-prohib….
- 18. Mimi Whitefield, “Competition heats up for roaming, calling services in Cuba,” Miami Herald, May 10, 2016, http://hrld.us/1qcuP5g; Zunilda Mata, “Google acelerará, pero no expandirá el acceso a internet en Cuba [Google will accelerate but no expand internet access in Cuba],” 14ymedio, December 13, 2016, www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/Google-acelerara-expandira-internet…; Zunilda Mata, “Google Global Cache entra en Cuba sin un impacto significativo para los usuarios [Google Global Cache kicks off in Cuba without a significant impact for users],” 14ymedio, April 27, 2017, www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Google-Global-Cache-Cuba-significativo_0_2207…; “Google Global Cache coming to Cuba,” The Internet in Cuba, December 9, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20170109185807/http://laredcubana.blogspot…; Google’s representative in Cuba confirmed the increased speed and reduced latency of Google services in the Island, see Brett Perlmutter, @BrettPerlmutter, “Qué bueno comprobar la velocidad que ahora tiene YouTube en Cuba! No hay nada "despacito" #bajalatencia #googlecuba @susannakohly,” July 23, 2017, https://twitter.com/BrettPerlmutter/status/889173036330614786; Marc Frank, “U.S. Senator Flake, former Google CEO meet with new Cuban president,” Reuters, June 4, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-usa/u-s-senator-flake-former-go…; “Díaz-Canel recibe a un senador de EE UU y al presidente ejecutivo de Google [Díaz-Canel receives a US senator and Google's CEO],” 14ymedio, June 5, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/Presidente-Cuba-EE-UU-Googl…; “Cuban fake news about some fake news,” The Internet in Cuba, January 10, 2020, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2020/01/cuban-fake-news-about-fake-news….
- 19. “Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel's meeting with tech company executives,” The Internet in Cuba, October 4, 2018, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2018/10/cuban-president-miguel-diaz-can…; “Miguel Díaz-Canel se reúne con los directivos de las grandes tecnológicas de EE UU [Miguel Díaz-Canel meets with the executives of large US technology companies],” 14ymedio, September 25, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Diaz-Canel-directivos-tecnologicas-EE….
- 20. “Google signs memoranda of understanding with four Cuban organizations,” The Internet in Cuba, October 8, 2018, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2018/10/google-signs-memoranda-of-under….
- 21. “Is Google closer to improving internet access in Cuba?,” Miami Herald, March 30, 2019, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/artic…; Sarah Marsh, “Google, Cuba agree to work toward improving island's connectivity,” Reuters, March 28, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-usa-google/google-cuba-agree-to…; Michael Weissenstein, “Cuba, Google move to improve island’s connectivity,” AP News, March 28, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/d076fa0c68b440ada320cec8478a08dc; Stephanie Kirchgaessner, “Google revealed as unlikely go-between to help Trump-Cuba relations,” The Guardian, March 29, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/mar/29/google-is-an-unlikel….
- 22. “Telefónica negocia conectar Cuba por cable con su red regional de internet [Telefónica negotiates to connect Cuba by cable with its regional internet network],” 14ymedio, November 23, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Telefonica-conectar-Cuba-regional-int….
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||0.000 3.003|
Despite price cuts and occasional promotions, the cost of mobile and internet service is still very high for the majority of Cubans. Although most foreign websites are now available at state-run access points, the cost of accessing non-Cuban sites remains higher than the cost of accessing domestic ones. Cuban internet users can still connect at low or no cost via state institutions where they work or study. However, the connections are more likely to feature censorship of certain websites and services.1
Cubans with an average monthly salary—raised from 32 to 44 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), which are pegged to the US dollar, in June 20192—are unable to afford access to the 3G mobile service introduced in late 2018 or the 4G service that followed. Many potential customers would also have to upgrade their 2G phones before being able to access the new network through paid plans. At the time of the launch of 3G, customers could opt either for pay-as-you-go access at a rate of 10 cents per megabyte for access to the global web, or 2 cents per megabyte for access to Cuba’s national intranet only.3 They could alternatively sign up for a monthly service plan at one of the following four rate packages: 7 CUC for 600 MB, 10 CUC for 1 GB, 20 CUC for 2.5 GB, or 30 CUC for 4 GB. ETECSA offered additional data bonuses of 300 MB to access national websites, a strategy reflecting authorities’ continued desire to promote local content over increasingly popular, foreign-based social media platforms and international news sites.4
Plans consisting of 6.5 GB at 35 CUC per month or 10 GB at 45 CUC for 4G/LTE service could also be purchased during the coverage period.5 However, these rates garnered heavy criticism given their comparison with average wages. In December 2019, ETECSA rolled out a wider array of mobile data plans, the cheapest of which was 400 MB for 5 CUC.6 In January 2020, after increasing popular pressure aimed at reducing internet prices, ETECSA lowered rates from 1 CUC to 70 cents an hour for those with permanent accounts.7 In April, ETECSA also temporarily discounted some phone and internet services in response to popular demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, prices for mobile internet use during the day and web connection packages were left unchanged.8
While the government has cut prices repeatedly in recent years, the hourly cost of accessing the internet at state-run cybercafés remains high. The rate of 70 cents per hour remains out of reach for many, though users can pay a much lower rate of 10 cents per hour for access to the domestic intranet.9
Since January 2014, friends and relatives living abroad have been able to use an online service to pay the phone and Nauta internet bills of users living on the island, and this service has since added options to pay for the home access program and 3G and 4G mobile plans.10 The overall strategy seems intended to raise funds by convincing Cuban exiles to pay for internet service for their relatives in Cuba.
To overcome access limitations, some Cubans have improvised underground networks. Inventive strategies include an island-wide distribution system for offline digital data paquetes (packets, also known as the “sneaker-net”), a series of local area networks such as Havana’s SNET linking up thousands of users in cities, and the use of various signal-amplification devices such as NanoStations to share or sell Wi-Fi signals.11 Networks like SNET, however, were effectively declared illegal in July 2019 (see A1). Two popular apps that aid Cubans in sharing digital data are Zapya, which allows for easy wireless sharing of data across two or more devices, and Connectify, which allows users to share a Wi-Fi internet signal with others. Another popular app called Psiphon allows users to create a virtual private network (VPN) that simultaneously protects their anonymity and allows them to connect from a Nauta Wi-Fi hotspot to blocked sites in Cuba, such as CubaNet, 14ymedio, or Diario de Cuba.12 The app Aurora Suite allows Cuban users to access websites, including blocked ones, by using Nauta’s email interface, thus requiring neither a data plan nor an active connection to a Wi-Fi hotspot.13 The underground economy of internet access also includes account sharing, in which authorized users illegally sell access to those without an official account for between 1 and 2 CUC per hour.
- 1. Glenda Boza Ibarra, “Los memes estallan con las pruebas de Internet en Cuba [Memes explode with Internet tests in Cuba],” El Toque, September 11, 2018, https://eltoque.com/los-memes-estallan-con-las-pruebas-de-internet-por-….
- 2. “Cuba announces increase in wages as part of economic reform,” NBC News, June 28, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/cuba-announces-increase-wages-part-….
- 3. “Tarifas,” ETECSA, [n.d.], http://www.etecsa.cu/telefonia_movil/tarifas/.
- 4. “Los cubanos ponen el grito en el cielo ante los precios de internet en los móviles [Cubans shout to the sky at the prices of internet on mobiles],” 14ymedio, December 5, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/cubanos-cielo-precios-internet-movile…; “Los cubanos tendrán internet en los móviles a partir del 6 de diciembre [Cubans will have internet on mobile phones as of December 6],” 14ymedio, December 4, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/cubanos-internet-moviles-partir-dicie….
- 5. “Planes y Bolsas,” ETECSA, [n.d.], https://web.archive.org/web/20191207165344/http://www.etecsa.cu/telefon….
- 6. “Las nuevas medidas de Etecsa no aplacan los reclamos por una rebaja de precios [The new measures of Etecsa do not appease the claims for a price reduction],” 14ymedio, April 1, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/medidas-Etecsa-aplacan-reclamos-preci….
- 7. “Etecsa anuncia una rebaja en la tarifa de navegación web desde Nauta [Etecsa announces a reduction in the web browsing rate from Nauta],” 14ymedio, January 4, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/Etecsa-anuncia-tarifa-naveg….
- 8. “Las nuevas medidas de Etecsa no aplacan los reclamos por una rebaja de precios [The new measures of Etecsa do not appease the claims for a price reduction],” 14ymedio, April 1, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/medidas-Etecsa-aplacan-reclamos-preci….
- 9. “Etecsa baja los precios de internet y del correo Nauta [Etecsa lowers internet and Nauta e-mail prices],” 14ymedio, December 19, 2016, http://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Etecsa-precios-internet-correo-Nauta_0…; “ETECSA hace oficial la 'comercialización gradual' de internet en los hogares [ETECSA makes the ‘gradual commercialization’ of the internet in homes oficial]” Diario de Cuba, March 21, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20191022144505/http://archivo.diariodecuba…; “Etecsa rebaja la tarifa para la navegación nacional [Etecsa lowers prices for national web Access],” 14ymedio, March 30, 2017, http://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/etecsa-rebaja-tarifa-navegacion_nacion…; “Internet,” ETECSA, [n.d.], http://www.etecsa.cu/internet_conectividad/internet/.
- 10. “ETECSA Informa Nuevos Servicios de Pagos por Internet para Cubanos [ETECSA announces new internet payment services for Cubans],” OnCuba News, January 20, 2014, https://oncubanews.com/tendencias/tecnologia/etecsa-informa-nuevos-serv…; José Remón, “ETECSA a la carga: Pagando la factura de mi pariente en Cuba [ETECSA on the load: Paying my relative’s bill in Cuba],” Café Fuerte, January 22, 2014, https://www.cafefuerte.com/cuba/etecsa-a-la-carga-pagando-la-factura-te…; “ETECSA rebaja 50 centavos la hora de conexión a internet y anuncia su experimento de acceso desde los hogares [ETECSA lowers an hour of internet access by 50 cents and announces its home access experiment],” Diario de Cuba, December 19, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20191022144518/http://archivo.diariodecuba…; Elías Amor, “ETECSA, internet y el abandono de 'los principios de la revolución' [ETECSA, internet, and the abandonment of ‘the principles of the revolution’],” Diario de Cuba, December 22, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20191022144517/http://archivo.diariodecuba….
