|A Obstacles to Access||4 25|
|B Limits on Content||9 35|
|C Violations of User Rights||7 40|
Internet freedom in Cuba continued to decline during the coverage period, as authorities took multiple repressive steps to disrupt protests that occurred throughout 2021. Despite improvements to technical infrastructure, Cuba has one of the lowest connectivity rates in the Western Hemisphere, regular internet access remains extremely expensive, and connections are poor. Authorities both monitor usage and work to direct traffic to the government-controlled intranet. The state engages in content-manipulation efforts and blocks independent news sites. Political dissent is punishable under a wide range of laws, including Decree Laws 35 and 370, which have been used in recent years to intimidate and silence online journalists. A widespread series of public antigovernment protests held in late 2020 and throughout 2021 were facilitated online, as Cubans circumvented government censorship through grassroots digital innovations. The authorities restricted internet connectivity, blocked social media and communications platforms, and selectively disrupted dissidents’ service in response.
Cuba’s one-party communist state 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 2021 that included the introduction of a new constitution and the April 2021 retirement of Raúl Castro as the Communist Party of Cuba’s (PCC) first secretary.
- To quell dissent amid historic protests in July 2021, Cuban officials restricted internet connectivity, blocked various social media and communications platforms and virtual private network (VPN) systems, and selectively disrupted the mobile and fixed-lines connections of activists and dissidents. While online tools were largely credited with sparking and sustaining the July protests, the harsh government clampdown that ensued stymied organizing efforts planned for later that year (see A3, B1, and B8).
- Decree Law 35 entered into effect in August 2021, imposing broad obligations on service providers to censor online content without judicial oversight or transparency measures (see B3 and C2).
- Approved in May 2022, Cuba’s new penal code further criminalizes online speech, establishing explicit and frequently heightened penalties for several alleged crimes carried out over digital networks, including slander and the use of social networks to organize protests (see C2).
- Authorities continued to use Decree Law 370 to arbitrarily detain, fine, and threaten independent journalists and digital activists, while Decree Law 35 was used for the first time to sanction activists. Users also faced prison sentences for their online activities, including one protester sentenced to six years in prison (and ultimately released on appeal two months later) for live streaming one of the early July 2021 antigovernment protests on Facebook (see C3).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||3.003 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 just over 71 percent in 2021, according to the most recent estimates from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)—up from 62.7 percent in 2018.1 These figures likely include both users with international internet access and those who irregularly access the government-controlled intranet, such as from school or the workplace.
The ITU also indicates that 17 percent of Cuban households had a computer and 31 percent had household internet access as of 2019—this includes Cubans covered by at least third-generation (3G) mobile service.2 In contrast, the Cuban government has reported that under 5 percent of Cuban homes have internet access via Nauta Hogar, a home asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) service provided by the state-run Telecommunications Company of Cuba SA (ETECSA).3 Electrical blackouts and scheduled power cuts pose a persistent threat to connectivity.4
ETECSA has expanded 3G access nationwide since initially rolling out the service in 2018.5 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
ETECSA introduced fourth-generation (4G) technology during the previous coverage period by setting up more radio bases. By the end of 2020, the government announced that there were nearly 1.5 million 4G users, equaling 25.6 percent of mobile coverage. As of February 2021, the Ministry of Communications reported that 4.2 million of the 7 million people with internet access went online through mobile phones, indicating that in just over two years this form of access has outpaced all others.7
Devices that use Global Positioning System (GPS) technology or satellite connections are explicitly prohibited by Cuban customs regulations.8 Additional restrictions are placed on modems, wireless faxes, and satellite dishes, which require special permits to enter the country.9 However, in 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.
Regulations that took effect in July 2019 allow home-based networks but effectively outlaw large community networks, like Havana’s popular private network, known as SNET, 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 the ETECSA, which placed the network under the direction of the Union of Communist Youth (UJC), with access provided through Youth Computer Clubs (JCCEs).
Restrictions on home network equipment—which include fees for personal use and stringent licensing requirements for commercial use10 —have not completely stopped the entry of various devices into Cuba. Signal-amplification devices allow users to share Wi-Fi signals from ETECSA hotspots; such technologies enable many Cubans to gain access to the internet at their home or office.11
Since 2014, Cuban authorities have worked to develop relationships with US information and communication technology (ICT) companies including Verizon, Google, and Sprint (now T-Mobile), which offer some services to the island.12 In 2019, Google and Cuba made the joint announcement that they had signed a memorandum of understanding 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.13 As of July 2022, no further development on the details agreement had been publicly shared.
- 1National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), “Tecnología de la Información y las Comunicaciones - Indicadores Seleccionados,” [Information and Communication Technology – Selected Indicators],” covering January-December 2020, published August 2021, http://www.onei.gob.cu/sites/default/files/tic._indicadores_seleccionad…; “Percentage of Individuals using the Internet (excel),” International Telecommunication Union (ITU), accessed October 3, 2022, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx.
- 2“Country ICT data (latest available data),” International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 2021, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx.
- 3Yoani Sánchez, “Internet en los hogares cubanos: una historia de fracasos,” 14ymedio, December 17, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/opinion/Internet-hogares-cubanos-historia-frac…; “Internet en las casas cubanas, sin prisa y con mucha pausa,” 14ymedio, March 4, 2021, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/Nauta_Hogar-internet-Etecsa…; “Nauta Hogar: ni para todos los hogares, ni para todos los bolsillos,” Yucabyte, March 11, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/03/11/internet-hogares-nauta/.
- 4“Los apagones, un crónico factor de descontento en Cuba [Blackouts, a chronic factor of discontent in Cuba],” EFE, La Habana, 4 May 4, 2022, https://www.swissinfo.ch/spa/cuba-apagones_los-apagones--un-cr%C3%B3nic…; “¿Qué pasa con los apagones en cuba? [What about the blackouts in Cuba?],” El Toque, May 26, 2022, https://eltoque.com/que-pasa-con-los-apagones-en-cuba; David Lopez Cruz, “APAGONES EN CUBA: LUZ INTERMITENTE [BLACKOUTS IN CUBA: INTERMITTENT LIGHT],” El Toque, May 27, 2022, https://eltoque.com/apagones-en-cuba-luz-intermitente
- 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“Las tarifas de Etecsa seguirán prohibitivas pero ahora se pagarán en pesos en lugar de CUC,” 14ymedio, December 13, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/Etecsa-anuncia-precios-similares-actuales…; “Después de un ‘apagón’ de dos horas en Cuba, vuelven internet y los datos móviles,” 14ymedio, February 12, 2021, https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/apagon-electricidad-internet_0_3039296051….
- 8General 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.
- 9See Website of the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba http://www.aduana.gob.cu/.
- 10“Cuba legaliza la importación y uso de equipos inalámbricos para redes privadas de Internet,” Directorio Cubano, May 29, 2019, https://www.directoriocubano.info/noticias/legaliza-cuba-la-importacion….
- 11Marcelo 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.
- 12Mimi 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….
- 13“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…; Ricardo Martínez, “On Telegram, Cubans are coming together to revolutionize the internet,” Rest of World, May 5, 2021, https://restofworld.org/2021/cuba-internet-google/.
|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 fixed-line internet service is still very high for most 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 who earn the average monthly salary cannot afford access to 3G or 4G services. Many potential customers would also have to upgrade their second-generation (2G) technology–enabled phones before being able to access the new network through paid plans. At the time of the 3G service launch, customers could opt either for pay-as-you-go access at a rate of 10 cents per megabyte (MB) for access to the global internet, or 2 cents per MB for access to the national intranet.2 They could alternatively sign up for a monthly service plan at one of the following four rates: 7 convertible Cuban pesos (CUC) for 600 MB, 10 CUC for 1 gigabyte (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.3
In conjunction with the elimination of the CUC and the so-called “monetary ordering” that began on January 1, 2021, the ETECSA announced that prices would largely remain the same, but they would be paid exclusively in Cuban national pesos (CUP). 4 For example, pay-as-you-go access would cost 2.50 CUP ($0.10) per MB for global internet access and .50 CUP ($0.02) per MB for domestic intranet access. Likewise, monthly service plans would cost 175 CUP ($7) for 600 MB, 250 CUP ($10) for 1 GB, 500 CUP ($20) for 2.5 GB, and 750 CUP ($30) for 4 GB. The largest mobile data plan of 14 GB of data, which previously cost 45 CUC, now would cost users 1,125 CUP ($50).5
The rates for phone and internet access remain exorbitant by international standards. With Cuba’s monthly minimum wage adjusted to 2,100 CUP ($84) after January 1, 2021, a resident of Cuba would still have to pay nearly 10 times that amount (20,000 CUP, or $800 per month) for full-time Nauta Hogar service, as no flat-rate plans exist.
