Dating back to the late 1950’s, as Fidel Castro led his forces to victory and became dictator, Cubans have been stripped from excelling their freedom of speech and freedom of the press to its fullest potential. All types of media in Cuba are tightly censored and closely controlled by the goverment. As a result, this has lead to severely restricted and biased information and opinion among all types of Cuban media. In order to get around the government’s control and be able to acquire a voice, Cuban citizens have seen the need to develop numerous techniques. The creation of a “Black-Market” and the rise of independent journalists are realities that I find important to the study in our course of International Media. It reflects how the Cuban government has and continues to implement laws that prevent freedom of speech or expression.
Guillermo Fariñas was persecuted and later imprisoned by Cuban officials for reporting corrupt activities within the government while he was General Secretary of the Healthcare Union Workers in 1995. Fariñas has endured 23 hunger strikes in search of freedom of speech. One, in 2011, lasted 134-days and nearly ended his life.
Less than 3 per cent of Cuba’s population is online, that is according to government figures. If we stack up those numbers against other countries, the communist island of Cuba ranks as having the lowest ratio of computers per inhabitant in all of Latin America, as well as the lowest Internet access ratio of the entire Western hemisphere. The reason? The government censors most content on the web while banning private Internet connections. Public access points such as Internet cafes, coffee shops, Universities, or libraries are some of the few places where citizens can access the Internet. Therefore, a “Black-Market,” has been created. What the black-market does is it allows individuals to purchase or rent usernames and passwords that belong to former government officials. Once a username and password is rented or purchased, unlimited web access is granted. A meager nine out of every 1,000 Cubans are estimated to be Internet users, most of them using accounts that were once linked to government officials.
Cuban’s waiting in line outside an Internet Cafe. Rates for an hour of web access in a cyber cafe range from $6 to $10, making it nearly impossible for many when you take into account that the average salary is around $20 a month. (photo NY Times)
Another way Cubans are working around the tightly monitored censor laws in the country is through independent journalism. Brave bloggers like Yoani Sanchez challenge the countries tight censorship laws by blogging about the life in Havana while criticizing Castro’s government, in her blog Generacion Y. With limited (illegal) and expensive access (8 USD /Hr), Sanchez has to constantly innovate, so she prepares her columns about the daily life in Havana on a flash memory stick. In the age of communication and technology there are no limits on the distribution of opinions she says. Like Sanchez, there have been numerous journalists that have stepped out of the shadows to force their voice across the rich and poor sectors of the communist island. It’s not easy, those who try to establish a free press face significant obstacles, including lack of supplies (pens, notebooks), and inadequate financial resources. In addition, fax machines and modems are illegal unless authorized by the state. And most important, independent journalists face the absolute opposition of Raul Castro and his government. In addition, the flow of media (radio & print) that originates from exiles in Southern Florida are also important to shed light on. Radio y Television Marti is a radio and television broadcaster based in Miami, Florida. The radio, which is ran by Cuban immigrants, broadcasts anti-government news and opinion to Cuba. It clashes against the island’s tightly-censored and heavily-controlled government-run newscasts. Its broadcasts can also be heard and viewed in the United States.