Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017

Cuba

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Freedom Status: 
Not Free
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(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
11,200,000
Capital: 
Havana
GDP/capita: 
$6,789
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Overview: 

Cuba is a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, represses dissent, and severely restricts freedoms of the press, assembly, speech, and association. The government of Raúl Castro, who succeeded his brother Fidel as president in 2008, monopolizes the bulk of economic activity within centralized and inefficient state enterprises. Increased engagement with the United States under the administration of President Barack Obama did not result in the lifting of restrictions.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • President Barack Obama made the first state visit to Cuba by a sitting U.S. president in more than 80 years in March. A month later, Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) leaders, at the Seventh Party Congress, portrayed the United States as an enemy that sought to dismantle the country’s communist system through its engagement efforts.
  • Arbitrary detentions reached more than 9,000 during the first 10 months of 2016, the highest level in seven years. Government repression of the island’s increasingly dynamic independent digital press also increased.
  • Long-time Cuban leader Fidel Castro died in November, eight years after ceding power to his younger brother Raúl.
  • Though still among the least connected countries in the world, Cuba saw greater internet access via an expansion of Wi-Fi hotspots, a deal with Google, and a limited pilot project to allow home-based internet access in Havana. 
Executive Summary: 

After more than a year of progress toward the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States, in March 2016 U.S. president Obama made an historic state visit to Cuba during which he met with President Raúl Castro, and separately with a cross-section of independent civil society activists. Obama also delivered a speech carried live on national television in which he sought to “bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” and condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Obama advocated for greater access to the internet for Cuban citizens, called for authorities to permit free speech and assembly, rejected “arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights,” and called for democratic elections in Cuba.

In April, the (PCC) held its Seventh Party Congress. Dashing hopes that the gathering would be used to usher in a generational transition within the party leadership or liberalize the country’s nascent private sector, officials instead pushed back forcefully against Obama’s message, and reminded Cubans that U.S. policies continued to threaten Cuban socialism.

In 2016, arbitrary detentions reached a seven-year high, with the Cuban Committee for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reporting 9,125 such detentions in the first 10 months of the year. Authorities also cracked down on the island’s emergent and increasingly diverse independent digital media, and attempted to rein in the burgeoning private sector by temporarily halting the issuance of business licenses for new private restaurants in Havana. In a positive development, the 65 public Wi-Fi hotspots first set up in the second half of 2015 grew to a total of 200, and the price of access in many cases was reduced. Google signed an agreement with state telecom monopoly Etecsa in December to set up company servers on the island to enable faster access to its content and services for Cuban internet users. Separately, a pilot program allowing home-based internet access in 2,000 homes in downtown Havana was launched.

In a historic move in October, the United States decided to abstain from a UN vote condemning its embargo against Cuba. Also that month, the Obama administration issued its sixth and final set of regulatory reforms aimed at softening the embargo and enabling greater people-to-people and economic engagement, attempting to make such changes permanent by issuing them under a rare presidential directive. However, the election of Republican candidate Donald Trump as U.S. president in November threatened to undo these changes, given that he had publicly pledged to “cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal” unless concessions in the areas of human rights and religious freedom were made. Ironically, Fidel Castro’s death on November 25 was followed days later by the beginning of the first direct commercial flights from the United States to Havana in more than 50 years, signaling the potential opening his absence may provide for deeper commercial ties between Cuba and the United States.

Aggregate Score: 
15
Freedom Rating: 
6.5
Political Rights: 
7
Civil Liberties: 
6

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