- 11. Antonio García Martínez, “Inside Cuba’s D.I.Y. Internet Revolution,” Wired, July 26, 2017, https://www.wired.com/2017/07/inside-cubas-diy-internet-revolution/; Orlando González, “Internet llega a los hogares cubanos a pesar de ETECSA [Internet arrives to Cuban households despite ETECSA],” Cubanet, June 16, 2016, https://www.cubanet.org/actualidad-destacados/internet-llega-a-los-hoga….
- 12. “Connectify será gratuito en Cuba para compartir el acceso a internet [Connectify will be free in Cuba for sharing internet access],” 14ymedio, April 6, 2017, www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Connectify-gratuito-Cuba-compartir-internet_0…; Zunilda Mata, “Zapya, la red de los desconectados [Zapya, the network of the disconnected],” 14ymedio, January 25, 2016, www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/Zapya-red-desconectados_0_193240674…; Zunilda Mata, “Mamá, estoy chateando por Zapya [Mom, I’m chatting on Zapya],” 14ymedio, July 21, 2017, www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Mama-chateando-Zapya-Cuba-cubanos-estudiantes…; Orlando González and Pablo González, “Conoce ‘Psiphon’, la app que vence la censura [Meet ‘Psiphon,’ the app that defeats censorship],” Cubanet, November 17, 2016, https://www.cubanet.org/destacados/conoce-psiphon-la-app-que-vence-la-c….
- 13. “Aurora Suite, la aplicación que burla la censura [Aurora Suite, the application that circumvents censorship],” 14ymedio, June 8, 2018, www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Aurora-Suite-aplicacion-burla-censura-Aurora_….
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||3.003 6.006|
The backbone infrastructure of the internet in Cuba is entirely controlled by the government, and state authorities have the capability and the legal mandate to restrict connectivity at will. At times of heightened political sensitivity, the government has used its complete control of the mobile network to selectively obstruct citizens’ communications. For example, in the period under review, users including activists, journalists, and dissidents reported that their mobile data connections had been selectively disrupted for a few hours to a few days. The temporary service blocks seemed aimed at preventing these users from broadcasting independent content, participating in online events, or reporting on harassment that they experienced.1 Such targeted service interruptions continued after the coverage period in June 2020, when nearly 20 independent activists and journalists had their mobile service temporarily suspended by ETECSA as part of a state security operation intended to prevent their attendance at a gathering to protest the police killing of Hansel Hernández, an Afro-Cuban man, a few days earlier. In all, more than 35 people were detained, and 40 others were placed under house arrest, in the crackdown.2
- 1. José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “¿Por qué Cuba es de los países con menor libertad en Internet? (Parte II y final) [Why Cuba is one of the countries with the least freedom on the Internet? (Part II and final)],” Yuca Byte, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/; Institute for War & Peace Reporting (YouTube Channel), “Cyber Surveillance in Cuba,” August 20, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=18&v=KuQQmaQLWuo&feature=em….
- 2. Amnesty Caribbean, @AlCaribbean, “Reportes preocupantes de que + de 35 activistas y periodistas en #Cuba han sido detenidas y a otras 40, agentes estatales no les dejan salir de sus casas, en el marco de la manifestación del #30DeJunio. @DiazCanelB @BrunoRguezP: tenemos algunas dudas @CIDH @mbachelet,” June 30, 2020, https://twitter.com/AICaribbean/status/1278093395894964226; Yuca Byte, @YucaByte, “1) Varios activistas, periodistas y miembros de la sociedad civil cubana denuncian hoy que @ETECSA_Cuba les ha cortado el servicio de acceso a internet,” June 30, 2020, https://twitter.com/YucaByte/status/1277977010401243144; “Las detenciones y amenazas logran impedir las protestas por el homicidio de Hansel Hernández [The arrests and threats are able to prevent the protests over the murder of Hansel Hernández],” 14ymedio, June 30, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Detenciones-amenazas-impedir-manifest…; “Hansel Hernández Galiano: el gobierno de Cuba reconoce que un joven negro murió por disparos de la policía [Hansel Hernández Galiano: the government of Cuba recognizes that a young black man was shot dead by the police],” BBC News Mundo, June 30, 2020 https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-53226638.
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||0.000 6.006|
The ICT sector remains dominated by government firms. Cuba's monopoly telecommunications service provider, ETECSA, is owned by the state.1 Cubacel, a subsidiary of ETECSA, is the only mobile service provider.
In 2013, ETECSA announced that it would allow private workers to market local and long-distance telephone services to the population as self-employed communications agents. The agents may also sell prepaid cards for fixed-line and mobile telephone services and internet access.2
In June 2020, after the coverage period, it was reported that a new law regulating telecommunications and ICTs would be published in early 2021.3
- 1. The private firm Telecom Italia previously held shares of ETECSA until February 2011, when the state-owned company Rafin S.A., a financial firm known for its connections to the military, bought Telecom Italia’s 27 percent stake for US$706 million. Since then, the telecom company has been completely owned by six Cuban state entities, see: Jerrold Colten, “Telecom Italia Sells Etecsa Stake to Rafin SA For $706 Million,” Bloomberg Business, January 31, 2011, http://bloom.bg/1YFxlyo.
- 2. “Communication agents will see telephone and Internet time,” The Internet in Cuba, November 27, 2013, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2013/11/communication-agents-will-sell….
- 3. José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “¿Por qué Cuba es de los países con menor libertad en Internet? (Parte II y final) [Why Cuba is one of the countries with the least freedom on the Internet? (Part II and final)],” Yuca Byte, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/.
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||0.000 4.004|
No independent regulatory body for managing the ICT sector exists in Cuba. In 2000, the Ministry of Communications (MINCOM) was created to serve as the regulatory authority for the internet. Within MINCOM, the Cuban Supervision and Control Agency oversees the development of internet-related technologies.1
- 1. For further information see the website of the Ministry of Communications: http://www.mincom.gob.cu/ and the specific Resolution 145/12: Resolution No. 145/2012, https://txdish.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Ley-del-Min.-Telecomun.de….
Independent websites focused on Cuban news continued to be blocked. Government manipulation of online information also persisted during the coverage period. At the same time, activists were able to mobilize various grassroots campaigns via social media, including movements against high internet prices and the closure of SNET.
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content?||3.003 6.006|
Though multiple independent Cuban news sites are blocked, the government limits users’ access to information primarily by making technology unavailable and by imposing prohibitive costs for access. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are accessible—with consistent monitoring and varying reliability—from Wi-Fi hotspots, some cybercafés, and hotels, and via 3G and 4G mobile service. Skype has been blocked in the past, but alternative applications such as Imo, Facebook Messenger, and especially WhatsApp have become a popular way to send direct messages and video chat with contacts abroad.1
The websites of foreign news outlets—including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), El País, the Financial Times, and El Nuevo Herald (a Miami-based Spanish-language daily with ample coverage of Cuba)—remain accessible in Cuba. However, ETECSA commonly blocks dissident or independent news outlets and the sites of Cuban activists and dissident organizations. For example, in July 2019 the digital magazine ADN Cuba reported that it had been blocked in the country; the block coincided with the implementation of Decree Law 370, which gives the authorities broad powers to ensure “information security” (see B2, B6, C2, and C3).2
On February 24, 2019, the day of a much-anticipated constitutional referendum, five leading independent Cuban news sites—14ymedio, Tremenda Nota, Cibercuba, Diario de Cuba, and CubaNet—reported that their pages were inaccessible on the island. The blocking was apparently meant to silence calls from the opposition to abstain from voting, or to vote against the new charter.3 Analysts at the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) found that while ETECSA had mainly blocked the HTTP versions of sites in the past, it had since “changed its censorship techniques, blocking both the HTTP and HTTPS version of sites by means of IP [internet protocol address] blocking.”4
The lead-up to the vote also featured reports that ETECSA was systematically blocking text messages advocating for “no” votes (#YoVotoNo) or abstention (#YoNoVoto), whereas progovernment campaigning on digital platforms (#YoVotoSi) was not only permitted but actively and enthusiastically engaged in by both government officials and private citizens. ETECSA notably charged customers for sending antigovernment texts without actually delivering the messages.5 In 2016, a series of tests conducted by the domestic news outlet 14ymedio had found that ETECSA’s mobile network, Cubacel, systematically filtered text messages containing specific terms, such as democracia (democracy), dictadura (dictatorship), and derechos humanos (human rights).6
The independent online newsmagazine El Estornudo reported that it was blocked in Cuba in 2018 and 2019.7 It remained inaccessible during the coverage period, as did the independent, critical news and information sites 14ymedio, Diario de Cuba, Cibercuba, CubaNet, Cuba Encuentro, and Martí Noticias, and the site of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) protest movement, founded by female relatives of jailed dissidents.8 Most of these sites have been systematically blocked for several years, though Tremenda Nota, which had been blocked with the others, appeared to have become available around the end of the coverage period. Access to the blocked outlets was generally possible only through a VPN. Several anonymity and circumvention tools such as Anonymouse are also blocked.9
- 1. Laura Lehman, Mariela Machado Fantacchiotti, Emily Sylvia, Chiara Bercu, Gary Verburg, Tricia Johnson, and Ana Carolina Díaz, “The Cuban Internet: Letter from Havana,” Foreign Affairs, April 19, 2016, http://fam.ag/2cV544o; Sayli Sosa, “IMO in Cuba: Shortening Distances Between Relatives,” Havana Times, July 30, 2015, https://havanatimes.org/features/imo-in-cuba-shortening-distances-betwe….
- 2. “Gobierno cubano bloquea el acceso a revista audiovisual ADN CUBA [Cuban government blocks access to audiovisual magazine ADN CUBA],” ADN Cuba, July 23, 2019, https://adncuba.com/noticias-de-cuba/gobierno-cubano-bloquea-el-acceso-….
- 3. Several of these websites had been quietly unblocked during 2018, see “El Gobierno censura a los medios críticos durante el referendo constitucional,” 14ymedio, February 24, 2019, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Gobierno-censura-criticos-referendo-c…; Eduardo Ernesto Pérez Pujol, Arturo Filastò, and Maria Xynou, “Cuba blocks independent media amid 2019 constitutional referendum,” Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), February 26, 2019, https://ooni.torproject.org/post/cuba-referendum/.
- 4. Eduardo Ernesto Pérez Pujol, Arturo Filastò, and Maria Xynou, “Cuba blocks independent media amid 2019 constitutional referendum,” Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), February 26, 2019, https://ooni.torproject.org/post/cuba-referendum/.
