Cuba

By S. Daul

“Revolutionaries must express their ideas valiantly, define their principles, and state their intentions so that no one is deceived, neither friend nor enemy.” – Fidel Castro[1]

Historical Background

The Republic of Cuba, a highly government-controlled country throughout its history, is ranked 167th of 179 countries under the Free Press Freedom Index for 2011/2012,[2] according to Reporters Without Borders. The continuous oppression and establishments of bad institutions has manipulated Cuba’s citizens right to free speech and free press. In recent years, there has been a fight for these rights, but the country and its citizens still remain limited in their freedoms to this day.

Cuba is located 150 km south of Key West, Florida[3], yet a country so close to democracy could be nothing further from it. The Cuban Revolution, beginning in 1953 and ending in 1959[4], led to the turn of the country into a communist state. Under the dictatorship of Fidel Castro, Cuba began to adopt socialist reforms and nationalize business and industry under the Marxism-Leninism ideology Castro held at the basis of his leadership.[5] In 2006, Fidel Castro gave the duties of President of the Council of State of Cuba to his brother, Raul Castro, due to Fidel’s sickness. In 2011, Raul was reelected as President of Cuba with promise of liberties to the Cuban people that have been forgone in the past. Primarily a Spanish-speaking country, the majority of the 11 million people who live in Cuba are between the ages of 15 and 64 years old,[6] with a literacy rate of nearly 100 percent throughout the country.[7] Although Cuba has “one of the world’s highest levels of education … less than 2 per cent of the Cuban population have access to the Internet, the lowest figure in Latin America,”[8] a paradox that can be explained by Cuba’s lack of good institutions to implement such measures. With these types of foundations set in place, there is a limit to information, ideas and combined with the government dominance of Cuba, free speech and press.

Free Speech in Cuba

Historically, free speech has been limited through the use of censorship by the Cuban government, especially in the case of the Fidel Castro regime. Firstly, according to Fidel Castro, Cubans are not prohibited from “writing on any subject he likes.”[9] As well, the citizens are to “choose the form that suits him, let each express freely the idea he wants to. [The Fidel Castro Regime] will always judge his work though the prism of the Revolution.”[10] Although Castro recognizes the right to basic free speech of the people of Cuba, it is always subjected to the censorship of the Revolution, or the Castro Regime. For example, an unnamed journalist and publicist reflected on his running for Dean of the Provincial College of Journalist in Havana, Cuba, because he felt the Communist Party was infringing on the Cuban’s rights to freedom of expression, especially in the case of Cuban journalism.[11] His stand was taken as an expression of opposition to the government, and Fidel Castro responded by inventing “footnotes,” an addition to every published thought by Cuban journalists as a way of adding Castro’s input of the journalists’ speech.[12] The restriction here is obvious, Castro’s “free” speech is not truly free and is subjected to the government’s thought.

Secondly, it is a widely known idea by the Cuban people that, “publications attacking or condemning socialism or the Revolution … are prohibited,”[13] in Cuba, in the past and present.[14] The limitation is created in regards to the people is a “hushing” affect, also limiting the use of free speech in Cuba. When a Cuban citizen expressed their thoughts on Fidel Castro’s leadership through the press, Castro manipulated the majority into disregarding the expression based on viewpoint discrimination and ordered the opinion be withdrawn from the press entirely.[15] Removing speech based on its content is a form of censorship that has been used in Cuba by the Castro Regime, limiting their citizens freedom of expression.

Thirdly, in institutions based on the free exchange of information such as a university, the limitation of information, speech and eruption of violence all occurred under Castro’s Regime. The Castro Regime began to exchange college textbooks that symbolize freedom of information with targeted Revolutionary textbooks containing propaganda of the Communist Party of Cuba within them. All reading material in the college was replaced with government approved or published materials, as it still is today. On one account, “everybody who went into the college, including the teachers, was searched. … One group of pupils were assaulted as they left. … Above all, there was no freedom to speak.”[16] The combination of the limitation of information, limitations of freedom of speech and expression, and oppressive government has severely dampened a fight to free speech, splitting the Cuban populous to those that do, and those that do not want to see more freedom of expression in their nation, with many unaware of the benefit to free expression.[17]

Currently, Raul Castro’s election and rise to power has given hope to the otherwise gloomy free speech battle in Cuba. With the promise to lift some of the restrictions in Cubans’ daily lives[18], Raul Castro reintroduced previously banned items in 2008 that commit to the flow of information of a free society, and therefore free speech of it members, must have access to: computers, DVD players, as well as cellular telephones. With establishing access to a wealth of information, the hope for Raul Castro to “tolerate more debate than his brother” [19] surfaces, but the progress is moderate with no incentive to progress any quicker, as seen in the last year- a steady state of oppression and no significant free speech victories.

