Politics Magazine

Cuba’s Bloggers Battle For Freedom

Posted on the 12 October 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

 

Juventud Rebelde Front Page

Juventud Rebelde Front Page (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Cuba is a country that is widely believed to be slowly edging towards liberal democracy. Economic controls are being loosened, such as with private ownership of hairdressers and taxis permitted for the first time last year. The country is slowly opening up to the outside world after more than 50 years of isolation. However, the ‘communist’ dictatorship still operates one of the most oppressive regimes in the whole of the Americas.

The news story that the nation has been trying to sell to the rest of the world over the past week is that the appointment of new editors for the official newspaper of the Politburo, Granma, and the youth section of the Communist Party, Juventud Rebelde, marks the beginning of a more independent press in Cuba. This is, of course, difficult to believe given that under the constitution, all print and broadcast media must be state owned. Any journalist who produces news that doesn’t ‘conform to the aims’ of the government can be sentenced to up to ten years imprisonment.

In many other dictatorships, the younger generation has turned to the Internet to ensure the free and democratic sharing of news through blogs and social media. Unfortunately, Cuba is highly effective in restricting citizens’ access to the real web: the tariff for accessing the Internet is $6.50 an hour (about one-third of the average monthly salary) using the all-but extinct dial-up system. Even when paying such rates, almost all citizens only have access to a national Intranet which is tightly controlled and filtered by the state telecommunications company. This has not stopped an estimated 70 bloggers making tenacious efforts to tell the outside world, if not Cubans themselves, about the nation’s less favourable aspects.

Strangely, it is not just news of the government’s day-to-day failings which are prevented from reaching the Cuban public: any bad news about environmental issues and criminal activity that the state could not be held accountable for is usually suppressed. That’s why underground newspapers continue to circulate on the island with an anxious but eager readership.

What is worth noting is the contrast between how Cuba treats independent bloggers and independent print journalists. The latter group are often imprisoned in line with the law, and subjected to various forms of intimidation. Bloggers, however, have also been threatened and briefly detained by the police, but as yet have never been incarcerated. We can only guess as to why free speech online is somehow ‘worse’ than free speech in print. A popular theory is that Cuba is a lot less concerned about bloggers spreading ‘anti-socialist’ news coverage to foreigners than its carefully-built image among citizens of total infallibility being undermined by dissidents with a forty year old photocopier hidden in a basement. On the other hand, it could simply be a matter of international image: the world will naturally hear more of a blogger that has an international following than workers on an underground newsletter.

Cuba could be said to have a slightly less totalitarian reputation than its fellow dictatorships which cling on to the ‘communist’ label. Unlike China or North Korea, Cuba offers a bearable standard of living to its citizens, and has a realistic view of its place in the world. Let us hope that the government seizes the opportunity to embrace democratic principles before the old revolutionary vision of its people is realised by other means. Fidel Castro rose to power because the Cuban people wished to free themselves from oppression and exploitation. It may be half a century late, but it appears that they will get their wish: it may be a stronger than ever push for free media today, but the people will come to expect more.


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