- 5. “Cuba censors SMS messages ... for now,” The Internet in Cuba, January 10, 2019, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2019/01/cuba-censors-sms-messages-for-n….
- 6. Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, “Cubacel censura los SMS con las palabras ‘democracia’ o ‘huelga de hambre’ [Cubacel censors SMS with the words ‘democracy’ and ‘hunger strike’],” 14ymedio, September 3, 2016, https://www.14ymedio.com/reportajes/Cubacel-censura-SMS-palabras-democr…; “Lista de frases y terminos bloqueados por Cubacel [List of phrases and terms blocked by Cubacel],” 14ymedio, September 3, 2016, http://www.14ymedio.com/reportajes/Lista-frases-terminos-bloqueados-Cub…; “Netizen Report: In Cuba, Text Messages With Controversial Content Are Disappearing,” Global Voices, September 15, 2016, https://globalvoices.org/2016/09/15/netizen-report-in-cuba-text-message….
- 7. Carolina de Assis, “Cuban online magazine El Estornudo reports it is blocked on the island,” Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, February 28, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180720002640/https://knightcenter.utexas….
- 8. Updated information provided via personal communication with anonymous Cuban blogger; Web Connectivity Test for https://revistaelestornudo.com, Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) Explorer, February 14, 2020, https://explorer.ooni.org/measurement/20200214T051850Z_AS27725_cpX6m7pS…; Web Connectivity Test for https://revistaelestornudo.com, Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) Explorer, September 4, 2019, https://explorer.ooni.org/measurement/20190904T213534Z_AS27725_u9A3brwT…
- 9. Maria Xynou, Arturo Filastò, and Simone Basso, “Measuring Internet Censorship in Cuba's ParkNets,” Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), August 28, 2017, https://ooni.torproject.org/post/cuba-internet-censorship-2017/.
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content?||1.001 4.004|
Since the activation of Decree Law 370 in July 2019, Cuba has seen a wave of interrogations of independent journalists that include threats against their families as well as pressure to delete and discontinue their critical coverage of the government on social media (mainly on Facebook) and on Cuba’s crop of new independent digital news outlets.1 Article 68 of Decree Law 370 explicitly makes it illegal for Cubans to have their content hosted on websites or platforms that are not mirror copies of the same site hosted locally on Cuban servers. The vast majority of Cuba’s independent digital media platforms have long relied on foreign servers and hosts to post and protect their content from government censorship and deletion—especially since local privately owned media are systematically denied any legal recognition or protection in the domestic media environment (see B6).2
While ETECSA does not proactively delete online content, several blogs hosted on the government-sponsored blog platform Reflejos have faced censorship by its moderators.3 In April 2017, for example, a technology blog called TuAndroid was temporarily suspended, and an article that criticized new top-up deals offered by ETECSA was removed.4 An earlier takedown in February 2016 involved Proyecto Arcoiris (Rainbow Project), a blog on sexual diversity.5 Articles from the independent digital newspaper 14ymedio were removed permanently in March 2015.
While the government has denied prohibiting certain topics on Reflejos, it requires bloggers to register with their identity cards and bans the publication of unlawful or “counterrevolutionary” content.6
- 1. Carla Gloria Colomé, “¿Quién diablos es la Seguridad del Estado? [Who the hell is State Security?],” El Estornudo, December 3, 2019, https://www.revistaelestornudo.com/luz-escobar-seguridad-estado-cuba/; Luiz Escobar, “'Consejos' de la Seguridad del Estado a una reportera de '14ymedio' ['Advice' from State Security to a reporter from '14ymedio'],” 14ymedio, February 27, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/opinion/Consejos-Seguridad-reportera_0_2828717….
- 2. Gaspar Pisanu, “Control de internet en su máxima expresión: Decreto 370 de Cuba [Internet control at its finest: Decree 370 of Cuba],” Access Now, November 21, 2019, https://www.accessnow.org/control-de-internet-en-su-maxima-expresion-de…; Elaine Díaz Rodríguez, “Cuba aprueba ley que multa a ciudadanos por alojar sitios web en servidores extranjeros [Cuba passes law that fines citizens for hosting websites on foreign servers],” El Toque, July 5, 2019, https://eltoque.com/cuba-multa-ciudadanos-web-servidores-extranjeros/; José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “¿Por qué Cuba es de los países con menor libertad en Internet? (Parte II y final) [Why Cuba is one of the countries with the least freedom on the Internet? (Part II and final)],” Yuca Byte, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/; “Statement: International support for the petition to declare Decree-Law 370 unconstitutional in Cuba,” Access Now, June 17, 2020, https://www.accessnow.org/statement-international-support-for-the-petit….
- 3. María Matienzo Puerto, “Guerra contra las subculturas en la plataforma 'Reflejos' [War against the subcultures on the plaform Reflejos],” Diario de Cuba, June 20, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20200603211630/http://archivo.diariodecuba…; Federico Beltrán, “Censura en Cuba se cobra otra víctima en la plataforma bloguera [Censorship in Cuba claims another victim on blogging platform],” Cibercuba, May 2, 2016, https://www.cibercuba.com/noticias/2016-05-03-u146802-censura-en-cuba-s….
- 4. Eliseo Matos, “TuAndroid vuelve a publicar tras una semana de ‘castigo’ oficialista [TuAndroid publishes again after a week of official ‘punishment’],” Cubanet, April 20, 2017, https://www.cubanet.org/tecnologia-2/tuandroid-vuelve-publicar-tras-una….
- 5. Sandra Abd'Allah-Alvarez Ramírez [Rachel Lynch], “An LGBT Blog Is Suspended Over Mention of Cuba’s 1960s-Era Labor Camps,” Global Voices, February 11, 2016, https://globalvoices.org/2016/02/11/an-lgbt-blog-is-suspended-over-ment….
- 6. 14ymedio, “Web Platform Reflejos Closes the ‘14ymedio’ Blog,” Translating Cuba, March 27, 2015, http://translatingcuba.com/web-platform-reflejos-closes-the-14ymedio-bl….
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||0.000 4.004|
The vague wording of government provisions regarding content regulation allows the authorities to censor a wide array of posts without judicial oversight. Resolution 179/2008 empowers ETECSA to “take the necessary steps to prevent access to sites whose contents are contrary to social interests, ethics, and morals, as well as the use of applications that affect the integrity or security of the state.”1 Resolution 56/1999 stipulates that all materials intended for publication or dissemination on the internet must first be approved by the National Registry of Serial Publications.2
- 1. Ministry of Communication of the Republic of Cuba, “Resolución No. 179/2008 [Resolution Number 179/2008],” 2008, http://www.fcmjtrigo.sld.cu/resoluciones/resol_179_2008.pdf.
- 2. Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Cuba, “Resolución No. 56/99, Sobre la inserción de publicaciones seriadas cubanas en internet [Resolution No. 56/99, On the insertion of Cuban serial publications on the Internet],” Cuba Educa, January 29, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170129102836/http://www.cubaeduca.cu/medi….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||1.001 4.004|
Online journalists, commentators, and users frequently self-censor in order to avoid repercussions from the state, including harassment, criminal prosecution, detention, and travel bans. While grassroots digital innovations such as El Paquete Semanal and SNET have provided access to large selections of often pirated digital content, these are technically illegal and depend on de facto government toleration. As a result, many administrators have sought to reduce the risk of a government crackdown through active self-censorship of content that could be considered inappropriately political, religious, or pornographic.1 Journalists who work for the state media also reportedly practice self-censorship.2
- 1. “La paradoja de Internet de Cuba: El control y la censura de Internet hacen peligrar los logros de Cuba en materia de educación [Cuba's Internet Paradox: Internet Control and Censorship Threaten Cuba's Achievements in Education],” Amnesty International, August 29, 2017, https://www.amnesty.org/es/latest/news/2017/08/cubas-internet-paradox-h…; Antonio García Martínez [Marisol Ruiz-Ogarrio], “Asomándonos a la Revolución Cubana de Internet Hecha por los Propios Cubanos [Peering into the Cuban Internet Revolution Made by Cubans themselves],” Wired, July 26, 2017, https://www.wired.com/2017/07/asomandonos-la-revolucion-cubana-de-inter….
- 2. Bajo Sentencia: La Censura en Cuba, Guatemala y Honduras [Under Sentence: Censorship in Cuba, Guatemala and Honduras], Article 19, August 2020, https://articulo19.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/A19_2020_ReporteCA_bo…; Periodistas oficialistas protestan contra la censura en Cuba [Official journalists protest against censorship in Cuba], Diario Las Americas, July 2016, https://www.diariolasamericas.com/periodistas-oficialistas-protestan-co….
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||1.001 4.004|
The government manipulates the online information landscape through policies and other initiatives aimed at maintaining the dominance of progovernment outlets and narratives, and discrediting independent sources of information.
According to the 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation, Cuban actors including government agencies have permanent “cyber troop” teams that manipulate social media by spreading disinformation, amplifying certain content, and trolling.1 Fake proregime social media accounts known as ciberclarias support the government on social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Twitter, by attacking dissidents and activists, posting state media articles, and sharing posts by high-level officials. The ciberclarias are reportedly composed of young people, many from Havana’s Computer Science University (UCI), who receive benefits like more time on the internet and 3G data plans.2
Networks of progovernment journalists have disseminated content online to counter alternative discourses. In February 2020, for example, as part of an online propaganda campaign, an article titled “The Internet Is Widely Accessible in Cuba. Why Is the US Insisting It Isn’t?” circulated widely in different languages, but it neglected to mention website blocking or Cubans’ use of encryption tools and VPNs to circumvent censorship.3
In September 2019, Twitter temporarily suspended the accounts of many official media outlets and government figures, including that of former president Raúl Castro. The company noted that they were working in a coordinated manner to “artificially amplify or disrupt conversations through the use of multiple accounts.”4
The Cuban Democratic Directorate found that dozens of automated “bot” accounts were posting progovernment messages on Twitter during the 2018 parliamentary and provincial election period.5 A 2016 report on digital journalism published by Fundación Telefónica noted that Cuban authorities have accused critical and independent sites of perpetrating a constant media campaign against the island; such a narrative “converts independent voices into ‘mercenaries’ or traitors, with the ultimate objective of criminalizing dissent,” according to the group.6 More recently, Twitter accounts promoting misleading photos appeared in the lead-up to the February 2019 constitutional referendum.7
The Associated Press reported in June 2018 that the ruling Communist Party’s Political Bureau had quietly approved a policy that would grant greater autonomy to official journalists by allowing newspaper editors to publish political stories without prior authorization and to accept advertising. While its effects are so far unclear, the policy seems to have arisen in part from the need for official journalists to compete more successfully against the new crop of independent journalists and their start-up news outlets.8
Authorities continue to direct popular demand for videos, games, and online social networking to government-controlled platforms. In mid-2018, the government launched a national version of the popular application WhatsApp, called ToDus, along with a national “app store” site for locally developed mobile apps called Apklis; both were developed at UCI. The crucial difference between these and their more popular, global counterparts is that they are designed to be run on Cuba’s national intranet, not the global internet, making costs lower and performance for national users better.