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 urban users, and the use of various signal-amplification devices to share or sell Wi-Fi signals.6 Networks like SNET, however, were effectively declared illegal in 2019 (see A1). Two popular apps that aid Cubans in sharing digital data are Zapya, which allows for 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, Psiphon, allows users to create a 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, and Diario de Cuba.7
- 1Glenda 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“Tarifas,” ETECSA, [n.d.], http://www.etecsa.cu/telefonia_movil/tarifas/.
- 3“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….
- 4“Las tarifas de Etecsa seguirán prohibitivas pero ahora se pagarán en pesos en lugar de CUC [Etecsa rates will remain prohibitive but will now be paid in pesos instead of CUC],” 14ymedio, December 13, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/Etecsa-anuncia-precios-similares-actuales…; Yoani Sánchez, “Internet en los hogares cubanos: una historia de fracasos [Internet in Cuban homes: a history of failures],” 14ymedio, December 17, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/opinion/Internet-hogares-cubanos-historia-frac…; “Internet en las casas cubanas, sin prisa y con mucha pausa [Internet in Cuban homes, without haste and with a lot of pause],” 14ymedio, March 4, 2021, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/Nauta_Hogar-internet-Etecsa….
- 5@ETECSA_CUBA, Photo captioned “Navegación en internet por datos móviles [Internet browsing by mobile data],” Twitter, December 12, 2020, https://twitter.com/ETECSA_Cuba/status/1337943862774534146/photo/1.
- 6Antonio 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….
- 7“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….
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||1.001 6.006|
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because authorities restricted internet connectivity across the island and blocked WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal, amid historic nationwide protests in July 2021.
The backbone infrastructure of the internet in Cuba is entirely government-controlled, 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.
In July 2021, Cuban officials restricted internet connectivity and blocked various VPNs, social media, and communications platforms, including WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal, amid widespread protests (see B1).1 The protests, which were the largest in the country since the 1959 revolution, were sparked by discontent over a wide range of issues, including access to COVID-19 vaccines, food supply shortages, economic difficulties, and restrictions on human rights (see B8). 2 The disruptions began on July 11—the first day with a major protest—when Cuba’s monopoly telecommunications service provider, the ETECSA, ceased internet service across the island for 30 minutes.3 Widespread, intermittent outages persisted for several hours,4 and full connectivity did not return until 72 hours following the initial shutdown.5
In addition to the general outages, individual activists and dissidents reported that their mobile and fixed-lines connections had been selectively disrupted, with the apparent goal of preventing their ability to organize or report on harassment at the hands of authorities.6 The authorities targeted many individuals with selective disruptions throughout the coverage period, a known government tactic that has been used to quell dissent beyond the July protests.7 Some experienced these disruptions—which are regularly paired with strategic reductions in mobile or internet speeds and are sometimes also applied to family members and those close to targeted dissidents or political prisoners—for months, while others reported intermittent, hours-long service cuts meant to tamper dissent around significant events like national holidays and the arrests or trials of activists or political prisoners.8
In 2020, the government imposed widescale connectivity restrictions following the historic November 26 protest, coordinated via social media after the government raided the headquarters of the activist and artistic collective Movimiento San Isidro (MSI) (see B8). Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and WhatsApp were made inaccessible, and mobile data and home-based subscribers experienced widespread service interruptions.9 The data journalism project Inventario identified almost 80 localized mobile-service disruptions in the aftermath of that protest, from November 28 to December 31.10 Activists and well-known journalists also faced restrictions after the immediate postprotest period. Members of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press (ICLEP) reported restrictions in late February 2021 and artists and activists were again targeted in mid-April.11 Earlier, in June 2020, the ETECSA suspended the mobile service of around 20 independent activists and journalists as part of a state security operation intended to prevent their attendance at a gathering to protest the police killing of Afro-Cuban Hansel Hernández.12
- 1@DougMadory, “Countrywide internet outages in Cuba following widespread anti-government protests. #KeepItOn According to @kentikinc data, internet traffic to/from Cuba dropped to zero at 20:05 UTC (4:05pm local).,” Twitter, July 11, 2021, https://twitter.com/DougMadory/status/1414327987525275659; @OpenObservatory, “Today OONI data shows that #Cuba started blocking WhatsApp, Telegram & Signal amid protests. Blocking appears to be happening by injecting a TCP RST packet during the TLS handshake.,” Twitter, July 12, 2021, https://twitter.com/openobservatory/status/1414622433156476930; @invntario, “Empleada de @ETECSA_Cuba le informa a un cliente el lunes 12 de julio que la falta de internet es una interrupción a nivel nacional, una decisión tomada por la máxima dirección del país,” https://twitter.com/invntario/status/1415851450639425538; Proyecto Inventario, “Manifestaciones en Cuba, domingo 11 de julio 2021,” https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1AQAArlWutvq3eqA2nK_WObSuj….
- 2Hannah Berkley Cohen, “Did Cuba really shut down the internet to quell protests?” Rest of World, July 14, 2021, https://restofworld.org/2021/cuba-internet-shut-down/; Ted Henken, “Cubans Are Proving That the Internet Can Still Be a Force for Democracy,” Slate, July 14, 2021, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/07/cuba-internet-protests-web…;
- 3José de Córdoba, Santiago Pérez and Drew FitzGerald, “Cuban Protests Were Powered by the Internet. The State Then Pulled the Plug,” The Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/internet-powered-mass-protests-in-cuba-the…
- 4Barbara Ortutay, Frank Bajak and Tali Arbel, “Cuba’s internet cutoff: A go-to tactic to suppress dissent,” AP News, July 12, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/business-technology-cuba-ca1ae7975e04481e8cb…
- 5Ed Augustin and Daniel Montero, “Why the internet in Cuba has become a US political hot potato,” The Guardian, August 3, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/03/why-the-internet-in-cuba-…; “Cuba restores internet access after protests, but not social media,” France 24, July 14, 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210714-cuba-restores-internet-a…
- 6José de Córdoba, Santiago Pérez and Drew FitzGerald, “Cuban Protests Were Powered by the Internet. The State Then Pulled the Plug,” The Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/internet-powered-mass-protests-in-cuba-the…
- 7“Los internautas cubanos denuncian el "bloqueo intermitente" de las redes sociales [Cuban Internet users denounce the “intermittent blocking” of social networks]” 14ymedio, November 30, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/internautas-denuncian-bloqueo-intermitent….
- 8“Cuba: derechos digitales en crisis (7-21 de enero de 2022) [Cuba: digital rights in crisis (January 7-21, 2022)],” YucaByte, January 21, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/01/21/derechos-digitales-34/; “Cuba: derechos digitales en crisis (19 de marzo- 8 de abril de 2022) [Cuba: digital rights in crisis (March 19-April 8, 2022)],” YucaByte, April 11, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/04/11/derechos-digitales-38/; “Cuba: derechos digitales en crisis (18 de febrero-19 de marzo de 2022) [Cuba: digital rights in crisis (February 18-March 19, 2022)],” YucaByte, March 21, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/03/21/derechos-digitales-37/; “Cuba: derechos digitales en crisis (4-18 de febrero de 2022) [Cuba: digital rights in crisis (February 4-18, 2022)],” YucaByte, February 22, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/02/21/derechos-digitales-36/; “Cuba: derechos digitales en crisis (7-21 de enero de 2022) [Cuba: digital rights in crisis (January 7-21, 2022)],” YucaByte, January 21, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/01/21/derechos-digitales-34/; “Cuba: derechos digitales en crisis (21 de enero- 4 de febrero de 2022) [Cuba: digital rights in crisis (January 21- February 4, 2022)],” YucaByte, February 5, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/02/05/derechos-digitales-35/
- 9OONI Explorer search, https://explorer.ooni.org/search?probe_cc=CU&probe_asn=AS27725&since=20…; “Social media disrupted in Cuba amid protests for artistic freedom,” Netblocks, November 30, 2020, https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-disrupted-in-cuba-amid-prote….
