Whether covering an ice cream company or a hurricane, Government and
independent journalists encounter the same obstruction of their work
OSMAR LAFFITA ROJAS | La Habana | 27 de Octubre de 2016 – 10:59 CEST.
The arbitrary arrest of a group of Cuban journalists on October 12 while
covering the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa has sparked outrage.
The arrest of these journalists came just a few days after the holding
of a human rights forum between the governments in Havana and Washington.
The deputy editor of the Cuban daily Granma, Oscar Sánchez Sierra, in
his article entitled “Matthew: Humanism, Transparency and Manipulation”
questioned the “true intentions” of independent journalists with their
coverage. Without naming him, he was referring to DIARIO DE CUBA
journalist Maykel González Vivero Vivero, who was detained and
arbitrarily deprived of his reporting equipment. He was also alluding to
journalist, blogger and Periodismo de Barrio director Elaine Díaz, who
headed up a group of nine reporters there.
These kinds of arbitrary police actions, authorized by higher-ups in the
military dictatorship, clearly demonstrate the lack of legal guarantees
protecting independent journalists.
The Penal Code and Law No. 88, for the “Protection of national
independence and the Cuban economy,” of 16 February, and No. 199 (the
infamous “Gag Law,” still in effect) are aimed at legally foiling the
free practice of journalism by authorizing arbitrary arrests, summary
trials, and long prison sentences.
A series of violations set down in the Penal Code, like contempt of
court (Article 144), libel, defamation and slander (Articles 320.1,
318.1 and 319.1, respectively), enemy propaganda (Article 103), the
spreading of false information (Article 115) and the famous “crime
against State Security,” contained in Article 125, Subsection C, allow
the judicial authorities to arbitrarily prosecute independent
journalists and sentence them to years in prison, with these arbitrary
laws hanging over them like a Sword of Damocles.
The “Gag Law,” meanwhile, defines as crimes supporting, facilitating or
assisting the embargo, or promoting the economic war against the Cuban
government. Invoking said law, in March of 2003 President Fidel Castro
ordered the arrest of 75 pro-democracy activists who, after summary
trials, were sentenced to extensive prison terms, in what became known
as the Black Spring.
The fact that the embargo laws remain in force is not a legal
justification for the Cuban regime continuing to enforce its draconian
Law No. 88.
The Gag Law specifies several crimes related to the freedom of speech
and of the press. Article 7, for example, states that those who
collaborate with radio or television stations, newspapers, magazines or
other foreign media, can be tried and sentenced to 2-5 years in prison,
a fine of 1,000 – 3,000, or both.
With regards to the freedom of speech and information, the Cuban
Constitution addresses this right in its Article 53, which recognizes
freedom of speech and press “in accord with the aims of socialist
society,” and cites as a guarantee for the exercise of these freedoms
that the media belongs to the State and cannot be privatized – which
actually guarantees their exclusive use by the military elite that has
been in power for more than 57 years.
The Constitution’s Article 54 recognizes freedom of speech and opinion,
based on an unlimited right to initiative and criticism; but always
subject to the straitjacket imposed by the Communist Party (PCC) through
its Ideological Department, which determines the limits curtailing the
right to assemble, demonstrate and associate, these restrictions being
imposed on alternative civil society organizations.
For the various agencies of the State, the PCC, and its satellite
organizations – the UJC, CTC, ANAP, FMC, UNEAC – Article 291 of the
Penal Code makes it clear that any employee of these State, Party or
social organizations that impedes or obstructs the work of official
media agents exercising their right to the freedom of speech and press,
as provided for by Articles 53 and 54 of the Constitution, can be
sanctioned. The offense may be compounded if they are found to have
abused their positions.
However, as Cuba’s perfidious and corrupt bureaucracy controls
everything, there are scarce cases of State officials, executives of
State enterprises, or PCC leaders who have been brought to trial,
prosecuted and convicted of obstructing the work of official journalists.
Susana Gómez Burgallo, a journalist for the paper Juventud Rebelde, in
an article entitled “Como hacer un reportaje en Coppelia” (“How to Cover
Coppelia”) related all the hurdles and obstacles thrown up by the
management of the ice cream company and the leaders of the Gastronomy
and Trade Business Group in Havana, who kept her report from coming out.
Days later, the Juventud Rebelde published a letter signed by Odalis
Olga Martinez Pérez, General Director of the Union of Trade and
Gastronomy Companies, in which she recognized the difficulties suffered
by the journalist. The missive stated that no civil servants of the
companies and units belonging to the Trade and Gastronomy Business Group
are authorized or empowered to hamper the execution of journalistic
work, as indicated by the Provincial Assembly of the People’s Power and
the leadership of the Union, and that it is not true that journalistic
work in any of these cases must be approved by the first deputy chairman
of the Council of the Provincial Administration.
Civil servants for the Recreation and Tourism Company (Recreatur), the
Heladería Coppelia (ice cream co.) and the aforementioned Business
Group, gave the journalist false information and deliberately stopped
her from completing her report. In response to this misconduct, the
decision was made to sanction them and definitively demote them to lower
positions, as well as to officially admonish and condemn the actions of
In her letter Odalis Martínez Pérez does not refer to Article 291 of the
Penal Code, though she should have, because the violations committed by
these officials at the RECREATUR and Unión de Empresas, abusing their
positions to prevent the exercise of the freedom of the press, as
guaranteed by the Constitution and laws; and impeding the journalist
from freely doing her job, constituted criminal misconduct, and should
have been sanctioned as such, which did not happen.
The Constitution and the Penal Code are wielded against independent
journalists, but never against officials at UEB companies and units and
other ministerial bodies. Although stipulated in no document, its
managers have not hesitated to issue verbal instructions to their
subordinates to prevent any journalist (even official ones) from
accessing any UEB company, completing any reports, or conducting any
research, without their previous authorization – which, as a general
rule, is not granted.
Source: Whether covering an ice cream company or a hurricane, Government
and independent journalists encounter the same obstruction of their work
| Diario de Cuba –