- 1. Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N. Howard, “The Global Disinformation Order – 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation,” Computational Propaganda Research Project, 2019, https://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/93/2019/09/CyberT….
- 2. “Periodista cubana desenmascara a “ciberclaria” que robó su identidad en Twitter [Cuban journalist unmasks "cyberclaria" who stole his identity on Twitter],” Periódico Cubano, September 2, 2019, https://www.periodicocubano.com/periodista-cubana-desenmascara-a-una-ci…; “Que Son Las Ciberclarias En Cuba ? Conozca Este Nuevo Ejercito Cubano [What Are Cyberclarias In Cuba? Know This New Cuban Army],” La Nueva Cuba, August 20, 2019, https://www.lanuevacuba.net/?p=1784.
- 3. “Mass-produced propaganda -- a Cuban example,” The Internet in Cuba, February 24, 2020, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2020/02/mass-produced-propaganda-cuban-….
- 4. Sarah Marsh, “Twitter blocks accounts of Raul Castro and Cuban state-run media,” Reuters, September 12, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-twitter/twitter-blocks-accounts…; Ellery Biddle, “Why Is Twitter Censoring Raúl Castro?,” Slate, September 23, 2019, https://slate.com/technology/2019/09/twitter-raul-castro-suspension-cub….
- 5. Orlando Gutierrez and Augusto Hernandez, “Cuba's Fake Tweets,” Cuban Studies Institute – Center for a Free Cuba, March 16, 2018, https://www.cubacenter.org/articles-and-events/2018/3/16/cuba-insight-c….
- 6. Ramón Salaverría, "Ciberperiodismo en Iberoamérica [Cyberjournalism in Ibero-America]," Fundación Telefónica, February 2016, https://www.fundaciontelefonica.com/arte_cultura/publicaciones-listado/….
- 7. Camilo Condis, @camilocondis, “Esta cuenta falsa usa la foto de un joven asesinado en El Salvador, lo cual deja mucho que desear en cuanto a ética. ¿Es así como se defiende a la Revolución cubana? Enlace a la noticia del joven asesinado acá,” April 25, 2019, https://twitter.com/camilocondis/status/1121508472066052096.
- 8. Andrea Rodriguez, “Cuba loosens grip on media, allows for more independent reporting,” The Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2018, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2018/0621/Cuba-loosens-grip-on….
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||0.000 3.003|
Cuba has one of the most restrictive media environments in the world. The constitution prohibits privately owned media and restricts speech that does not “conform to the aims of a socialist society.” The government closely monitors users who post or access political information online and delivers harsh penalties to those it perceives as dissidents.
In July 2019, Decree Law 370 went into effect. By prohibiting the hosting of websites on foreign servers and the circulation of “information contrary to the social interest, morals, good customs, and integrity of people,” the decree places further restrictions on independent media and puts them in legal jeopardy.1 The vague language of the decree allowed officials to use it during the coverage period to punish independent journalists and other users, who faced fines and confiscation of their work equipment,2 for their posts on social media sites like Facebook (see C3).3
The cost of technologies that facilitate information sharing remains high, and the government has sought to penalize individuals who violate laws restricting access to telecommunications equipment and services.
Cubans are often able to break through infrastructural barriers by building their own antennas, using illegal dial-up connections, or developing blogs on foreign-based platforms.4 There are also thriving improvisational systems like the paquetes, in which USB flash drives and data discs are used to distribute articles, prohibited photos, satirical cartoons, video clips, and other materials that have been downloaded from the internet or stolen from government offices.5
In 2017 the government announced a temporary freeze on the issuance of any new licenses for private computer programmers, along with more than 25 other popular freelancer occupations, until “violations and irregularities” could be addressed.6 New private-sector rules issued in July 2018 allowed the resumption of licensing for the frozen occupations—except for computer programming licenses, which remained frozen during the coverage period.7
- 1. Carolina de Assis, “Independent Cuban media criticize government decree establishing sanctions on sites hosted outside of the country,” Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, July 10, 2019, https://web.archive.org/web/20190712162407/https://knightcenter.utexas…; Gaspar Pisanu, “Control de internet en su máxima expresión: Decreto 370 de Cuba [Internet control at its finest: Decree 370 of Cuba],” Access Now, November 21, 2019, https://www.accessnow.org/control-de-internet-en-su-maxima-expresion-de…; Elaine Díaz Rodríguez, “Cuba aprueba ley que multa a ciudadanos por alojar sitios web en servidores extranjeros [Cuba passes law that fines citizens for hosting websites on foreign servers],” El Toque, July 5, 2019, https://eltoque.com/cuba-multa-ciudadanos-web-servidores-extranjeros/; Abraham Jiménez Enoa, “Los cubanos combaten la censura de su gobierno en plena pandemia [Cubans fight their government's censorship amid the pandemic],” The Washington Post, April 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/es/post-opinion/2020/04/28/los-cubanos-c….
- 2. No a leyes dictadoras, @MovimientoCubanoPorLaLibertaddeExpresion, “Listado actualizado de multados en virtud del Decreto-Ley 370,” June 1, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/MovimientoCubanoPorLaLibertaddeExpresion/posts…; José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “Sociedad civil cubana pide declarar inconstitucional el Decreto- Ley 370 [Cuban civil society asks to declare Decree-Law 370 unconstitutional],” Yuca Byte, June 8, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/08/sociedad-civil-cubana-pide-declarar…; “Cuba y su Decreto Ley 370: aniquilando la libertad de expresión en Internet [Cuba and its Decree Law 370: annihilating freedom of expression on the Internet],” Proyecto Inventario, May 6, 2020, https://proyectoinventario.org/cuba-y-su-decreto-ley-370-aniquilando-la…; “Apoyo internacional a la petición para declarar inconstitucional el Decreto Ley 370 en Cuba [International support for the petition to declare Decree Law 370 unconstitutional in Cuba],” Proyecto Inventario, June 15, 2020, https://proyectoinventario.org/apoyo-internacional-peticion-para-declar….
- 3. “Dos periodistas citados por la Seguridad del Estado en medio de la crisis del coronavirus [Two journalists summoned by State Security amid the coronavirus crisis],” 14ymedio, March 28, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Cuba-prensa-Covid-19-periodistas_0_28…; “Una multa de 3.000 pesos a Mónica Baró por sus textos en Facebook [A fine of 3,000 pesos to Mónica Baró for her texts on Facebook],” 14ymedio, April 18, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Cuba-prensa-periodismo-Decreto_Ley_37….
- 4. According to communication with a contact in Cuba in the summer of 2020, access to digital information has largely remained unaffected by the closure of SNET and Decree Law 370.
- 5. Jonathan Watts, “Cuba’s ‘offline internet’: no access, no power, no problem,” The Guardian, December 23, 2014, http://gu.com/p/44dcf/stw; Emilio San Pedro, “Cuban internet delivered weekly by hand,” BBC News, August 9, 2015, http://bbc.in/1TjpO8x; Jack Karsten and Darrel M. West, “Cuba slowly expands Internet access,” Brookings Institute, July 2, 2015, http://brook.gs/1KDrxLF.
- 6. Yaima Puig Meneses, “Trabajo por Cuenta Propia: Por la ruta de la actualización [Self-Employment: On the Route to Updating],” Granma, August 1, 2017, www.granma.cu/cuba/2017-08-01/por-la-ruta-de-la-actualizacion-01-08-201…; Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Cuba, “Gaceta Oficial No. 31 Extraordinaria, Resolución No. 22/2017 [Official Gazette No. 31 Extraordinary, Resolution No. 22/2017],” August 1, 2017, http://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/GOC-2017-EX31_CYMFIL20170801_0001.pdf.
- 7. “Cuba modifies rules to spur private sector,” Xinhua News Agency, December 7, 2018, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-12/07/c_137656022.htm; “Cuba mantiene congeladas las licencias de Programador de Equipos de Cómputo [Cuba keeps the Computer Equipment Programmer licenses frozen],” Yuca Byte, November 7, 2019, https://www.yucabyte.org/2019/11/07/cuba-mantiene-congeladas-las-licenc….
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity?||1.001 4.004|
Despite the persistence of severe restrictions on media outlets that are not controlled by the Communist Party, grassroots and citizen-led media initiatives have succeeded in developing a significant online presence. Since 2014, Cuba has seen the appearance of a number of independent or alternative digital media platforms covering a broad, diverse spectrum of themes from a variety of professional and political viewpoints. While the government still holds a monopoly on the mass media—especially printed matter—it has lost that position in the digital sphere thanks to such projects, whose impact continues to grow as more people gain access to the internet.
The surge in the number of independent digital media sites has developed together with an increase in their reliability, credibility, and professionalism—qualities that have in turn forced the state-controlled media to make internal changes to compete. The majority of independent sites are run by teams of journalists on the island, who often work in concert with collaborators abroad. For example, while the independent news site 14ymedio has been blocked in Cuba, the editorial team is able to post content by emailing it to friends abroad. Cubans on the island can also subscribe to a weekly email digest of the digital newspaper, follow the news via Facebook, or request a daily WhatsApp digest of top stories with embedded links. These distribution methods are much more difficult to block, since they utilize popular social media applications that have many other uses in Cuba. (Similar strategies are used by Diario de Cuba, among many other independent digital platforms.) Users also access content from the site through proxies, VPN apps on their mobile devices, and offline versions that are shared via USB flash drives.1
Not all independent digital outlets consider themselves dissident operations. Sites such as Periodismo de Barrio, El Estornudo, and El Toque produce critical investigative journalism, while others such as Tremenda Nota, Vistar Magazine, Garbos, Play-Off, Negolution, and OnCuba report on a wide variety of topics, including entertainment, sports, fashion, entrepreneurship, and culture, while expressing a cross-section of views on social issues, such as LGBT+ topics.2 Three other recently launched independent digital projects are the data journalism sites Postdata Club and Inventario, and the independent news site ADN Cuba.3 Rounding out the alternative Cuban digital media landscape are the leaders of Cuba’s “digital diaspora,” sites run from abroad that closely monitor events on the island and often have Cuba-based reporters: Miami-based CubaNet and Madrid-based Diario de Cuba and Cuba Encuentro.