In Cuba’s past, the right to free press has been harmed many times, and unusually so under Fidel Castro’s dictatorship. In 1959, there were sixteen newspapers in Havana, including the Havana Post, El Mundo and Prensa Libre. All sixteen news outlets, however, were soon “directly taken over by the government”[20] with five of the sixteen shut down by Castro. Once taken over by Castro’s Regime, one selected news outlet became the producer of Cuban Communist Party news, under direct supervision of the party itself. Fidel Castro explains the implementation of the Communist Party’s rule over journalism and mass media is exemplifying free press, “Castro, not the press, reveals genuine news to the people of Cuba,”[21] and all material passed through him is the most reliable source of information for the people of Cuba.

A second case of Cuba’s limitations on free press includes the availability of radio and television to transmit information and speech. Many radio and television stations were closed down, just as newspaper publishers were by Castro, and for the same reason: criticism of his regime of any kind, and the right for those stations to “belong to the Government … as its mouthpieces.”[22]

A final case displays the coercing of advertising into canceling their advertising in individual news outlets, and only advertising for the Cuban Communist Party. In general, if the order were not obeyed, the firm would face strenuous financial obligations by Castro’s administration that would cause their business to shut down.[23] Along with the seizure and control of news outlets, all journalist associations and printer workers’ trade unions were replaced with leadership of the regime.[24] With the government in every hinge and crack of free press, press is no longer free and virtually does not exist.

Free Press in Cuba

The obvious censorship, unavailability of distribution through the press and nonexistent public opposition has left the issue of free speech in its current state today. As a vehicle to transmit free speech, free press cannot be established in Cuba without compelled interest from the citizens of Cuba in free speech itself, and a reorganization of the institutions occupying free press operators. In recent news, the censorship of Internet access in Cuba has received great attention. As expressed before, many Cubans do not have access to the web, and it continues to remain unseen because of the repression of new technologies by the nation’s leaders. Although Raul Castro has allowed some improvements in this realm, these are not enough for the Cuban population to be exposed to the idea of free speech to cause dissent from the current standing in Cuba. However, within the limited Internet access available to the Cuban population, many websites are still unavailable due to government-imposed filters of material, limiting what Cubans can see. For example, searching Fidel Castro’s health or trying to use Yahoo! may be blocked because the “government is deliberately withholding the necessary tools to empower its citizens.”[25] The response to Cuba’s strict Internet control phases only some of Cuba’s citizens, but a much bigger response has come from outside Cuba’s borders. Reporters Without Borders has listed Cuba as one of few 2011 and 2012 Enemies of the Internet,[26] criticizing the censorship of information in Cuba.

As well, blogging has gained popularity as a non-government controlled medium of press, with more Cubans gaining Internet access since Raul Castro’s decisions in office. Prominent blogs, “Generacion Y,” and “Sin EVAsion,” among others are emerging[27] help sustain the only type of free press for free expression there is in Cuba, an area the Communist Party of Cuba limits access to, but has yet to be completely censored. However, without readily accessible Internet access, it does not seem the blogging movement will be effective in the fight for free speech and free press as its own platform.

Cuba vs. United States: A Look at Free Speech & Press

Through many instances, it has been recognized that Cuba, in its history and current state, represses free speech and free press. Comparatively to the United States, Cuba grants its citizens much less freedom to express opinions and share information, much of it established from the major institution in place: the Communist Party of Cuba. This government, time and time again, has established discriminating upon a citizen’s viewpoint is the correct method to challenging the freedom of expression in Cuba (this has namely been done by Fidel Castro). In the United States, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled censoring information based on viewpoint discrimination is unacceptable in a variety of cases. In Snyder v. Phelps, decided March 2, 2011, the court held that the Westboro Baptist Church was entitled to their viewpoint, although the majority disliked their comment on public debate. In their ruling, it was apparent that although the message may be disagreeable, “the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea.”[28] Often times, the message portrayed by a Cuban citizen was of a political nature, and their rights to free speech were not upheld by the government. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Cohen v. California in 1971, in which a man wearing a jacket with the words “Fuck The Draft” was arrested for his political message. The Supreme Court held that however distasteful the message, the content of his speech should not be oppressed due to his First Amendment rights to speak freely, as long as it does not cause harm.[29] We protect the speech that we hate, an idea portrayed by Anthony Lewis in Freedom for the Though That We Hate, and Cuba holds very few rights for speech of individuals.

