Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Despite significant government restrictions and the continued imprisonment of 22 journalists, the authorities relaxed restrictions on the purchase of communications technology in 2008, and the growing number of blogs in Cuba provided some new space for free expression. Cuba has the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the Americas. The constitution prohibits private ownership of media and allows speech and journalism only if they “conform to the aims of a socialist society.” Cuba’s legal and institutional structures are firmly under the control of the executive. Laws criminalizing “enemy propaganda” and the dissemination of “unauthorized news” are used to restrict freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. Insult laws carry penalties of three months to one year in prison, with sentences of up to three years if the president or members of the Council of State or National Assembly are the objects of criticism. The 1997 Law of National Dignity, which provides for prison sentences of 3 to 10 years for “anyone who, in a direct or indirect form, collaborates with the enemy’s media,” is aimed at independent news agencies that send their material abroad.
The level of government harassment of and threats against journalists remained the same during the year. For example, in April, Camaguey-based independent journalist Ernesto Corria Cabrera was detained by police after traveling to Havana, interrogated by a state security agent, and then sent back to Camaguey. He was told he had violated a decree that requires Cuban citizens who reside outside Havana to request a special permit to remain in the capital for more than 24 hours. This decree is often used to stop independent journalists and dissidents from meeting with others in Havana. Separately, Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, one of the journalists imprisoned during the “Black Spring” crackdown on dissidents and journalists in March 2003, was released on health grounds on February 15. He had been serving a 14-year prison sentence. In July, Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta, one of 19 journalists arrested in the 2003 crackdown who remain behind bars, began a hunger strike to draw attention to prison conditions and his declining health. He escalated his protest by sewing together his lips, which then became infected, prompting fears for his life. The authorities disregarded appeals by international media rights organizations for his release on health grounds, and he remained in prison at year’s end.
The government owns all media except for a number of underground newsletters. It operates three national newspapers, four national television stations, six national radio stations, and one international radio station, in addition to numerous local print and broadcast outlets. All content is determined by the government, and there is no editorial independence. Cubans do not have the right to possess or distribute foreign publications, although some international papers are sold in tourist hotels. However, as part of a policy of greater economic openness promoted by President Raul Castro, who officially took over as head of state from his brother, Fidel Castro, in February, the authorities introduced measures to ease the private purchase of some consumer goods, including mobile telephones, computers, televisions, and tape recorders.It is estimated that 2.1 percent of the Cuban population has regular access to the global internet and 11.5 percent can access the Cuban intranet. While accessing the internet remains both logistically difficult and prohibitively expensive for most Cubans, some small improvements have been made. Starting at the end of March, Cubans were allowed to go into hotels with global internet connections, which were previously open only to foreigners. Cuban officials strictly regulate and monitor internet use, with the threat of five years in prison for connecting to the internet illegally and 20 years for writing “counterrevolutionary” articles for foreign websites. However, there are a growing number of blogs, which allow Cubans to express their opinions more freely. Blog hosting sites were reportedly disrupted for about two weeks in March, whether access was attempted from public facilities like cybercafes and hotels or from the country’s few private connections, used for professional reasons or in secret. ETECSA, Cuba’s sole internet access provider, did not provide any explanation for the problems. In early May,travel authorities confiscated, without explanation, the passport of blogger Yoani Sanchez. She had created the blog Generacion Y in April 2007, and it had since gained considerable popularity, with more than one million visitors in February 2008. According to the U.S. State Department, in early December state security agents warned Sanchez against holding a planned conference of Cuban bloggers. Other individuals planning to attend the event were also summoned for questioning and pressured to cancel; as a result, the meeting of 20 bloggers was reportedly held online to avoid the risk of arrest.