Independent journalism sites have been both innovative and influential by covering issues omitted in the official press, experimenting with new genres and formats, diversifying content-distribution spaces, establishing alliances with other national and international media, and winning awards, recognition, and sometimes financial support from a variety of international journalism organizations.4
Many of these emergent sites struggle to survive given the government’s open repression of nonaffiliated media outlets and the lack of a legal framework that would protect them. Cuba presently has no laws that allow for the legalization of independent media or the protection of user rights in a social media environment, nor is such legislation expected to be introduced.5
Many of these new, independent digital outlets are staffed not by political dissidents—as was the case with Cuba’s independent media for many years—but by young graduates from journalism programs at Cuban universities who refuse to work for the official media.
El Paquete Semanal (The Weekly Packet) has become a popular offline alternative for accessing music, movies, television series, content from mobile apps, magazines, and classifieds.6 However, given the routine self-censorship practiced by its compilers, particularly regarding sensitive political topics, some users feel it has become too tame. As a result, a more clandestine competitor, El Paketito (The Little Packet), has appeared in recent years, attempting to fill the gaps left by the more mainstream packet. The government has joined this battle over alternative digital media, with JCCEs producing their own compendium of material originally known as El Maletín (The Briefcase) and more recently La Mochila (The Backpack).7
The use of the podcast format and YouTube channels expanded domestically in the 18 months following the introduction of 3G mobile access and data plans, with numerous independent journalists, digital news outlets, and others launching their own programs. These include El Enjambre, hosted by El Toque, and Ventana 14, recorded by Yoani Sánchez, the director of 14ymedio.8
In November 2018 Twitter quietly made it possible for Cubans on the island to open personal accounts using their local telephone numbers, a change announced by state media.9 In June 2018, the ToDus app, known as the Cuban WhatsApp, was downloaded 200,000 times in the first two weeks following its launch, revealing local demand for a social media chat application.10
During the coverage period, as 3G and 4G mobile use expanded, Facebook garnered the largest share of users on social media. As of May 2020, the platform represented 73.6 percent of all traffic, followed by Pinterest (16.31 percent), YouTube (7.76 percent), and Twitter (1.93 percent), while Instagram and Tumblr had negligible shares.11 The availability of 3G has also made global communications apps more accessible and increasingly popular in Cuba, particularly WhatsApp.12
- 1. Tiffany Pham, “How She Did It: Yoani Sánchez Launches Cuban News Outlet 14ymedio,” Forbes, November 30, 2014, http://onforb.es/1yz5eDp.
- 2. Ted A. Henken, “Cuba’s Digital Millennials: Independent Digital Media and Civil Society on the Island of the Disconnected,” Social Research, Vol. 84, No. 2 (Summer 2017), https://muse.jhu.edu/article/668229; Daniel Wizenberg, “Special Report: New Cuban journalism emerges on the internet, beyond the official and opposition media,” Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, July 20, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20161003085509/https://knightcenter.utexas…; Sarah Marsh, “Millennials lead private media opening in Communist-run Cuba,” Reuters, September 16, 2016, http://reut.rs/2cvgQnk; “Connecting Cuba: More Space for Criticism but Restrictions Slow Press Freedom Progress,” Committee to Protect Journalists, September 28, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20170510001011/https://cpj.org/reports/2016…; Anne Nelson, “Cuba’s Parallel Worlds: Digital Media Crosses the Divide”, Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), August 30, 2016, http://www.cima.ned.org/publication/cubas-parallel-worlds-digital-media…; “Informes de la 72ª Asamblea General de la SIP – Cuba [Reports of the 72nd General Assembly of the SIP – Cuba],” Sociedad Interamericana de la Prensa (SIP), October 13, 2016, www.sipiapa.org/notas/1210773-cuba.
- 3. “Postdata.club,” Online Journalism Awards, 2018, https://awards.journalists.org/entries/postdata-club/; “Nosotros [About us],” Proyecto Inventario, [n.d.], https://proyectoinventario.org/nosotros/; “Acerca de ADN Cuba [About AND Cuba],” AND Cuba, [n.d.], https://adncuba.com/acerca-de-adn-cuba.
- 4. Elaine Díaz Rodríguez, “Cuba’s Emerging Media: Challenges, Threats, and Opportunities,” International Journalists’ Network, January 29, 2018, https://ijnet.org/en/blog/cuba%E2%80%99s-emerging-media-challenges-thre….
- 5. José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “¿Por qué Cuba es de los países con menor libertad en Internet? (Parte II y final) [Why Cuba is one of the countries with the least freedom on the Internet? (Part II and final)],” Yuca Byte, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/.
- 6. Emilio San Pedro, “Cuban internet delivered weekly by hand,” BBC News, August 9, 2015, http://bbc.in/1TjpO8x.
- 7. Luz Escobar, “El ‘paketito,’ un rival clandestino para el ‘paquete’ [The ‘paketito,’ a clandestine rival for the ‘paquete’],” 14ymedio, May 5, 2017, www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/paketito-rival-clandestino-paquete_….
- 8. Yoani Sánchez, “Lo que hemos podido hacer los cubanos con internet en los móviles [What we Cubans have been able to do with internet on mobile phones],” 14ymedio, December 6, 2019, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Cuba-internet-datos_moviles_0_2778922…; Yoani Sánchez, “Ventana 14 del 2 de septiembre de 2020 [Window 14 of September 2, 2020],” 14ymedio, September 2, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/blogs/ventana_14/; El Enjambre, @radioenjambre, https://twitter.com/radioenjambre?lang=en.
- 9. “Los cubanos ya pueden abrir cuentas de Twitter con su número telefónico local [Cubans can now open Twitter accounts with their local phone number],” 14ymedio, November 23, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/cubanos-pueden-cuentas-Twit….
- 10. “ToDus, el ‘WhatsApp Cubano’ creado por la UCI, suma 200.000 usuarios en una semana [ToDus, the ‘Cuban WhatsApp’ created by the UCI, reaches 200,000 users in one week],” Cibercuba, June 29, 2018, https://www.cibercuba.com/noticias/2018-06-29-u1-e192519-s27061-todus-w….
- 11. “Social Media Stats Cuba,” Statcounter GlobalStats, [n.d.], https://gs.statcounter.com/social-media-stats/all/cuba/#monthly-201906-….
- 12. Gabriela M. Fernández, “¿Qué redes sociales están de moda en la Cuba con datos? [What social networks are in fashion in Cuba with data?],” Fonoma (Blog), June 4, 2019, https://blog.fonoma.com/redes-sociales-cuba-91cd7c878bd7; “La “Cuba postdatos”: ¿Qué redes sociales usan los cubanos desde que pueden tener Internet en los móviles? [The “postdata Cuba:” What social networks do Cubans use since they can have Internet on their mobiles?],” Cibercuba, July 2, 2019, https://www.cibercuba.com/noticias/2019-07-02-u199691-e2-s27061-cuba-po….
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||3.003 6.006|
Although Cuba still has a low internet penetration rate, the use of social media sites has rapidly increased as mobile devices, Wi-Fi hotspots, and 3G and 4G mobile access become more common. The vast majority of users access these sites for nonpolitical ends and pointedly avoid controversial topics or political activism. Cubans only very rarely use the internet to organize large-scale campaigns around political objectives. However, smaller and more subtle actions do take place.
The introduction of 3G and 4G plans contributed to a number of online mobilization efforts, also known as infoactivismo, during the coverage period. For example, one campaign targeted ETECSA’s internet prices and service quality with the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet (Lower Internet Prices) and became a trending topic on Twitter in June 2019. Based on data analysis by Inventario, an independent data journalism organization, the campaign included 1,061 unique Twitter users and 7,412 tweets, including 5,156 retweets. While the effort took place mainly on consecutive Saturdays in June and July 2019, the hashtag remained in use throughout the remainder of 2019 as a way to periodically demand accountability from ETECSA. Government accounts, in turn, responded with #CubaInformatiza (Cuba Is Computerizing), along with hashtags referencing the US trade embargo.1 Separately, the hashtag #YoSoySnet (I Am SNET) proliferated beginning in June 2019, in protest against the closure of SNET.2 These online protests were preceded in February 2019 by a digital campaign that urged Cubans to either abstain from (#YoNoVoto) or vote “no” in (#YoVotoNo) the referendum on Cuba’s new constitution.
Other, similar online memes, movements, or collective denunciations that appeared in Cuban cyberspace during 2019—sometimes linked to public actions, marches, or protests—included profile pictures taken with the Cuban flag in solidarity with the Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who was punished for using the flag in one of his pieces, under the hashtag #LaBanderaEsDeTodos (The Flag Belongs to Us All); a challenge named #LaColaChallenge (The Line Challenge) by originators Norges Rodríguez and Taylor Escalona, who aimed to draw attention to the long lines in which Cubans have to wait for nearly all government-issued products and services; and the hashtag-enabled denunciation of rolling electricity blackouts after the government publicly claimed to have eliminated them (#ReportoApagonCuba, or Reporting Cuban Blackout). These efforts were accompanied by a digital protest against ETECSA for the poor quality and repeated dropped signals of its costly, pay-per-minute 3G mobile internet service (#ApagonEtecsa, or ETECSA Blackout); a digitally enabled, grassroots relief effort aimed at providing assistance to those displaced by a rare tornado that ripped through Havana neighborhoods in early 2019; an independently organized if government-approved march convened mostly through social media to prevent cruelty to animals; and an independent LGBT+ march spontaneously organized via social media after the island’s officially condoned and controlled annual march was canceled without explanation.