- 10“Protestas y represión tras la manifestación en MINCULT,” Inventario, mapa de Google, December 2020-January 2021, https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1ouJ32Ngi8YqFuAME7J1dIlqSk0azw…; “Los internautas cubanos denuncian el bloqueo intermitente de las redes sociales,” 14ymedio, November 30, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/internautas-denuncian-bloqueo-intermitent….
- 11“Después de un ‘apagón’ de dos horas en Cuba, vuelven internet y los datos móviles,” 14ymedio, February 12, 2021, https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/apagon-electricidad-internet_0_3039296051…; “Suspenden acceso de internet a más de 50 activistas y periodistas,” Yucabyte, March 5, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/03/05/suspenden-acceso-internet/; “Tania Bruguera y José Daniel Ferrer denuncian corte de internet,” Yucabyte, March 10, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/03/10/bruguera-ferrer/; “ETECSA deja incomunicados a periodistas, artistas y activistas,” Yucabyte, April 12, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/04/12/etecsa-bloqueo/; “ETECSA inhabilita telefonía móvil a Ferrer y Oscar Casanella,” Yucabyte, April 15, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/04/15/etecsa-casanella-ferrer/; “Jorge Luis Capote e Iliana Hernández denuncian cortes de servicio cellular,” Yucabyte, April 13, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/04/13/iliana-jorge-internet-cuba/; “Régimen cubano corta internet para controlar voces disidentes,” ADNCuba, March 4, 2021, https://adncuba.com/noticias-de-cuba/actualidad/cuba-corta-internet-par…
- 12“Cuba: Protest Over Police Killing Suppressed,” Human Rights Watch, July 28, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/28/cuba-protest-over-police-killing-su…; 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, the ETECSA, is owned by the state.1 Cubacel, a subsidiary of ETECSA, is the only mobile service provider.
In 2013, the 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 August 2021, the government published legal regulations officially allowing the formation of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Private internet and mobile service providers remain explicitly banned. A 2021 decree outlining permissible MSME activities does not authorize them to conduct business related to information, communication, and telecommunications.3
- 1The 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“Cuba limita emprendimientos vinculados a las telecomunicaciones [Cuba limits enterprises linked to telecommunications],” YucaByte, August 21, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/08/21/cuba-limita-telecomunicaciones/; Darcy Borrero Batista, “Telecomunicaciones en Cuba, un negocio millonario a pesar del embargo [Telecommunications in Cuba, a millionaire business despite the embargo],” YucaByte, February 2, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/02/02/etecsa-embargo/.
|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
- 1For 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….
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||2.002 6.006|
Cuban authorities have blocked social media and communications platforms around protests, including during the coverage period. Multiple Cuban independent news outlets are also blocked, and the government recently began blocking non-Cuban news sites that do not focus on Cuban content.
In July 2021, Cuban officials temporarily restricted internet connectivity and blocked numerous social media and communications platforms amid widespread protests, though the duration of the restrictions remains unclear (see A3 and B8). The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) first noted disruptions to WhatsApp on July 11, and disruptions to Telegram and Signal the following day, which OONI network measurements suggest had largely ceased by around a week later.1 OONI data also revealed the temporary blocking of Facebook and TikTok in the days following July 11; while some reports suggest that access to Instagram was also partially disrupted, OONI network measurements did not identify signs of blocking on Instagram.2 When internet access was restored on July 14, apps including Facebook and WhatsApp reportedly remained blocked on 3G and 4G networks.3 Most VPNs were also reportedly blocked; those that remained accessible, like Psiphon and TunnelBear, saw exponential growth in Cuban usership around this time (see B8).4
Previously, Cuban internet users reported that Telegram was inaccessible for approximately five weeks starting in October 2020, along with several popular VPNs (see A3).5 The platform was also blocked the following month during a major protest, alongside Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp (see A3 and B8).
The ETECSA commonly blocks dissident or independent news outlets and the sites of Cuban activists and dissident organizations, and recently began blocking foreign news outlets that do not focus exclusively on Cuban content. The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, the latter a Miami-based Spanish-language daily that heavily covers Cuba that had previously been sporadically available in Cuba, were both reportedly blocked as of December 2020.6 The websites of other foreign news outlets—including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), El País, and the Financial Times—remain accessible in Cuba.
Leading Cuban news and journalism sites that are blocked in Cuba include El Estornudo, 14ymedio, Diario de Cuba, Cibercuba, CubaNet, Cuba Encuentro, Periódico Cubano, Association for Freedom of the Press, Gato Pardo, Tremenda Nota, Proyecto Inventario, Rialta, and Martí Noticias.7 The petition sites Change.org and Avaaz.org—on which activists have circulated demands that the Cuban government respect fundamental human rights online and offline and denounced Decree Law 370 and ideological discrimination at Cuban universities—were blocked in 2019 and May 2020, respectively.8 Access to the blocked outlets was generally possible only through a VPN. Several anonymity and circumvention tools such as Anonymouse are also blocked.9
Reports indicate that Cuba has begun to use Chinese technology in its ongoing effort to block and filter some online content. A June 2020 report by the cybersecurity organization Qurium concluded that the government may use blocking technologies developed by Chinese companies, including deep packet inspection (DPI) tools.10 A Cuban programmer interviewed by 14ymedio reported evidence of DPI blocking during the October 2020 blocking of VPNs (see A3), which he attributed to Chinese technology.11
- 1José de Córdoba, Santiago Pérez and Drew FitzGerald, “Cuban Protests Were Powered by the Internet. The State Then Pulled the Plug,” The Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/internet-powered-mass-protests-in-cuba-the…
- 2Communication from Open Observatory of Network Interference, email, August 11, 2022
- 3“Cuba restores internet access after protests, but not social media,” France 24, July 14, 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210714-cuba-restores-internet-a…
- 4Marianne Díaz Hernández, “’¡Patria y vida!’: Cuba cuts internet access to gag protesters,” Access Now, July 15, 2022, https://www.accessnow.org/patria-y-vida-cuba/
- 5“Anomaly: Telegram is likely blocked,” OONI Explorer, October 20, 2020, https://explorer.ooni.org/measurement/20201020T144432Z_telegram_CU_2772…
- 6Claudia Padrón Cueto, “Con tecnología china y muchos recursos, el Gobierno cubano intensifica la censura en internet,” 14ymedio, December 7, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/tecnologia-recursos-Gobiern….
- 7Claudia Padrón Cueto, “Con tecnología china y muchos recursos, el Gobierno cubano intensifica la censura en internet,” 14ymedio, December 7, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/tecnologia-recursos-Gobiern….
- 8Claudia Padrón Cueto, “Con tecnología china y muchos recursos, el Gobierno cubano intensifica la censura en internet,” 14ymedio, December 7, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/tecnologia-recursos-Gobiern….
- 9Maria 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/.
- 10“Internet blocking in Cuba – “Silencing dissidents in the name of moral and good manners,” Qurium, June 8, 2020, https://www.qurium.org/alerts/internet-blocking-in-cuba-silencing-disse….
- 11Claudia Padrón Cueto, “Con tecnología china y muchos recursos, el Gobierno cubano intensifica la censura en internet,” 14ymedio, December 7, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cienciaytecnologia/tecnologia-recursos-Gobiern…; INTERNET BLOCKING IN CUBA – “SILENCING DISSIDENTS IN THE NAME OF MORAL AND GOOD MANNERS” in Alerts / Cuba tagged Cuba / Internet blocking June 8, 2020 https://www.qurium.org/alerts/internet-blocking-in-cuba-silencing-disse….