In the case of free press, Cuba has also been strictly limited, unlike the United States. The Communist Party of Cuba is free to seize a news outlet or stop publication at a news outlet for nearly any reason, while in the United States Supreme Court case New York Times v United States, the court ruled that the government cannot stop publication of unwanted materials merely because of the content of the publication unless under very stringent conditions. However, the right to free press is illuminated and established for the United States in this case, as “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”[30] Cuba has no protection for the freedom of the press, only government control.

Take Away

The United States, illuminated in just a few Supreme Court Cases, has greater freedom and respect for the free speech and free press rights of its citizens. It is easy to see why. “Freedom of expression is just one natural outcome of democratic reform”[31] and is highly respected and upheld, unlike in Cuba, in which the government has made a career of exploiting free press and free speech. The future for Cuba is unclear; although, let it be noted, without serious government reform, free speech and free press has no chance of remaining.


[1] Liss, Sheldon. Fidel!: Castro’s Political and Social Thought. Chicago: Westview Press, 1994. 129-135. Print.

[2] “PRESS FREEDOM INDEX 2011-2012.” Reporters Without Borders: For Freedom Of Information. Reporters Without Borders, n.d. Web. 4 Apr 2012.

[3] “CIA – The World Factbook.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 21 Mar 2012. Web. 3 Apr 2012.

[4] Liss, Sheldon. Fidel!: Castro’s Political and Social Thought. Chicago: Westview Press, 1994. 129-135. Print.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “CIA – The World Factbook.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 21 Mar 2012. Web. 3 Apr 2012.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Loewenstein, Antony. The Blogging Revolution. Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2008. 157-172. Print.

[9] Liss, Sheldon. Fidel!: Castro’s Political and Social Thought. Chicago: Westview Press, 1994. 129-135. Print.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Wiarda, Howard. Dilemmas of Democracy in Latin America: Crises and Opportunity. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005. 119-125. Print.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Liss, Sheldon. Fidel!: Castro’s Political and Social Thought. Chicago: Westview Press, 1994. 129-135. Print.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Wiarda, Howard. Dilemmas of Democracy in Latin America: Crises and Opportunity. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005. 119-125. Print.

[16] Cuba and the Rule of Law. 1. Geneva: International Commission of Jurists, 1962. 247. Print.

[17] Loewenstein, Antony. The Blogging Revolution. Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2008. 157-172. Print.

[18] “Consumer electronics in Cuba: Byte by Byte.” Economist. 19 May 2008: n. page. Web. 4 Apr. 2012.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Wiarda, Howard. Dilemmas of Democracy in Latin America: Crises and Opportunity. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2005. 245. Print.

[21] Liss, Sheldon. Fidel!: Castro’s Political and Social Thought. Chicago: Westview Press, 1994. 129-135. Print.

[22] Loewenstein, Antony. The Blogging Revolution. Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2008. 157-172. Print.

[23] Cuba and the Rule of Law. 1. Geneva: International Commission of Jurists, 1962. 247. Print.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Loewenstein, Antony. The Blogging Revolution. Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2008. 157-172. Print.

[26] “Cuba.” Reporters Without Borders: For Freedom Of Information . Reporters Without Borders, 12 Mar 2012. Web. 4 Apr 2012.

[27] Loewenstein, Antony. The Blogging Revolution. Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2008. 157-172. Print.

[28] Snyder v. Phelps. 131 S.Ct. 1207. Supreme Court of the United States. 2011. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.

[29] Cohen v. California. 403 U.S. 15. Supreme Court of the United States. 1971. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

[30] New York Times Co v. United States. 403 U.S. 713. Supreme Court of the United States. 1971. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.

[31] Loewenstein, Antony. The Blogging Revolution. Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2008. 157-172. Print.


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One Response to Cuba

  1. Pingback: Castro’s latest demands on the U.S.

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