Social media have been used in support of independent journalists, whose detentions have been periodically denounced via sites like Twitter and Facebook, leading to their release. In addition, various mocking memes were shared during the coverage period in response to what were interpreted as cynical or dubious government pronouncements, including President Díaz-Canel’s televised explanation in September 2019 that continued economic problems and sharp fuel shortages were only “conyuntural” (conjunctural) or temporary problems.3
Unlike past leaders who frequently sought to portray social media and US-based technology companies as enemies of the state, Díaz-Canel has embraced them, arguing that the government should be active on such sites and services in order to combat what he sees as biased images of Cuba online.4 The president himself joined Twitter during the summer of 2018 and began posting about government policy, and he has encouraged his ministers and other top government officials to do the same. Camilo Condis, an entrepreneur and pioneering Twitter user on the island, has taken advantage of the government’s new presence on the platform to ask a variety of ministers a series of direct, often highly critical questions about policies. Though some have ignored or even blocked him, others have responded respectfully.5
A burgeoning sector of tech start-ups with websites and online and offline apps has also developed in recent years. Taking advantage of ETECSA’s 3G mobile service, a group of young programmers developed infrastructure for a Cuban ride-sharing service called Sube (Get In), and more than 2,000 people had downloaded the app by early 2019.6 Leading business directories include ConoceCuba, Isladentro, and AlaMesa, which focuses on private “paladar” restaurants. Other start-ups include Cubazon, a grassroots Cuban version of Amazon that allows users to order goods for delivery; Knales, a data retrieval app that allows users to gain access to web data via SMS; and Kwelta, a cultural calendar and publicity service.7
- 1. “#BajenLosPreciosDeInternet: Seguimiento de la campaña en Twitter [#BajenLosPreciosDeInternet: Follow-up of the campaign on Twitter],” Proyecto Inventario, August 25, 2019, https://proyectoinventario.org/bajenlospreciosdeinternet-bajen-precios-…; 14ymedio, “Cuban Customers Demand, For the Second Time, that Etecsa Lower Internet Prices,” Translating Cuba, June 16, 2018, https://translatingcuba.com/cuban-customers-demand-for-the-second-time-….
- 2. Cynthia de la Cantera Toranzo, “Internet por datos móviles cataliza el infoactivismo en Cuba: un resumen de 2019 [Mobile data internet catalyzes infoactivism in Cuba: a 2019 summary],” Yuca Byte, December 31, 2019, https://www.yucabyte.org/2019/12/31/infoactivismo-en-cuba-un-resumen-de…; Carmen Sesin and Orlando Matos, “In Cuba, gamers lament what they see as the end of the island's underground network,” NBC News, August 24, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/cuba-gamers-lament-what-they-see-en….
- 3. Cynthia de la Cantera Toranzo, “Internet por datos móviles cataliza el infoactivismo en Cuba: un resumen de 2019 [Mobile data internet catalyzes infoactivism in Cuba: a 2019 summary],” Yuca Byte, December 31, 2019, https://www.yucabyte.org/2019/12/31/infoactivismo-en-cuba-un-resumen-de…; “Influencers cubanas abren espacios de activismo en las redes [Cuban influencers open spaces for activism in the networks],” Inter Press Service en Cuba, February 3, 2020, https://www.ipscuba.net/espacios/cuba-20/red-cuba/influencers-cubanas-a…; Will Grant and Reha Kansara, “Cuba's digital revolution,” BBC World Service, October 16, 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct0044; Yoani Sánchez, “Lo que hemos podido hacer los cubanos con internet en los móviles [What we Cubans have been able to do with internet on mobile phones],” 14ymedio, December 6, 2019, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Cuba-internet-datos_moviles_0_2778922…; Glenda Boza Ibarra, “6 movilizaciones ciudadanas impulsadas por los datos móviles [6 citizen mobilizations driven by mobile data],” El Toque, December 9, 2019, https://eltoque.com/6-movilizaciones-ciudadanas-impulsadas-por-los-dato….
- 4. Sarah Marsh, “Cuba's president, steeped in era of hours-long lectures, turns to Twitter,” Reuters, December 18, 2018, https://it.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN1OH2K3; Sarah Marsh, “In tech-laggard Cuba, President Diaz-Canel launches twitter account,” Reuters, October 10, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-politics-twitter/in-tech-laggar…; “¿Cómo sería un presidente 2.0 en Cuba? [What would a 2.0 president be like in Cuba?],” OnCuba News, October 15, 2018, https://oncubanews.com/cuba/como-seria-un-presidente-2-0-en-cuba/.
- 5. “Cuba’s leaders adopt social media, not democracy,” The Economist, February 21, 2019, https://www.economist.com/the-americas/2019/02/23/cubas-leaders-adopt-s…; “Díaz-Canel creará un programa televisivo y una web para informar sobre su gestión [Díaz-Canel will create a television program and a website to report on his government],” 14ymedio, December 19, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Diaz-Canel-programa-televisivo-inform…; “Nueva sociedad civil desafía seis décadas de unanimidad en Cuba [New civil society challenges six decades of unanimity in Cuba],” Diario Libre, March 19, 2019, https://www.diariolibre.com/videos/nueva-sociedad-civil-desafia-seis-de…; “Cubans use new found social media heft to challenge leaders,” France 24, March 19, 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190319-cubans-use-new-found-social-media-….
- 6. Hatzel Vela, “Young Cubans develop app to help with island’s transportation woes,” Local 10, January 25, 2019, https://www.local10.com/news/cuba/young-cubans-develop-app-to-help-with…; Marissa Daniella, “Finally Uber in Cuba? The New Revolutionary App,” Marimundo, January 24, 2019, http://marimundo.com/uber-in-cuba/.
- 7. “TechCrunch panel -- three Cuban software companies,” The Internet in Cuba, May 30, 2017, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2017/05/techcrunch-panel-three-cuban-co…; “Los emprendedores cubanos, a la espera de un ‘punto de inflexión’ en internet [Cuban entrepreneurs, waiting for a 'turning point' on the internet],” 14ymedio, May 15, 2017, www.14ymedio.com/nacional/emprendedores-cubanos-espera-inflexion-intern….
The government outlaws a wide range of speech that is deemed to be counterrevolutionary or a threat to public order, most recently through Decree Law 370. During the coverage period, authorities invoked the law to impose short-term detentions, fines, and confiscation of devices as a means of harassing independent journalists, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Journalist Roberto Quiñones was sentenced to one year of correctional labor after refusing to pay a fine. LGBT+ activists and independent journalists were also targeted with online threats and intimidation that may have been linked to the state.
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||0.000 6.006|
The Cuban legal structure is not favorable to internet freedom, and the country lacks an independent judicial system that could counter government efforts to suppress independent online activity.
The constitution as updated in February 2019 explicitly subordinates freedom of speech to the objectives of a socialist society, and freedom of cultural expression is guaranteed only if such expression is not contrary to “the revolution.”1 Article 55 of the constitution states that ownership of the “fundamental means of social communication” are “the socialist property of all the people … and cannot be subject to any other type of ownership,” which essentially outlaws private media in Cuba. The constitution is silent about citizens’ rights of access to information or to ICTs, though a new access to information law will reportedly be published in July 2021.2 The only mention of the internet or cyberspace is in Article 16, which states that the country “defends the democratization of cyberspace … and condemns its use toward the subversion and destabilization of sovereign nations.”3
- 1. “Constitución de la República de Cuba [Constitution of the Republic of Cuba],” Granma, [n.d.], http://www.granma.cu/file/pdf/gaceta/Nueva%20Constituci%C3%B3n%20240%20….
- 2. José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “¿Por qué Cuba es de los países con menor libertad en Internet? (Parte II y final) [Why is Cuba one of the countries with the least freedom on the Internet? (Part II and final)],” Yuca Byte, June 5, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/.
- 3. Julio Antonio Fernández Estrada, Ariel Dacal Díaz, Eloy Viera Cañive, Jessica Dominguez Delgado, Julio Cesar Guanche, Raudiel Peña Barrios, and José Raul Gallego, “La Cuba que viene… Claves para comprender la reforma constitucional [The Cuba to come… Keys to understand the constitutional reform],” El Toque, [n.d.], https://constitucion.eltoque.com/.
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities?||0.000 4.004|
Online activity is subject to punishment under a variety of laws, including some with broader applications and others that are specific to ICT usage. Four measures that took effect during the coverage period—Decree Laws 370 and 389 and Resolutions 98 and 99—together constituted a serious threat to online expression, essentially codifying the surveillance, inspections, harassment, control, arbitrary detention, interrogation, fines, and confiscation of equipment that had already been routinely employed against independent online voices (see C3, C4, and C5).1
Decree Law 370, published in July 2019, prohibits the use of foreign servers to host vaguely defined “sites” under Article 68(f). Article 68(i) outlaws the spread, “through public data transmission networks,” of information against “the social interest, morals, good customs, and integrity of people.” The latter terms are also poorly defined. Violators are subject to “confiscation of the equipment and means used to commit the violations,” “temporary or permanent suspension of the license,” “closure of the facilities,” and disproportionate fines amounting to hundreds of US dollars.2 Agents from MINCOM can determine who to target under Article 68(i), with no judicial oversight.3
The penal code (Law 62, Fifth Section) sets penalties ranging from a few months to 20 years in prison for any activity considered to be a threat to the Cuban state or public order; one provision authorizes the state to detain, reeducate, or monitor anyone who shows a “proclivity to commit crime” by violating the norms of the socialist society.4 The Law to Protect Cuba’s National Independence and Economy (Law 88), passed in 1999, punishes any activity that threatens Cuban sovereignty or facilitates the US trade embargo. Anyone who passes information to the US government that could bolster the embargo can face up to 15 years in prison. Spreading subversive materials can incur a penalty of three to eight years in prison, while collaborating with foreign media outlets is punishable by up to five years in prison.5
In 1996, the government passed Decree Law 209, which states that the internet cannot be used “in violation of Cuban society’s moral principles or the country’s laws,” and that email messages must not “jeopardize national security.”6 In 2007, a network security measure, Resolution 127, banned the use of public data-transmission networks to spread information that is against the social interest, norms of good behavior, the integrity of people, or national security. The decree requires access providers to install controls that enable them to detect and prevent the proscribed activities, and to report them to the relevant authorities.7 Article 149 of the penal code prohibits “carrying out acts belonging to a profession for whose exercise one is not duly qualified,” which has been used to prosecute journalists for “usurpation of legal capacity.”
- 1. José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “¿Por qué Cuba es de los países con menor libertad en Internet? (Parte II y final) [Why is Cuba one of the countries with the least freedom on the Internet? (Part II and final)],” Yuca Byte, June 5, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/.
- 2. “The Situation of Human Rights in Cuba,” Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, February 3, 2020, http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Cuba2020-en.pdf.