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||1.001 4.004|
Since the implementation of Decree Law 370 in July 2019—popularly known in Cuba as the Ley Azote (Whip Law)—Cubans have experienced increased pressure to delete and discontinue their coverage of the government on social media (mainly on Facebook) and on Cuba’s crop of new independent digital news outlets (see C1 and C2).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 locally hosted websites. Most 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). Article 71 authorizes the seizure of work equipment used to connect to the internet, which also restricts independent outlets in Cuba.2
In November 2021, amid attempts by opposition group Archipiélago to hold a nationwide antigovernment protest and call for the release of those detained in the July protests, reports emerged that US-based digital platforms, including newsletter platform MailChimp, had shut down accounts belonging to Cuban media outlets (like Periodismo de Barrio) due to restrictions imposed by the US government’s decades-old embargo on Cuba.3 Independent journalists, including one for independent online outlet Comunitario Amanecer Habanero, also accused Facebook of restricting their ability to post in groups and share content around this time. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, denied doing so due to government pressure, pointing instead to spam policies. 4
- 1Carla 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….
- 2Gaspar 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….
- 3Vera Bergengruen, “‘Give Us a Break!’ Cuban Activists Say U.S. Sanctions Are Blocking Them from Online Services,” Time, November 19, 2021, https://time.com/6121348/cuban-activists-sanctions-blocked-platforms/; Lidia Hernández-Tapia and Alex González Ormerod, “Mailchimp temporarily banned Cuban media outlets,” Rest of World, November 17, 2021, https://restofworld.org/2021/mailchimp-ban-cuba-media-embargo/.
- 4Graham Keeley, “Cuban Journalists Say Facebook Curbs Ability to Work,” VOA News, November 26, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/a/cuban-journalists-say-facebook-curbs-ability-…
|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 the ETECSA to prevent users from accessing 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
In April 2021, the National Assembly approved Decree Law 35, “On Telecommunications, Information and Communication Technologies, and the Use of the Radioelectric Spectrum.” The law, which entered into effect in August 2021, imposes a wide range of obligations on service providers, including to “implement technical measures” that limit the use of the services used to transmit false information, content that “affects personal and family privacy,” content that affects “the identity, integrity and honor of the person,” and a wide range of other purported harms.3 Service providers are also directed to suspend users who transmit such information. Decree Law 35 does not establish procedures for judicial oversight, transparency measures, or appeals processes.4 According to an analysis from Cubalex, the law may be interpreted to apply to social media companies.5
- 1Ministry 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.
- 2Ministry 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….
- 3“Cuba: Telecommunications Decree Curtails Free Speech,” Human Rights Watch, August 25, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/25/cuba-telecommunications-decree-curt…; Lioman Lima, “Decreto Ley 35: las nuevas regulaciones en Cuba para condenar a los que hablen mal del gobierno en redes sociales,” BBC News Mundo, August 19, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-58272680.
- 4Gaceta Oficial No. 92 Ordinaria de 17 de agosto de 2021, Republic of Cuba, August 17, 2021, https://media.cubadebate.cu/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/goc-2021-o92-com….
- 5“Nuestros abogados opinan sobre el Decreto-Ley 35, recién aprobado por el Consejo de Estado y el Consejo de Ministros,” Cubalex, August 17, 2021, https://cubalex.org/2021/08/17/nuestros-abogados-opinan-sobre-el-decret….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||1.001 4.004|
Online journalists, commentators, and users frequently self-censor to avoid repercussions from the state, including harassment, criminal prosecution, detention, and travel bans. These threats, exacerbated by the passage of legislation seeking to further criminalize online speech in recent years, have led some independent journalists to cease or suspend their online reporting entirely (see C2, C3, and C7). 1
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 tolerance. 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.2 Journalists who work for the state media also reportedly practice self-censorship.3
In recent years, multiple journalists, journalism professors, and students have been expelled from their state positions or universities for publishing in “enemy” media outlets, including online outlets. The restrictions further engrained the practice of self-censorship among Cuban journalists who wish to keep state-media posts.4
- 1Cynthia De La Cantera Toranzo, “La Seguridad del Estado busca frenar el ejercicio de hacer periodismo,” YucaByte, May 9, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/05/09/cynthia/; “Cuban activists applaud U.S. decision to exclude Cuba from Summit of the Americas,” NPR, June 6, 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/06/06/1103252622/cuban-activists-applaud-u-s-d….
- 2“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…
- 3Bajo 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….
- 4Ted A. Henken, “José Raúl Gallego: ‘Journalism is Not Compatible with Totalitarianism’,” No Country Magazine, April 21, 2021, https://nocountrymagazine.com/journalism-is-not-compatible-with-totalit…; Ted A. Henken, “Who is Karla Pérez and why is the Cuban government forbidding her return to Cuba? No Country Magazine, March 23, 2021, https://nocountrymagazine.com/who-is-karla-perez-and-why-is-the-cuban-g…; “Política intervencionista y de violación contra la libertad académica y la autonomía universitaria en Cuba,” Observatorio de Libertad Académica, Informe No. 5, https://adncuba.com/sites/default/files/2021-01/Politica_intervencionis….
|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 designed to maintain the dominance of progovernment outlets and narratives and discredit independent sources of information.
According to the 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation, by the Computational Propaganda Project, many actors within Cuba, including government agencies, employ coordinated networks that manipulate social media by spreading disinformation, amplifying progovernment 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 misleadingly neglected to mention website blocking or Cubans’ use of encryption tools and VPNs to circumvent censorship.3
In 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 had posted progovernment messages on Twitter during the 2018 parliamentary and provincial election period.5 Many Twitter accounts promoting misleading photos with political propaganda also appeared in the lead-up to the 2019 constitutional referendum.6
The Associated Press reported in 2018 that the ruling PCC’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.7
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.
- 1Samantha Bradshaw and Philip N. Howard, “The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation,” The Computational Propaganda Project, September 26, 2019, https://demtech.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-….
- 4Sarah 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….
- 5Orlando 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….
- 6Camilo 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.
- 7Andrea 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 2019, Decree Law 370 went into effect, further restricting independent media 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” (see B2).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 February 2021, the government announced a list of 124 prohibited private-sector occupations, including the printing, editing, and designing of books, newspapers, and magazines.6 While the 2019 constitution stated that the mass media was public and could not be private, the 2021 prohibition policy dashed the hopes that a loophole would be allowed to legalize some portion of the independent press, including online outlets. The list replaced a previous register of 127 permitted private occupations. The February 2021 rules permit computer programming, which had been previously barred. 7
- 1Carolina 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….
- 2No 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….
- 4According 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.
- 5Jonathan 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.
- 6Nora Gámez Torres, “Cuba private sector expansion bars independent journalists, engineers and these other jobs,” Miami Herald, February 10, 2021, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/artic….
- 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 and reliability?||1.001 4.004|
Despite the persistence of severe restrictions on media outlets that are not controlled by the PCC, grassroots and citizen-led media initiatives have succeeded in developing a significant online presence. Since 2014, Cuba has seen the appearance of several independent or alternative digital media platforms covering a broad and diverse spectrum of themes from a variety of professional and political viewpoints. While the government still holds a monopoly on mass media—especially print, radio, and television—it has lost that position in the digital sphere due to the emergence of these independent projects, whose impact has grown significantly since 2018 as more people have gained access to the internet via 3G mobile data.
As the number of independent digital media sites has surged, their reliability, credibility, and professionalism have also drastically improved—qualities that have in turn forced the state-controlled media to make internal changes to compete.1 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 14ymedio is blocked in Cuba, the editorial team posts 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, Tremenda Nota, El Toque, and many other independent digital platforms. Users also access content from the site through proxies, VPNs on their mobile devices, and offline versions that are shared via USB flash drives.
