Throughout the 2000’s, the Cuban government has continued to repress expression and deter any opposition. Many brutal tactics implemented during Fidel Castro’s time in power – including surveillance, imprisonments, restrictions on expression– are still in place in Cuba. The country has undergone reforms, but basic human rights and basic living conditions still continue to decline.
The Cuban government’s misuse of laws facilitates the concentration of power through a weak judicial system and non-credible press. Cuba strictly enforces and maintains rules on “disorder”, “disrespect”, “dangerousness” and has a monopoly on media outlets. Under the Penal Code, individuals can be arrested for “special proclivity” to commit criminal activity—prior to even doing so— “due to conduct in clear contradiction to the norms of the socialist morals.Furthermore, the citizens of Cuba are not guaranteed due process and the judiciary is under political control. Many times, defense lawyers tend to not challenge evidence presented by the government resulting in unfair sentences.
Citizens have expressed fear and frustration due to these laws and practices but cannot fully voice their opinions without the risk of being punished.” Journalists and protestors who
are considered critical of the government, risking harassment and imprisonment. Furthermore, critical content is routinely blocked, and information is tightly controlled. In 2018, more decrees on the “informatization of society” and restrictions on artistic expressions were introduced. Under these laws, it became illegal for Cubans to use foreign country servers and provide artistic services in public without the government’s approval.
In 2003, the Cuban government reformed travel restrictions to allow for greater travel permission for citizens. Although these reforms gave previously denied individuals more travel rights, they also allowed the government broad discretionary power to restrict movement on grounds of “defense and national security” or “other reasons of public interest”. ” Despite reformed measures, authorities have continued to selectively refuse travel clearances and permission to people and in fact have more discretion. In the past two decades, countless people have been barred from traveling and imprisoned on this basis.
In the past few years, Cuba has undergone key developments allowing for greater access to the internet, economic freedoms and a new generation of leadership; however, at the same time, there are continued infringements on media and human rights violations occurring. Both advances towards democracy and further consolidation are continuously happening in Cuba.
In 2019, the Cuban Constitution was reformed to adopt limits to presidential terms and qualifications and create the National Electoral Council and “no” votes. The text also recognized reforms to private property and foreign investment and expanded upon human right protections. Furthermore, Cuba’s potentially dynastic power hold was broken by the appointment of Miguel Díaz-Canel and Manuel Marrero as state leaders. Although the one-party system and socialist economy management still exists, the reforms and appointments of Díaz-Canel and Marrero indicate modest progress against consolidation. However, there is still increasing political persecution and threats to freedom of movement and expression.
Midst of the wake of on-going threats of consolidation to the country, resistance towards the government is slowly growing stronger. Although dissident movements are rare, they are on the rise as compared to years ago and some are making history. In recent years, there has been an increase in Cubans rallying online over issues. Due to the stringent laws regarding movement and government’s control over physical spaces, Cubans have taken to technology to aid their fight for rights.
Cuba’s 2018 reform that allowed mobile users to connect to the 3G mobile data service has triggered resistance. The ability to connect and share through the Internet and social media allowed people to organize demonstrations, gain media attention and gather. Cubans took to the internet to accost ministers, criticize government policies and call for changes to internet prices and constitutional voting terms. The ability to rally online has allowed citizens to air grievances and capture the government’s attention.
Recently, the internet fueled a rare protest after a rapper’s police encounter was live streamed on Facebook. The stream prompted an artist collective group to go on a hunger strike and get arrested; however, the groups’ detentions were also filmed on cell phones and widely shared over social media. Following this, there was an outcry of support and many Cubans quickly mobilized to confront the government. The protestors earned the attention of the government and pushed for fundamental and artistic freedoms. In a historic move the government agreed to hold discussions with a few members, resulting in a potential review of the jailed rapper’s case and further talks on complaints about freedom of expression. Although there have been no further developments from the government, this protest and discussion mark an unprecedented cry for freedom- a remarkable feat in a country where opposition is severely repressed.