Cuba's independent press remains under siege by the Castro dictatorship, and more than 20 journalists are in jail. But online, the resistance to tyranny is growing stronger on the island.
Committee to Protect Journalists reports on the current state of press freedoms in Cuba:
Cuba was hit hard by the global economic crisis and endured an upheaval in its highest offices, but state-controlled news media delivered superficial and skewed coverage. Human rights conditions, including press freedom, remained at a standstill: Independent journalists faced ongoing harassment, and more than 20 reporters and editors remained in jail. But offering a flicker of hope for freedom of expression on the island, a growing community of independent bloggers maneuvered around legal, economic, and technological limitations to describe everyday experiences and express opinions that challenged the regime’s perspective.
Cuba was one of the 10 Worst Countries to Be a Blogger, according to an April analysis by CPJ. But because the government so harshly represses other media, the Internet has become the one means by which Cubans are able to exercise free expression. The government estimates Internet penetration at 13 percent, although independent estimates are much lower.
Regardless, the Internet in Cuba is extremely slow and expensive, and legal restrictions are among the toughest in the world. An inter-ministry commission has authority to regulate “the information that comes from worldwide information webs,” purportedly to ensure the country’s security and defense. A government agency approves all Internet connections, leaving only foreigners and a handful of intellectuals, high-ranking officials, doctors, and academics with personal access to the Web. Other Cubans went online at government-run cybercafés, hotels, embassies, and highly monitored student centers. Cubans were not allowed to purchase consumer electronics, including personal computers, until 2008. Computers remained difficult to find.
For all those difficulties, Cuba became home to a small but vibrant blogging community, one that CPJ described in a September special report, “Chronicling Cuba, Bloggers Offer Fresh Hope.” CPJ found that at least 25 independent, journalistic, and regularly updated blogs were being produced by Cuban writers in 2009. Most bloggers interviewed by CPJ were under age 35 and defined themselves as part of the post-revolutionary youth. Like the independent press, they reported on everyday experiences, pinpointing food shortages and problems in education, housing, and health.
Bloggers wrote at home, sometimes on computers cobbled together from black-market parts. Although they occasionally posted directly to their blogs from island cybercafés, they more generally e-mailed their information to friends living abroad who then posted their entries. Bloggers, frequently unable to read their own posts online, were aware that their Internet audience was predominantly overseas. So they saved their work to CDs that were distributed to independent libraries on the island, or they printed hard copies of their entries and bound them into impromptu publications that were passed from hand to hand.
Although it might seem surprising, Cubans have a long tradition in online journalism. The roots of online Cuban journalism can be found in the independent press movement that flourished from the mid-1990s into this decade. Using basic journalistic tools for their reporting, these independent reporters have long made a practice of phoning, faxing, or e-mailing their stories to foreign-based news Web sites. But the new generation of bloggers differed from their predecessors in the independent press movement, most of whom were opposition activists with strong political views. Bloggers generally avoided links to dissident groups, and tended not to criticize the Castro regime directly, CPJ research showed. As a consequence—or perhaps due to a generational disconnect between the young bloggers and the country’s aging leaders—authorities have not cracked down as hard on the blogging community as they did on the independent press. Twenty-nine independent journalists were jailed in a massive 2003 crackdown on dissent; most of them remained in prison in 2009
The whole thing, here, is worth your time.