The use of the podcast format and YouTube channels expanded domestically following the introduction of 3G services in 2018, with numerous independent journalists, digital news outlets, and others launching their own programs. As of fall 2021, there were reportedly more than 220 podcasts produced in-country or largely directed at Cuban listeners. The government has struggled to censor these podcasts given their varied channels for distribution. For example, 14ymedio’s Yoani Sánchez hosts a brief daily morning news roundup called “Ventana 14,” and Tremenda Nota uses its “La Potajera” podcast to give voice to LGBT+ Cubans.2
In recent years, Signal and Telegram have emerged as popular alternative data-sharing and news-and-information distribution channels in Cuba, given their ease of use and encryption features.3 Others continue to use domestic messaging applications toDus, CubaMessenger, and Sijú due to their lower bandwidth requirements (which lower their costs).4
Not all independent digital outlets consider themselves dissident operations. Sites such as Periodismo de Barrio and El Toque produce critical investigative journalism, while others such as Tremenda Nota and Vistar Magazine report on a wide variety of topics, including entertainment, sports, fashion, feminism, entrepreneurship, technology, and culture, while expressing a cross-section of views on social issues, such as LGBT+ topics and issues facing other marginalized groups, such as Afro-Cubans.5 Beyond the data journalism sites Postdata Club and Inventario and the independent news site ADN Cuba,6 there are several leaders of Cuba’s “digital diaspora,” sites run from abroad that closely monitor events on the island and often have Cuba-based reporters. These include the Miami-based CubaNet, Madrid-based Diario de Cuba, and the recently launched sites Rialta and its English-language counterpart, No Country Magazine.
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.7
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. Journalists for emergent sites have increasingly been forced to leave Cuba, leaving few reporters on the ground.8
- 1Ted A. Henken, “José Raúl Gallego: ‘Journalism is Not Compatible with Totalitarianism’,” No Country Magazine, April 21, 2021, https://nocountrymagazine.com/journalism-is-not-compatible-with-totalit….
- 2Ernesto Londoño, “Despite Censorship and Poor Internet, Cuban Podcasts are Booming,” The New York Times, September 18, 2021 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/18/world/americas/cuba-podcasts.html; Mónica Baró, Juan Diego Godoy, and Lorena Arroyo, “‘Hashtags’ y directos, las armas de los cubanos para hackear una revolución obsolete,” El País, July 21, 2021 https://elpais.com/internacional/2021-07-21/hashtags-y-directos-las-arm…; “Los obstáculos que enquistan la revolución digital en Cuba,” EFE, July 1, 2022, https://www.efe.com/efe/america/sociedad/los-obstaculos-que-enquistan-l….
- 3“Bloqueado por segunda vez Telegram en Cuba a pesar de la ola de denuncias [Telegram blocked for the second time in Cuba despite the wave of complaints],” 14ymedio, October 18, 2020, https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/Telegram-funcionar-Cuba-intensa-denuncias….
- 4Tiffany Pham, “How She Did It: Yoani Sánchez Launches Cuban News Outlet 14ymedio,” Forbes, November 30, 2014, http://onforb.es/1yz5eDp; Alberto C. Toppin, “How Are Cubans Communicating These Days?” Havana Times, August 17, 2020, https://havanatimes.org/features/how-are-cubans-communicating-these-day….
- 5Ted 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.
- 6“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.
- 7Elaine 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….
- 8José 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/; Nora Gámez Torres, “As pandemic spreads, the Cuban government moves to silence independent journalists,” The Miami Herald, September 11, 2020, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/artic…; Mario J. Pentón, “Denuncian aumento de la persecución contra el periodismo independiente en Cuba,” El Nuevo Herald, June 26, 2017, https://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/cuba-es/art…; Luis Cino Álvarez, “Un informe decepcionante e injusto,” TV Martí, September 30, 2016, https://www.radiotelevisionmarti.com/a/un-informe-decepcionante-e-injus…; Luis Cino, “El ‘nuevo periodismo cubano’ no quiere internet,” Cubanet, February 9, 2018, https://www.cubanet.org/destacados/el-nuevo-periodismo-cubano-no-quiere….
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||3.003 6.006|
Cubans have organized several high-profile protests in recent years, with social media playing a critical role in driving offline demonstrations. The Cuban government has routinely responded to these efforts with connectivity restrictions, blocks to social media platforms, arbitrary detentions, and legislation seeking to further criminalize online dissent.
Online tools were largely credited with partially sparking and sustaining historic protests held in July 2021. Demonstrators protesting the shortage of basic goods in San Antonio de los Baños on July 11 used Facebook Live to spread footage of their rally, which reportedly contributed to the rapid spread of protests nationwide.1 Large numbers of videos capturing the protests across the island were shared online, especially on July 11 and 12, with Inventario producing an interactive map of the more than 100 places where filmed protests took place in the country.2 Hashtags expressing protesters’ discontent, including #SOSCuba and #PatriaYVida, went viral on platforms like Twitter; while only about 100,000 posts were published with the #SOSCuba hashtag on July 9, 2 million containing the hashtag were published on July 12.3 While the government responded by restricting connectivity and blocking social media platforms, users turned to VPNs to continue spreading and accessing current information (see A3 and B1). One VPN, Psiphon, reportedly saw daily usership in Cuba increase from 18,000 in the days before the protests to over 1.4 million on July 15.4 The government response also included the detention of journalists broadcasting protests online and the introduction of legislation seeking to further criminalize or censor online dissent (see C2 and C3).
Displays of force by the government against those participating in the July 2021 mass mobilizations reduced organizers’ momentum in the fall. Despite receiving organizers’ calls-to-action in November 2021 for a national “Civic March for Change” organized by Archipiélago, few protesters took to the streets;5 some opposition activists and journalists had broadcast live on Facebook or posted on Twitter about plainclothes security forces and government supporters who were preventing them from leaving their homes.6 The best-known organizer of the November protest, playwright Yunior García Aguilera, was among those detained.7
The previous coverage period also featured several high-profile protests that made extensive use of social media to mobilize offline action. In November 2020, hundreds of artists and intellectuals staged a day-long protest—now known as the 27N protest—in front of the Ministry of Culture, a day after security officers posing as health care workers raided the MSI’s headquarters; the collective had been holding a hunger strike to demand the release of member Denis Solís.8 More protesters joined the original 27N participants via social-media mobilization and demanded a meeting with Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso to address freedom of expression, the right to dissent, and harassment against artists and civil society actors. 9
A group of artists, activists, and journalists gathered outside the Ministry of Culture in January 2021, to confront authorities over the detention of 27N protesters and continue their dialogue.10 After the protesters sought a meeting with government officials, Minister Alonso physically assaulted Diario de Cuba reporter Mauricio Mendoza to obstruct Mendoza’s filming of the confrontation. Photographs and videos of the incident spread online, with Cuban internet users calling it a reflection of the government’s attitude toward social media.11 The January 2021 protest ended with the mass arrest of participants and mobile connectivity restrictions, which limited both the spread of commentary on Alonso’s conduct and reporting on the mass detention of protesters. 12
- 1Anthony Faiola, “Cubans hold biggest anti-government protests in decades; Biden says U.S. stands with people,” Washington Post, July 12, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/07/11/cuba-protests/
- 2Manifestantes en Cuba, July 11, 2021, Inventario, https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1AQAArlWutvq3eqA2nK_WObSuj….
- 3Ernesto Londoño, “Despite Censorship and Poor Internet, Cuban Podcasts are Booming,” The New York Times, September 18, 2021 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/18/world/americas/cuba-podcasts.html; Mónica Baró, Juan Diego Godoy, and Lorena Arroyo, “‘Hashtags’ y directos, las armas de los cubanos para hackear una revolución obsolete,” El País, July 21, 2021 https://elpais.com/internacional/2021-07-21/hashtags-y-directos-las-arm…; “Los obstáculos que enquistan la revolución digital en Cuba,” EFE, July 1, 2022, https://www.efe.com/efe/america/sociedad/los-obstaculos-que-enquistan-l….
