No Freedom of the Press Under Either Castro
Despite the transition of power from one Castro brother to another, all the media in operating in Cuba continue to serve the ruling class. Independent journalists and bloggers continue to be slandered, harassed, arrested and even assaulted.
In 1959, Fidel Castro wrote to American journalist Herbert L. Matthews to say, ”Where there is crime, there is no freedom of the press. Where there is crime, what happens is hidden.”
Just over a year later, on May 14, 1960, Cuban journalist Luis Aguilar León published his prophetic article, “It’s Time for Unanimity”.
“Behold, as the time for unanimity comes to Cuba. Solid and impenetrable totalitarian unanimity. The same slogan will be repeated by all advertising bodies. There will be no dissenting voices, no opportunity for criticism, and no public rebuttals. The control of all means of expression will facilitate the task of persuasion – fear will take care of the rest,” Aguilar León’s opinion piece said.
The article was an accurate prediction of the future, and its publication also marked the end of media freedom.
Prensa Libre, the newspaper that published it, was closed down. The day goes unmarked, but it was one of this was one of most fateful days for Cuba.
The Cuban constitution of 1976 was the final nail in the coffin. It decreed that everyone had freedom of speech and of the press, but only “in keeping with the objectives of socialist society”.
To that end, it said, “the press, radio, television, film and other mass media outlets are state or social property, and can never be private property”.
The Cuban Communist’s Central Committee acquired a special ideology department to oversee media content and set the official propaganda line. Then came criminal code changes introducing long sentences for spreading “false news” and using the media to “attack the state”.
Despite this, an independent journalism movement emerged in 1994, founded on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognises the right to receive information and share it without barriers. In other words, even if journalists cannot publish information at home, they can send it abroad.
Journalists have paid a high price for exercising this right, especially in 2003 when 26 were arrested, with some sentenced to more than 20 years in jail after summary trials.
Many dozens of independent voices have been subjected to various kinds of repression during Raúl Castro’s nine years at the helm .
In October, Roberto de Jesús Quiñones was held for 18 hours at a political police station in the eastern city of Guantánamo . His home was searched and his computer and mobile phone were confiscated along with other personal items.
Quiñones was told he was going to be put on trial for spreading false news that endangers international peace. All because of an article called “Cuba and the US: Definition of ‘Normal’ Needed” in which he sets out his views on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Washington.
On November 1, blogger Tamara Rodríguez Quesada was detained by female police officers and a State Security agent while accompanying a Sunday march by the Ladies in White group along Quinta Avenue in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood.
She says she was forced onto a bus and her head was pressed against the floor until she lost consciousness. Then she was taken off the bus and taken to a hospital, but on arriving there she was thrown onto the ground, hitting her head. She suffered a suspected head trauma which required specialist medical attention, a fractured finger and a gash on her arm that required stitches.
I personally have been interrogated by the political police on many occasions. I have been arrested several times. I have been threatened directly and indirectly, and my house has been surrounded by State Security and uniformed police.
These are the methods of a totalitarian regime. Freedom of the press has never existed under totalitarian governments anywhere, since their very nature makes that impossible. The same pattern continues to hold in Cuba, regardless of which Castro brother is in power.
José Antonio Fornaris is president of the Association for Freedom of the Press, which upholds freedom of the press and documents attacks on journalists in Cuba.