- 3. Gaspar Pisanu, “Control de internet en su máxima expresión: Decreto 370 de Cuba [Internet control at its finest: Decree 370 of Cuba],” Access Now, November 21, 2019, https://www.accessnow.org/control-de-internet-en-su-maxima-expresion-de…; José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “¿Por qué Cuba es de los países con menor libertad en Internet? (Parte II y final) [Why is Cuba one of the countries with the least freedom on the Internet? (Part II and final)],” Yuca Byte, June 5, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/; José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “Sociedad civil cubana pide declarar inconstitucional el Decreto- Ley 370 [Cuban civil society asks to declare Decree-Law 370 unconstitutional],” Yuca Byte, June 8, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/08/sociedad-civil-cubana-pide-declarar….
- 4. National Assembly of the Republic of Cuba, “Código Penal – Art. 72 y 91 [Penal Code - Art. 72 and 91],” WIPO Lex, [n.d.], https://wipolex.wipo.int/en/text/242550.
- 5. María Salazar (translator), “International Guarantees and Cuban Law,” Committee to Protect Journalists, March 1, 2008, https://cpj.org/reports/2008/03/laws.php.
- 6. “Going Online in Cuba: Internet under Surveillance,” Reporters Without Borders, October 19, 2006, https://rsf.org/en/reports/going-online-cuba-internet-under-surveillance; “Decreto No. 209/96 [Decree Number 209 of 1996],” September 13, 1996, http://www.ordiecole.com/cuba/209-1996.pdf.
- 7. Giovanni Ziccardi, Resistance, Liberation Technology, and Human Rights in the Digital Age, Netherlands: Springer, 2013, 220.
|Are individuals penalized for online activities?||2.002 6.006|
Penalization for online activity is common, though in recent years the government has tended to employ short-term detentions, interrogations, legal harassment, and travel bans, as opposed to the lengthy prison terms favored in the past.1 Bloggers and online activists are often caught up in crackdowns that accompany political or social unrest.
The Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), a nongovernmental organization based in Spain, reported 3,157 arbitrary arrests of peaceful opponents during 2019, a notable increase over the 2,525 incidents documented in 2018. These detentions normally took place without legal oversight and were often “accompanied by home raids, fines, confiscation of belongings, beatings, and threats,” according to the OCDH.2 Such brief politically motivated detentions of dissidents and independent journalists were a key repressive tactic during the presidency of Raúl Castro, and they have continued in a similar fashion under Díaz-Canel.3 However, it is often impossible to determine whether the detentions are in retaliation for online speech specifically.
Dissident bloggers, independent journalists, and human rights defenders are subject to punishments ranging from searches and confiscation of equipment to fines and detentions. Many were also placed under house arrest and prevented from traveling abroad during the coverage period. One of the most severe cases was that of Roberto Quiñones, a lawyer and independent journalist at CubaNet, who in August 2019 was sentenced to one year of correctional labor for refusing to pay a fine. He had been arrested in April while covering a trial and was charged with “resistance” and “disobedience.” In September 2019, Quiñones entered the Guantánamo Provincial Prison and was still serving out his sentence at the end of the coverage period.4
Use of Decree Law 370 to penalize online activity accelerated during the first five months of 2020, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March. A total of 27 journalists and activists were each fined the equivalent of about $120 by MINCOM and state security agents, and nine of them also had their mobile phones seized, all under Article 68(i) of the law (see C2). The individuals interrogated, threatened, or fined under this law included El Estornudo journalist Mónica Baró, and those who were both fined and had their phones confiscated included journalist Iliana Hernández, Diario de Cuba journalist Boris González, and CubaNet journalist Camila Acosta. Sanctions against Acosta were imposed after she posted information about COVID-19 on Facebook.5 Other users have also been sanctioned under the decree. In July 2020, after the coverage period, a Cuban Facebook user reported that he had been fined after posting about hunger.6
Henry Constantín, the Cuban representative of the Inter-American Press Association (SIP) who also runs the independent news site La Hora de Cuba, was finally able to leave the country in March 2019 after travel restrictions were lifted, though after returning he was again prevented from leaving Cuba in June 2019.7 Accusations of “usurpation of legal capacity” had been levied against him in 2017, along with fellow journalist Sol García Basulto.
- 1. “Cuba – Events of 2015,” Human Rights Watch, [n.d.], accessed on September 18, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/cuba; Karen Phillips, “After the Black Spring, Cuba’s New Repression,” Committee to Protect Journalists, July 6, 2011, https://cpj.org/x/4472; Official reporting of political prisoners is not required for short-term detentions, which may explain the recent trend, see: Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (YouTube Channel), “Cuba: violaciones a DDHH,” September 23, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in0ROBMOHnw.
- 2. “2019 – Detenciones Arbitrarias [2019 – Arbitrary Detentions],” Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos, [n.d.], https://observacuba.org/informes-ddhh/detenciones-arbitrarias/2019-dete…; “Detenciones Arbitrarias por Provincias en 2018 [Arbitrary Detentions by Provinces in 2018],” Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos, [n.d.], https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1r2dMqlnqE-sRt4roMdkgXqDqfk8njMY….
- 3. “Cuba – Events of 2019,” Human Rights Watch, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/cuba.
- 4. “CPJ, Amnesty International, Article 19 urge Cuban President Díaz-Canel to release jailed journalist Roberto Quiñones,” Committee to Protect Journalists, May 2, 2020, https://cpj.org/2020/05/cuba-diaz-canel-roberto-quinones-release-impris….
- 5. Paola Nalvarte, “Cuban government imposes more limitations on independent journalism by censoring content on social networks during pandemic,” Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, April 28, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/20200501162507/https://knightcenter.utexas…; José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “Sociedad civil cubana pide declarar inconstitucional el Decreto- Ley 370 [Cuban civil society asks to declare Decree-Law 370 unconstitutional],” Yuca Byte, June 8, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/08/sociedad-civil-cubana-pide-declarar…; No a leyes dictadoras, @MovimientoCubanoPorLaLibertaddeExpresion, “Listado actualizado de multados en virtud del Decreto-Ley 370,” June 1, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/MovimientoCubanoPorLaLibertaddeExpresion/posts….
- 6. En #Cuba reprimido por denunciar el hambre en la isla [Reprimanded in #Cuba for denouncing hunger on the island], Cuba Rostros de la Represión, July 13, 2020, https://www.facebook.com/cubarostrosdelarepresion/videos/935612090246046.
- 7. 14ymedio, “Cuban Authorities Forbid Journalist Henry Constantin to Travel Outside Cuba,” Translating Cuba, June 21, 2019, https://translatingcuba.com/cuban-authorities-forbid-journalist-henry-c….
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||1.001 4.004|
Anonymity and encryption technologies are legally prohibited in Cuba.1 Web access points, such as Wi-Fi hotspots, cybercafés, and access centers, are closely monitored, and users are required to register with their identification information.2 MINCOM Resolution 99/2019 explicitly demands that service providers obtain approval before using encryption technology to protect the privacy of the information they transmit.3 Still, many Cubans with internet access on their phones, whether via a Wi-Fi hotspot or 3G or 4G mobile service, use encrypted communication services such as WhatsApp to communicate privately among trusted friends.
- 1. According to the Cuban Mission to the United Nations, encryption is only permissible if authorized by the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of the Interior, see: “Nota No.: 211/2015 [Note Number 211 of 2015 - Letter from the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the UN High Commission on Human Rights],” 2015, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Opinion/Communications/States/Cu…; Rolando Cartaya, “Critica Relator de ONU control a cifrado de datos personales en Cuba [UN Official Criticizes the Control of Encryption of Personal Data in Cuba],” MartiNoticias, June 24, 2015, https://www.radiotelevisionmarti.com/a/cuba-internet-derechos-encriptac….
- 2. Ellery Roberts Biddle, “Rationing the Digital: The Policy and Politics of Internet Use in Cuba Today,” Internet Monitor of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, July 2013, blogs.harvard.edu/internetmonitor/files/2013/07/IM_RationingtheDigital.pdf; Isbel Diaz Torres, “Wi-Fi for Cubans and Mobile E-Mail Service,” Havana Times, March 10, 2014, https://havanatimes.org/features/wi-fi-for-cubans-and-mobile-e-mail-ser…; Yoani Sánchez, “Unos días con Nauta [A few days with Nauta],” Radio Televisión Martí, March 25, 2014, https://www.radiotelevisionmarti.com/a/unos-d%C3%ADas-con-nauta/33334.h….
- 3. José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “¿Por qué Cuba es de los países con menor libertad en Internet? (Parte II y final) [Why is Cuba one of the countries with the least freedom on the Internet? (Part II and final)],” Yuca Byte, June 5, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/; Official Gazette No. 39, May 29, 2019, https://www.gacetaoficial.gob.cu/sites/default/files/goc-2019-o39.pdf.
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||1.001 6.006|
The constitution protects various forms of communication, and portions of the penal code establish punishments for the violation of the secrecy of communications and of users’ privacy, but these safeguards are frequently breached in practice. Surveillance of internet activity in Cuba is pervasive and frequently results in criminal cases or other reprisals for users deemed to have violated various laws.
Part of Decree Law 389, which was approved in November 2019 by the Council of State without review by Cuba’s National Assembly, formally authorizes investigators to engage in electronic surveillance and use the resulting information as evidence in criminal cases. The law permits “voice listening and recording, localization and following, photographs and image recording, intervention of any kind of communication, access to IT systems and other technical resources which allow the discovery of and proof of the crime.” Prior judicial approval is not required to conduct such surveillance.1
A 2013 decree from MINCOM reaffirmed the government’s continued monitoring of internet traffic, stating that ETECSA will immediately end a user’s access if he or she commits “any violation of the norms of ethical behavior promoted by the Cuban state.”2 Users must show their national identity cards and sign an agreement stating that they will not use the service for anything “that could be considered … damaging or harmful to public security”—a vague statement that can be applied to political dissent.3
Another form of surveillance takes place in public parks with Wi-Fi hotspots, where ciberclarias monitor other users and report when they detect visits to “suspicious” pages.4
ToDus and a national app store, launched in 2018, were both developed by Havana’s state-run UCI, in effect granting state authorities access to users’ personal data, and presumably to the communications that take place through those platforms.5 The government justifies these and other developments toward the “computerization” of Cuban society as part of its declared plan to reinforce Cuba’s “technological sovereignty.”6
In April 2020, the government released a coronavirus tracking app. It was developed by the UCI, in partnership with the education and health ministries and ETECSA.7
- 1. “Legalizan la vigilancia electrónica sin orden judicial en Cuba [Electronic surveillance without court order legalized in Cuba],” ADN Cuba, December 26, 2019, https://adncuba.com/noticias-de-cuba/derechos-humanos/legalizan-la-vigi…; José Antonio Evora, “A propósito del Decreto-Ley 389: “Esta conversación ahora mismo la están escuchando” [Regarding the Decree-Law 389: "This conversation is being listened to right now"],” Radio Televisión Martí, November 23, 2019, https://www.radiotelevisionmarti.com/a/a-prop%C3%B3sito-del-decreto-ley….