- 4Larry Press, “The long-run effect of Cuba's recent Internet-augmented protests,” The Internet in Cuba, September 3, 2021, http://www.laredcubana.blogspot.com/2021/09/the-long-run-effect-of-cuba…; Psiphon Inc, @PsiphonInc, “Update: Yesterday 1.389 Million daily unique users accessed the open web from Cuba through the Psiphon Network. Internet is ON; circumvention tools ARE working. This figure continues to increase, with today reaching 1.238 Million as of 12:00 EST (16:00 UTC),” Twitter, July 16, 2021, https://twitter.com/PsiphonInc/status/1416069807301185537; “From Cuba, with VPN,” Global Voices, July 15, 2021, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2021/07/15/from-cuba-with-vpn/.
- 5Frances Robles, “As Cuba Crushes Dissent, a Nationwide Protest Fizzles,” The New York Times, November 15, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/15/world/americas/cuba-protests.html
- 6Florencia Trucco, Patrick Oppmann, Stefano Pozzebon, and Jaide Garcia, “Cuban activists blockaded at home amid protest clampdown,” CNN, November 15, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/15/americas/cuba-protest-clampdown-intl/ind…
- 7Mary Beth Sheridan, “Cuba harasses, detains activists on eve of planned protest,” The Washington Post, November 14, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/11/14/cuba-protest-house-arre…
- 8Ted A. Henken, “Who will control Cuba’s digital revolution?” The Sun Sentinel, December 28, 2020, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-com-cuba-digital-….
- 9Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez Martínez, “27E: Un manotazo a la internet en Cuba,” Inventario, February 23, 2021, https://proyectoinventario.org/27n-mincult-manotazo-a-internet-en-cuba-….
- 10Reynier Leyva Novo, “Testimonio de los sucesos del 27 de enero”, Rialta, February 1, 2021, https://rialta.org/testimonio-de-los-sucesos-del-27-de-enero/; Grupo 27N, “Cronología del ‘posible’ recomienzo de un diálogo,” Facebook, January 27, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=131608298797962&id=10…; “¿Qué pasó el 27 de enero frente al Ministerio de Cultura?” El Toque, January 27, 2021, https://eltoque.com/que-paso-el-27-de-enero-frente-al-ministerio-de-cul…; Susana Gaviña, “El ministro de Cultura de Cuba y sus viceministros agreden a un grupo de artistas y periodistas,” ABC, January 28, 2021, https://www.abc.es/internacional/abci-ministro-cultura-cuba-y-viceminis….
- 11Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez Martínez, “27E: Un manotazo a la internet en Cuba,” Inventario, February 23, 2021, https://proyectoinventario.org/27n-mincult-manotazo-a-internet-en-cuba-…; “La agresión del ministro de Cultura contra los artistas suscita condenas internacionales,” 14ymedio, January 27, 2021, https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/27N-Movimiento_San_Isidro-Jose_Marti_0_30…; “Cuban internet access cut amid free expression protest; journalist harassed,” CPJ, January 29, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/01/cuban-internet-access-cut-amid-free-expression-….
- 12Luz Escobar, Twitter message @Luz_Cuba, 9:51 a.m., January 27, 2021, https://twitter.com/Luz_Cuba/status/1354441839982632971; Luz Escobar, “Para mí fue un ‘shock’ ver a un ministro y viceministros repartir golpes,” 14ymedio, January 28, 2021, https://www.14ymedio.com/cuba/Cuba-cultura-ministerio-27N-protesta-Alpi…; Abraham Jiménez Enoa, Twitter message @JimenezEnoa, 3:26 p.m., January 27, 202, https://twitter.com/JimenezEnoa/status/1354526143454576640.
|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 does not support 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 2019 explicitly subordinates freedom of speech to the objectives of a socialist society; 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, and a new access to information law scheduled to appear in July 2021 has yet to appear.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
A February 2021 regulation on permissible self-employment activities explicitly bans any private activities related to independent journalism or media outlets.4 Independent journalists have faced an increasing degree of repression, including civil and criminal penalties, for their online activities since the publication of the regulation (see C3).
- 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….
- 2José 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/.
- 3Julio 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/.
- 4Nora Gámez Torres, “Cuba private sector expansion bars independent journalists, engineers and these other jobs,” Miami Herald, February 10, 2021, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/artic….
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||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 in recent years—Decree Laws 370 and 389 and Resolutions 98 and 99—pose serious threats to online expression in Cuba. The laws essentially codify 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
Cuba’s new penal code, approved in May 2022, lists the use of social media platforms as an “aggravating circumstance” in the crime of “instigating the commission of a crime.” “Using social networks” to organize gatherings, meetings, or protests are a crime under the new statutes, along with long-standing crimes often used to target dissidents like “disrespect,” “public disorder,” and “sedition.” While the previous penal code did not explicitly mention the use of digital networks in relation to crime, the updated code specifically names “slander,” “insult,” and “acts against privacy or the image, voice, data, or identity of another person” as new and punishable “cyber-crimes,” in addition to the previously illegal “instigating the commission of a crime.” Penalties for these infractions, which are often more severe than if the same crime were committed offline, include prison sentences ranging from three months to three years and fines ranging from 1,000 ($40) to 200,000 CUP ($8,000).2
In August 2021, following historic July protests, the government enacted regulations further criminalizing and restricting online speech (see B8). Decree Law 35, which had been approved by the National Assembly in April 2021, designates some forms of online content as a cybersecurity risk and may be used to arrest people for their online activities (see B3).3 Resolution 105, passed in August, outlines online offenses, though it does not mention the specific penalties for committing them, and includes the dissemination of “false news,” content defaming the country’s prestige, content inciting demonstrations, and broadly defined “cyberterrorism” that subverts or destabilizes public order.4
Decree Law 370, formally approved shortly before mobile data (3G) plans were made accessible and published in 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.5 Agents from MINCOM can determine who to target under Article 68(i), with no judicial oversight.6
Cuba’s former penal code (Law 62, Fifth Section) set 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.7 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.8
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.”9 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.10
- 1José 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/.
- 2Jose Raul Gallego Ramos, “Nuevo Código Penal define a las redes sociales como posible escenario delictivo [New Penal Code defines social networks as a possible criminal scenario],” Inventario, March 15, 2022, https://proyectoinventario.org/nuevo-codigo-penal-definiria-redes-socia…
- 3Gaceta Oficial No. 92 Ordinaria de 17 de agosto de 2021, Republic of Cuba, August 17, 2021, https://media.cubadebate.cu/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/goc-2021-o92-com….
- 4“Cuba passes regulations criminalizing online content, further restricting internet access,” CPJ, August 19, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/08/cuba-passes-regulations-criminalizing-online-co…; Lioman Lima, “Decreto Ley 35: las nuevas regulaciones en Cuba para condenar a los que hablen mal del gobierno en redes sociales,” BBC World News, August 19, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-58272680; “Cuba: Telecommunications Decree Curtails Free Speech,” Human Rights Watch, August 25, 2021 https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/25/cuba-telecommunications-decree-curt….
- 5“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.
- 6Gaspar 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….
- 7National 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.
- 8María Salazar (translator), “International Guarantees and Cuban Law,” Committee to Protect Journalists, March 1, 2008, https://cpj.org/reports/2008/03/laws.php.
- 9“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.
- 10Giovanni Ziccardi, Resistance, Liberation Technology, and Human Rights in the Digital Age, Netherlands: Springer, 2013, 220.
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||2.002 6.006|
Penalization for online activity is common, though in recent years the government has tended to employ short-term detentions, interrogations, fines, legal harassment, and travel bans, as opposed to the lengthy prison terms favored in the past.1 Independent journalists, influencers, and online activists have increasingly become targets of these legal actions, including those involved in July 2021 protests (see B8).
The Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), a nongovernmental organization based in Madrid, reported 719 arbitrary detentions and 636 house arrests of peaceful dissidents in the first half of 2022, some for their online speech or organizing.2 The ICLEP lists 13 individuals jailed in 2021 for their online expression, many of whom were detained or placed under house arrest for between a month to over a year.3 One month following the July 2021 protests, 10 journalists (including those reporting online) remained under house arrest or imprisonment in relation to their coverage of the event.4
Dissident bloggers, independent journalists, and human rights defenders are also subject to punishments ranging from searches and confiscation of equipment to fines and detentions.
