No Free Press in CubaPublished: Dec 1, 2023 Reading time: 4 minutes
A few days after he took power in 1959, Fidel Castro decreed: “Where there is crime there is no freedom of the press; crime is when what is happening is being hidden.”
Only 15 months after this declaration, on May 14th 1960, the last autonomous newspaper in Cuba, “Free Press”, was closed.
The justification for this was based on an opinion article that was written by the journalist Luis Aguilar Leon which was called “Time of Unanimity”. In it, Aguilar defended the rights of another newspaper, Diario de la Marina, which had also been closed three days earlier for criticizing the way the new regime was acting in the country.
All the actions taken by the Castro government against the press unquestionably violated article 33 of the Cuban Constitution that established the freedom of press as a basic human right.
This article from the 1940 Cuban constitution guaranteed that: “Every person shall, without prior censorship, be able to freely express their thoughts, through written, oral, or any other method of expression through whatever means they wish.”
According to this Constitution and in accordance with the Board of Directors of Caja de Retiro Periodistico established in 1944, over 701 different publications circled the island.
By 1959 this included dozens of radio newscasts and television stations. Even though the idea of free press was relatively new, it was an excellent vehicle for freedom of expression all over the island.
1960 marked not only the end of free press in Cuba, but also the starting point of the creation of a propaganda machine that served only the state.
Under Castro, journalists became considered to be ideological agents of the state. At their respective workplaces, they are officially registered as civil servants.
The servitude of the mass media, and the death of the free press, became public knowledge when the 1976 Constitution came into force, which specified in Article 53:
“The freedom of speech and the press is recognized to every citizen in socialist society by the government. In accordance with socialist principles, the press, radio, television, cinema, and other mass media are state and social property. They cannot be, in no case, privately owned. The state establishes the principles of how all methods of social communication are organized and function.”
In turn, the Constitution of April 2019 changed the phrasing, but not the purpose of Article 55. The article now specifies that “Freedom of the press is recognized to all citizens. This right must be exercised in conformity with all laws and societal rules.”
But beyond these charters against the freedom of the press, which explicitly violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the state created prison sentences to keep people from informing themselves or others outside of the state media. These are some of the sentences:
- Printing Underground Documents- three months to a year in prison.
- Usurpation of Legal Capacity- working in a profession for which one is not qualified in a public authority, one to three years in prison.
- Usurpation of Public Functions, impersonating a public authority without legitimate title or authorization- one to two years in prison (in contrast, the Cuban Journalists Union published a book in 2008 titled “Fidel: Journalist.” Castro never held the official title of journalist.
- Promoting or Directing Illicit Information- three months to a year in prison. Because of these laws, any journalist in Cuba belonging to a group outside the State Press Agency can be arrested or deprived of their freedom.
There are other more serious categories such as acts against the Security of the State, Broadcasting False News and Enemy Propaganda. Penalties for this can carry up to 8 years in prison, but if any form of mass media is used then you can be thrown in prison for 7 to 15 years.
Because of this large violation of human rights, and the danger of trying to stay informed outside of the state, the press, as it is known in the western world, doesn’t exist in Cuba. You could say that the Cuban government doesn’t violate the freedom of the press, because you can’t violate what doesn’t exist.