- 2. Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Cuba, “Gaceta Oficial No. 016 Extraordinaria de 27 de mayo de 2013, Resolución No. 197/2013 [Official Gazette No. 016 Extraordinary of May 27, 2013, Resolution Number 197 of 2013],” Juventud Rebelde, May 27, 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20140420185256/http://www.juventudrebelde.c….
- 3. Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Cuba, “Gaceta Oficial No. 016 Extraordinaria de 27 de mayo de 2013, Resolución No. 197/2013 [Official Gazette No. 016 Extraordinary of May 27, 2013, Resolution Number 197 of 2013],” Juventud Rebelde, May 27, 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20140420185256/http://www.juventudrebelde.c….
- 4. Orlando González, ““Ciberclarias”, un ejército que invade las redes sociales con cuentas falsas ["Ciberclarias," an army that invades social networks with fake accounts],” Cuba Net, May 21, 2019, https://www.cubanet.org/destacados/ciberclarias-un-ejercito-que-invade-….
- 5. Yoani Sánchez, “¿Quién vigila toDus? [Who watches toDus?],” 14ymedio, July 4, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/vigila-ToDus_0_2466953286.h….
- 6. “Cuban "technological sovereignty" -- a walled garden strategy?,” The Internet in Cuba, July 2, 2018, http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2018/07/cuban-technological-sovereignty….
- 7. “Feature: Cuba develops first COVID-19 tracking app,” Xinhua, April 26, 2020, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-04/26/c_139009053.htm.
|Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users?||0.000 6.006|
Internet service providers are required to register and retain the addresses of all traffic for at least one year.1 Reports indicate that the government routes most connections through proxy servers and is able to obtain user names and passwords through special monitoring software called Avila Link, which is installed at most ETECSA and public access points.2 In addition, delivery of email messages is consistently delayed, and it is not unusual for a message to arrive censored or without its attachments.
New legislation that would protect personal data was expected to be announced in February 2021.3
- 1. Ministry of Information and Communication, “Resolución n˚ 179/2008, Proveedores de servicios de acceso a Internet al público [Resolution Number 179 of 2008, Providers of internet access services to the public],” Informática jurídica, February 16, 2015, http://www.informatica-juridica.com/resolucion/resolucion-no-179-2008-p….
- 2. Lorenzo Franseschi-Bicchiera, “The Internet in Cuba: 5 Things You Need to Know,” Mashable, April 3, 2014, https://mashable.com/2014/04/03/internet-freedom-cuba/; Reporters Without Borders, “Enemies of the Internet 2014 - Cuba: Long live freedom (but not for the Internet)!,” United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), November 3, 2014, https://www.refworld.org/publisher,RSF,ANNUALREPORT,CUB,533925ba10,0.ht….
- 3. José Raúl Gallego Ramos, “¿Por qué Cuba es de los países con menor libertad en Internet? (Parte II y final) [Why is Cuba one of the countries with the least freedom on the Internet? (Part II and final)],” Yuca Byte, June 5, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/.
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities?||2.002 5.005|
Journalists and other prominent online voices frequently face violence by police who arrest or interrogate them, as well as intimidation tactics such as unjustified searches and equipment confiscation. Users who have been jailed for extended periods of time report being mistreated in custody. Many journalists working for nonstate media have experienced systematic harassment and threats, including death threats, and online smear campaigns.1 Quiñones of CubaNet was beaten by police following his arrest on trumped-up charges in April 2019 (see C3).
There were multiple instances of threats against and intimidation of independent journalists, SNET community members, and political activists in the context of interrogations by state security agents during the coverage period. In one of the most egregious cases, security officials held multiple threatening meetings with 14ymedio journalist Luz Escobar in order to dissuade her from continuing her work. Also notable were the threats against SNET member Ernesto de Armas that were intended to facilitate the breakup and takeover of the network. Independent journalists Iliana Hernández, Boris González, Nancy Alfaya, Camila Acosta, Waldo Fernández Cuenca, and Yoe Suárez were similarly threatened during their interrogations in the 2019–20 period.2
During the same period, numerous cyberbullying attacks, including death threats, were directed against LGBT+ activists and independent journalists, among others. Death threats delivered in May 2020 originated from a fake Facebook account and involved the exposure of private information about the individuals being attacked, indicating that Cuban state security agencies may have been behind them. Targets included independent online journalists Yosmany Mayeta and Maykel González Vivero, the Spain-based visual artist Nonardo Perea, and the writer Jorge Ángel Pérez.3 Independent journalist Ezequiel Fuentes was also harassed by a Facebook account believed to have been created by state security officials. After authorities arrested and confiscated the phone of YouTube content producer Nelson Julio Álvarez Mairata (known as Nexy J Show) in October 2019, his Facebook profile was altered to show support for the regime and to criticize freelance work.4
- 1. “La Asociación Pro Libertad de Prensa denuncia arrestos, confiscaciones y amenazas contra periodistas [The Pro Freedom of the Press Association denounces arrests, confiscations and threats against journalists],” 14ymedio, July 16, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Asociacion-Pro-Libertad-Prensa-confis…; “La falta de libertad para el periodismo sigue igual con Díaz-Canel [The lack of freedom for journalism remains the same with Díaz-Canel],” 14ymedio, October 19, 2018, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/libertad-periodismo-sigue-igual-Diaz-…; “Cuba – Informe ante la 74a Asamblea General 19 al 22 de octubre de 2018 [en] Salta, Argentina [Cuba - Report to the 74th General Assembly October 19-22, 2018 in Salta, Argentina],” Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, October 17, 2018, https://www.sipiapa.org/notas/1212719-cuba.
- 2. Darío Alemán Cañizares, “El precio de llamarse Luz Escobar [The Price of Being Called Luz Escobar],” Yuca Byte, February 21, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/02/21/el-precio-de-llamarse-luz-escobar/; Carla Gloria Colomé, “¿Quién diablos es la Seguridad del Estado? [Who the hell is State Security?],” El Estornudo, December 2, 2019, https://www.revistaelestornudo.com/luz-escobar-seguridad-estado-cuba/; Luz Escobar, “'Consejos' de la Seguridad del Estado a una reportera de '14ymedio' ['Advice' from State Security to a reporter from '14ymedio'],” 14ymedio, February 27, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/opinion/Consejos-Seguridad-reportera_0_2828717…; “Iliana Hernández, víctima del Decreto 370 [Iliana Hernández, a victim of the Decree 370],” 14ymedio, February 10, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Iliana-Hernandez-victima-Decreto_0_28…; “Dos periodistas citados por la Seguridad del Estado en medio de la crisis del coronavirus [Two journalists summoned by State Security amid the coronavirus crisis],” 14ymedio, March 28, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/Cuba-prensa-Covid-19-periodistas_0_28…; Luz Escobar, “Camila Acosta, una periodista libre a pesar de la represión [Camila Acosta, a free journalist despite the repression],” 14ymedio, March 11, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/entrevista/Camila-Acosta-periodista-pesar-repr…; Cuba's digital revolution,” BBC World Service, October 16, 2019, https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct0044; Ernesto de Armas, “"SNet no lucha por desacreditar a un Gobierno o establecer un nuevo orden político" ["SNet does not fight to discredit a government or establish a new political order"],” 14ymedio, August 16, 2019, https://www.14ymedio.com/nacional/SNet-desacreditar-Gobierno-establecer…; “'Te podemos aplicar la Ley del vago', amenaza la Policía al periodista de DIARIO DE CUBA Waldo Fernández Cuenca ['We can apply the Lazy Law to you,' the Police threaten DIARIO DE CUBA journalist Waldo Fernández Cuenca],” Diario de Cuba, May 14, 2020, https://diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1589486538_19819.html; Yoe Suárez, “La civilidad cansa: Crónica de una detención [Civility tires: Chronicle of an arrest],” Puente a la Vista, May 12, 2020, https://puentealavista.org/2020/05/la-civilidad-cansa-cronica-de-una-de…; “Informe anual de agresiones a periodistas. 154 casos en 2019 [Annual report of attacks on journalists. 154 cases in 2019],” Asociación Pro Libertad de Prensa, January 29, 2020, https://www.aplpcuba.org/index.php/documentos/categorias/anuales/255-ag….
- 3. “Amenazan de muerte a activistas y comunicadores LGBTI de Cuba [Cuban LGBTI activists and communicators threatened with death],” Cuba Net, May 28, 2020, https://www.cubanet.org/noticias/amenazan-de-muerte-a-activistas-y-comu….
- 4. “Homofobia y (ciber)acoso: las estrategias que usa el gobierno cubano contra periodistas LGBTI+ [Homophobia and (cyber) harassment: the strategies used by the Cuban government against LGBTI + journalists],” Tremenda Nota, October 24, 2019, https://web.archive.org/web/20200815133927/https://www.tremendanota.com….
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||1.001 3.003|
Technical attacks do not appear to be a primary method of censorship in the country, though some online outlets have reported them.1 The director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, said her Gmail account had been hacked in March 2019. A month earlier, various activists with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) dissident group reported that their social media accounts had been hacked after they used the platforms to report on human rights abuses by the government.2
- 1. Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez, “Cuban dissident blogger’s news site is hacked after going live,” Boston Globe, May 22, 2014, https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/world/2014/05/21/cuban-blogger-news-si…; See also: “Amnesty International Report 2014/15 – The State of the World’s Human Rights, Cuba,” Amnesty International, 2015, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/POL1000012015ENGLISH.PDF.
- 2. “Yoani Sánchez denuncia ataque informático [Yoani Sánchez denounces computer attack],” Periódico Cubano, March 26, 2019, https://www.periodicocubano.com/yoani-sanchez-denuncia-ataque-informati…; “Miembros de UNPACU reclaman hackeo de sus redes sociales [UNPACU members claim hacking of their social networks],” Periódico Cubano, March 26, 2019, https://www.periodicocubano.com/miembros-de-unpacu-reclaman-hackeo-de-s….
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score14 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score22 100 not free
Freedom in the World StatusNot Free