Since early 2020, many independent journalists and activists have been targeted under Decree Law 370, including through summonses, interrogations, threats, fines, house arrests, seizures of work equipment such as cell phones, and other repressive tactics aimed at halting their online journalistic activity. During interrogations, government officials have showed the journalists printouts of their social media posts and online reporting as “proof” of their crimes.5
An October 2021 report published by Inventario revealed that between the Decree Law 370’s entry into force in July 2019 and October 2021, the law was used to issue 70 fines most commonly of 3,000 CUP ($120) to 59 people for using social media to disseminate “information or opinions contrary to the interests of society, morality, good customs, and the integrity of persons.” While some everyday users have been fined under the law, the most common targets included political dissidents, activists, and independent journalists.6
Beyond the fines frequently leveled against users for their online speech, convictions carrying prison sentences and long-term house arrests are becoming increasingly common. In September 2020, activist Juan Luis Bravo Rodríguez was sentenced to two years in prison after he refused to pay a fine under Decree Law 370. He had originally been fined in May 2020 for a Facebook post in which he criticized the government. Bravo Rodríguez is the first person known to be sentenced to prison under this law7 and was ultimately released on parole in November 2021; he was subjected to forced labor during his imprisonment.
In April 2022, YouTuber and social media influencer Yoandi Montiel Hernández (popularly known on social media as “El Gato de Cuba”) was sentenced to two years in prison on charges of contempt under Article 144 of the penal code.8 He had been detained since his initial arrest in April 2021 for criticizing President Miguel Díaz-Canel on social media.9 In March 2022, protester Yoan de la Cruz was sentenced to six years in prison for live streaming one of the early July 2021 antigovernment protests on Facebook. He was released on appeal two months later, in May; one source reported that he had been under house arrest for five years after the appeal of his original sentence.10
October 2021 saw the first legal cases of activists, Leinier Cruz Salfrán and Richard Almaguer Cabrera, sanctioned under Decree Law 35. Cruz was officially summoned and interrogated by authorities for at least an hour for a series of social media posts he had made about Archipiélago and calls for the November 2021 protests, which he was told threatened domestic and public order and violated both Decree Laws 35 and 370. Almaguer was similarly interrogated for an hour for allegedly violating Decree Law 35 through his Facebook posts that supported activist and journalist Iliana Hernández and criticized the government. He was fined 3,000 CUP ($120) under Decree Law 370, for allegedly spreading false news and “defam[ing] the revolution.”11
People also faced threats of legal prosecution for their online activities during the coverage period, including well-known dissidents Angel Moya and Berta Soler. When the two were detained in March 2022 while attempting to join a peaceful protest demanding the release of political prisoners, they were detained by plainclothes officials who warned that their social media posts would amount to crimes under the penal code.12 These threats of legal prosecution have also driven many journalists, activists, and artists who post online to flee the country.13
- 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.
- 2Cuban Observatory of Human Rights, @observacuba, “En el primer semestre de 2022 en #Cuba 2977 Acciones represivas 719 Detenciones arbitrarias 636 Retenciones en viviendas [In the first semester of 2022 in #Cuba 2977 Repressive actions 719 Arbitrary arrests 636 Retentions in homes], Twitter, July 5, 2022, https://twitter.com/observacuba/status/1544380589649735680.
- 3“El Gato de Cuba lleva más de cuatro meses en prisión [The Cat of Cuba has been in prison for more than four months],” Periodico Cubano, August 21, 2021, https://www.periodicocubano.com/el-gato-de-cuba-lleva-mas-de-cuatro-mes…; “Arranca el juicio contra 'El Gato' de Cuba por presunto desacato tras casi un año en prisión [The trial begins against ‘El Gato’ of Cuba for alleged contempt after almost a year in prison],” Diario de Cuba, April 5, 2022 https://diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1649179427_38608.html; “Dos años de cárcel por criticar a Díaz-Canel: 'El Gato de Cuba' es condenado 'sin avisar a nadie' [Two years in prison for criticizing Díaz-Canel: 'El Gato de Cuba' is sentenced 'without notifying anyone'],” Diario de Cuba, April 10, 2022, https://diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1649585237_38714.html; Instituto Cubano por la Libertad de Expresión y Prensa, “BALANCE PARCIAL 2021 HECHOS VIOLATORIOS A LA LIBERTAD DE PRENSA EN CUBA [PARTIAL BALANCE 2021 ACTS OF VIOLATION OF FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IN CUBA],” 2021, https://iclep.org/informes-por-indicador/6/.
- 4“Cuba urged to free reporters under house arrest or jailed since a wave of protests a month ago,” RSF, August 13, 2021, https://rsf.org/en/cuba-urged-free-reporters-under-house-arrest-or-jail…
- 5Proyecto Inventario, “Cuba y su Decreto Ley 370: aniquilando la libertad de expresión en Internet,” May 6, 2020, https://proyectoinventario.org/cuba-y-su-decreto-ley-370-aniquilando-la…; Luz Escobar, “Camila Acosta, una periodista libre a pesar de la repression,” 14ymedio, March 11, 2020, https://noticuba.tech/entrevista/Camila-Acosta-periodista-pesar-represi…; “A 3,000 Peso Fine for Monica Baro for Texts on Facebook,” 14ymedio, April 19, 2020, https://translatingcuba.com/a-3000-peso-fine-for-monica-baro-for-texts-….
- 6Jose Raul Gallego Ramos, “Multas por el Decreto-Ley 370 [Fines for Decree-Law 370],” Proyecto Inventario, October 26, 2021, https://proyectoinventario.org/multas-decreto-ley-370-ley-azote-cuba/
- 7“Un activista cubano es castigado con dos años de cárcel por no pagar una multa bajo la 'Ley Azote' [A Cuban activist is sentenced to two years in jail for failing to pay a fine under the 'Azote Law'],” Diario De Cuba, October 1, 2020, https://diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1601506708_25384.html; YADIRA SERRANO DÍAZ, “Aplican Decreto-Ley 370 a opositor guantanamero Juan Luis Bravo Rodríguez [Decree-Law 370 applied to Guantanamo opponent Juan Luis Bravo Rodríguez],” CubaNet, May 21, 2020, https://www.cubanet.org/noticias/aplican-decreto-ley-370-a-opositor-gua…; “Juan Luis Bravo Rodriguez: multa y prisión por el Decreto Ley 370 [Juan Luis Bravo Rodriguez: fine and prison by Decree Law 370],” Yucabyte, February 8, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/02/08/prison-370/.
- 8“Un activista cubano es castigado con dos años de cárcel por no pagar una multa bajo la 'Ley Azote' [A Cuban activist is sentenced to two years in jail for failing to pay a fine under the 'Azote Law'],” Diario De Cuba, October 1, 2020, https://diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1601506708_25384.html; Yadira Serrano Díaz, “Aplican Decreto-Ley 370 a opositor guantanamero Juan Luis Bravo Rodríguez [Decree-Law 370 applied to Guantanamo opponent Juan Luis Bravo Rodríguez],” CubaNet, May 21, 2020, https://www.cubanet.org/noticias/aplican-decreto-ley-370-a-opositor-gua…; “Juan Luis Bravo Rodriguez: multa y prisión por el Decreto Ley 370 [Juan Luis Bravo Rodriguez: fine and imprisonment for Decree Law 370],” Yucabyte, February 8, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/02/08/prison-370/.
- 9“A Verdict Makes History in Cuba by Rejecting 'Contempt' as a Crime,” Diario de Cuba, March 5, 2021, https://diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1614979439_29347.html; “‘El Gato de Cuba’ Sentenced to Two Years in Prison for Contempt,” Translating Cuba, April 11, 2022, https://translatingcuba.com/el-gato-de-cuba-sentenced-to-two-years-in-p….
- 10Michael K. Lavers, “Gay man who livestreamed anti-government protest in Cuba released from prison,” Washington Blade, May 7, 2022, https://www.washingtonblade.com/2022/05/07/gay-man-who-livestreamed-ant…
- 11“Leinier Cruz Salfrán, una de las primeras víctimas del Decreto Ley 35 [Leinier Cruz Salfrán, one of the first victims of Decree Law 35],” YucaByte, October 26, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/10/26/leinier-cruz-decreto-ley-35/; “Richard Almaguer Cabrera: otra víctima de los Decretos Ley 35 y 370 [Richard Almaguer Cabrera: another victim of Decree Laws 35 and 370],” YucaByte, October 29, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/10/29/almaguer-370-35/.
- 12“Nuevo Código Penal define a las redes sociales como posible escenario delictivo [New Penal Code defines social networks as a possible criminal scenario],” Proyecto Inventario, March 15, 2022, https://proyectoinventario.org/nuevo-codigo-penal-definiria-redes-socia…;
- 13José 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, June 5, 2020, https://www.yucabyte.org/2020/06/05/cuba-libertad-internet-2/; Nora Gámez Torres, “As pandemic spreads, the Cuban government moves to silence independent journalists,” The Miami Herald, September 11, 2020, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/artic…; Mario J. Pentón, “Denuncian aumento de la persecución contra el periodismo independiente en Cuba [They denounce increased persecution against independent journalism in Cuba],” El Nuevo Herald, June 26, 2017, https://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/cuba-es/art…; Luis Cino Álvarez, “Un informe decepcionante e injusto [A disappointing and unfair report],” TV Martí, September 30, 2016, https://www.radiotelevisionmarti.com/a/un-informe-decepcionante-e-injus…; Luis Cino, “El ‘nuevo periodismo cubano’ no quiere internet [The 'new Cuban journalism' does not want the internet],” Cubanet, February 9, 2018, https://www.cubanet.org/destacados/el-nuevo-periodismo-cubano-no-quiere….
|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 personal 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. In July 2021, numerous reports indicated that the government had begun blocking the encrypted messaging apps WhatsApp, Telegram, and Signal (see A3 and B1).
- 1According 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….
- 2Ellery 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….
- 3José 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 2019 by the Council of State without review by the National Assembly, formally authorizes investigators to engage in electronic surveillance and use the resulting information as evidence in criminal cases. The law permits listening to and recording individuals’ conversations, tracking their location and following them, photographing and recording their image, intervening into any of their communications, accessing their ICT 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 the ETECSA will immediately end a user’s access if they commit “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 expressions of 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
The app 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 Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and the 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….
- 2Ministry 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….
- 3Ministry 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….
- 4Orlando 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-….
- 5Yoani 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.
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||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.
The Cuban parliament approved new legislation related to the protection of personal data in May 2022, set to enter into force in August. The new Law 149/2022 on Personal Data Protection recognizes the right of citizens to access their personal data, to know about its use, to request its correction and modification by those who possess it, and to request its nondisclosure. The law also places requirements on service providers and those processing or controlling personal data, data transfers, and data retention. Failure to comply can incur fines of up to 2,000 CUP ($80), and authorities can order the suspension of personal information databases for up to five days or the closure of the database entirely. The effectiveness of the law remains to be seen in practice.3
- 1Ministry 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….
- 2Lorenzo 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….
- 3Zahira Ojeda Bello and Danelia Cutié Mustelier, “El derecho a la protección de datos personales en Cuba desafíos en la era digital [The right to personal data protection in Cuba challenges in the digital age],” IUS, www.scielo.org.mx/pdf/rius/v15n48/1870-2147-rius-15-48-243.pdf; “Cuba cuenta con ley para protección de datos personales [Cuba has a law for the protection of personal data],” May 14, 2022 https://www.prensa-latina.cu/2022/05/14/cuba-cuenta-con-ley-para-protec…(Prensa,desarrollará%20hasta%20el%20próximo%20lunes; Wennys Díaz Ballaga, “Una ley para proteger la privacidad [A law to protect privacy],” Granma, May 11, 2022, https://www.granma.cu/cuba/2022-05-11/una-ley-para-proteger-la-privacid…»; “PROYECTO DE LEY DE PROTECCIÓN DE DATOS PERSONALES [PERSONAL DATA PROTECTION LAW PROJECT],” December 2021, media.cubadebate.cu/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Ley-Datos-Personales.pdf.
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to 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.
Free press organizations noted an increase in violence against Cuban media during the coverage period, with Cuban media organization Association for Freedom of the Press reporting physical attacks against at least 29 journalists in November 2021.1 Journalist Adriano Castañeda, who reports on social media and for US government–funded Radio Marti, was physically attacked that month. He claimed that security officials ordered the attack to silence his reporting on social media—during the altercation his attacker threatened to kill him if he continued to speak about the revolution.2 In April 2022, independent journalist and executive director of the ICLEP Alberto Corzo was followed and beaten by security agents, who dislocated his collar bone. Corzo stated he has been physically attacked a total of 33 times in his career.3
Many journalists working for nonstate media have experienced systematic harassment and threats, including death threats, threats to release intimate images, and online smear campaigns.4 For instance, prominent online journalist Camila Acosta has been interrogated more than six times and had at least three cell phones seized or destroyed in 2019 and 2020, while also being forced to change her residence several times. She was forced to undergo at least one strip search as part of an interrogation. State security agents have also targeted members of her family with threats and warnings about her behavior.5
- 1Graham Keeley, “Cuban Journalist Beaten by Masked Men,” Voice of America, December 10, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/a/cuban-journalist-beaten-by-masked-men/6349635…
- 2Graham Keeley, “Cuban Journalist Beaten by Masked Men,” Voice of America, December 10, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/a/cuban-journalist-beaten-by-masked-men/6349635…
- 3Graham Keeley, “Cuban Journalist Beaten by Masked Men,” Voice of America, December 10, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/a/cuban-journalist-beaten-by-masked-men/6349635…
- 4“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; Alberto Arego, “’Violan mi intimidad todo el tiempo', denuncian activistas cubanas víctimas del ciberacoso de la policía política,” Diario de Cuba, November 13, 2020, https://diariodecuba.com/derechos-humanos/1605275897_26446.html?__cf_ch….
- 5Juan Pappier, “Cuba’s Government Throws Its Repressive Playbook at a Journalist; Camila Acosta Endures a Year of Harassment, Arrest, and Forced Relocation,” Human Rights Watch, September 24, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/24/cubas-government-throws-its-repress…; “Camila Acosta, una periodista libre a pesar de la repression,” 14ymedio, March 11, 2020, https://noticuba.tech/entrevista/Camila-Acosta-periodista-pesar-represi….
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||1.001 3.003|
Cyberattacks targeting the social media accounts of journalists and activists have intensified in frequency and technical coordination in recent years. Previously, technical attacks did not appear to be a primary method of censorship in the country.
In February 2022, independent journalist and Palenque Visión reporter Niober García Fournier, who has been fined under Decree Law 370 more than once for his speech on social media, announced he had experienced several hacking attempts on his Facebook account.1 In January 2022, Canada-based Cuban activist and influencer Alberto Fonseca reported falling victim to a cyberattack shortly after being criticized by the government on television and radio programs.2 Prominent journalist Camila Acosta has also been targeted repeatedly, with her Facebook and Instagram accounts taken over and private messages to friends shared publicly, including in April 2021.3
- 1“Cuba: derechos digitales en crisis (4-18 de febrero de 2022) [Cuba: digital rights in crisis (February 4-18, 2022)],” YucaByte, February 22, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/02/21/derechos-digitales-36/
- 2“Cuba: derechos digitales en crisis (7-21 de enero de 2022) [Cuba: digital rights in crisis (January 7-21, 2022)],” YucaByte, January 21, 2022, https://www.yucabyte.org/2022/01/21/derechos-digitales-34/
- 3“Hackeo de cuentas y suplantación de identidad: ataques contra tres mujeres cubanas,” Yucabyte, March 5, 2021, https://www.yucabyte.org/2021/03/05/hackeo-mujeres-cubanas/; “Hackean cuentas de Facebook e Instagram a periodista de CubaNet Camila Acosta,” Cubanet, April 25, 2021, https://s3.eu-central-1.amazonaws.com/qurium/cubanet.org/noticias-hacke….
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Global Freedom Score12 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score20 100 not free
Freedom in the World StatusNot Free