In between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean lies the island of Cuba. It is a small island with a total land area of 110,860 square km, yet it is so powerful enough to catch the attention of United States and to strengthen its security measures. The country was first ruled by the Spanish government and its history was marked by revolutions and uprising. Finally, in 1902, through the intervention of the US government, Cuba achieved its independence from the Spanish rule.
However, the proclamation of independence did not end the uprising and rebellious activities because the country was not freed from leadership of corruption and military-rule. The real independence, as recognized and celebrated by Cubans, was achieved when Fidel Castro took office. Fidel Castro was the leader of rebel army that has been fighting the corrupt government and established a communist form of government. At present, Cuba is under the rule of Castro and the state remains to be a communist government having three branches namely; the chief of state, legislative and judiciary.
General Raul Castro currently holds the chief of state which is comprised of Council of State and Council of Ministers (“The World Factbook”). On the economic aspect, the embargo that has been imposed upon the country has not yet been lifted. Currently, Venezuela is the main partner of the country and the main source of its petroleum needs. The living standard also remained low as a result of the embargo and discontinuance of foreign aids from several countries (“The World Factbook”). However, it has agricultural, trading, industrial and manufacturing enterprises where it sources out its economic and financial needs.
As of July of the present year, the country is occupied by an estimate of 11,451,652 people having different racial descent including Africans, Spanish, Westerns and Asians (“The World Factbook”). Despite changes that have been introduced in the country, there are still issues that have been bothering the nation and even its citizens. Through its communist form of government, many activities were hardly exercised by the citizens because of government suppression. The most suppressed and monitored activity is the expression of one’s thoughts and ideas.
The right to express one’s self is being curtailed by the government especially when it contains ideas that are against the government. The role of media is to protect the government as it is founded only to voice out words that the government desires to hear. In contrary to the role played by media in many countries, the Cuban media does not serve as the voice and protector of the people from the government but as an ally of the state. The treatment of the media people is also despicable in the eyes of the international community and of the journalists themselves.
Hence, this paper will present the relationship of the media and government as well as the role it plays in the country. Concomitant to that is the life of journalists under the communist government of Cuba. Role of Media Media has been recognized as indispensable tool in communication. Mass media, as defined, is “the technological means of sending information, ideas, opinion, etc. through the mass communication device to a diverse audience” (“Impact of Media on Culture”). Various means used by mass media in transmitting information effectively and swiftly includes television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and internet.
Notably, internet has been the most preferred and ideal means of mass media because of its ability of reaching a wider audience and is laxly monitored. In addition, internet is most preferred because it does not require profession to enable any individual to express his or her ideas. Among other nations, mass media is recognized as the fourth department of the government because of the role it plays in the political and social aspect. The mass media usually fills in the gap between the government and the people.
It voices out the sentiments or thoughts of the people to the government while it also brings to the people the sentiments and plans of the government for the country. In some instances, mass media becomes a watchdog against government abuses and activities that are definitely out of reason. Furthermore, mass media has continually become the source of information about things, persons, places, and events, among others. Due to the indispensable role of mass media in the society, it need to be free and not controlled by any person or agency nor can be regulated by the government.
Instead, it should be free in order to properly carry out its objective. Apart from that, it should not be controlled to ensure its impartiality and neutral role. Historical Background of Media in Cuba The epoch of mass media in Cuba can be traced back during the Spanish regime. The history also of the country’s press has undergone five periods (Browning). The Colonial period which stated from 1723 to 1868 is recognized as the first period. During that period, the first newspaper entitled Gazeta de la Habana was released in 1782 and become the nation’s publication (Browning).
In 1790, the newspaper was followed by the very first magazine entitled Papel Periodico de la Habana (Browning). Both were regulated by the Spanish government but enjoyed less restriction because of the French Revolution affecting the government power of Spain over Cuba. The second period began in 1869 when Independence was first craved for and ended in 1902. The period is also called the Independence Revolution (Browning). During that period, press was given full freedom purposely to win the support of the reformists.
Eventually periodicals containing ideas about reform began to evolve which includes El Cubano Libre, Estrella Solitaria, El Mambi, and El Boletin de la Guerra (Browning). Notably, during the second period, more revolutionaries were inspired to fight for their independence through the influence of Jose Marti who writes in several newspapers such as Patria, La Nacion, and New York Sun (Browning). The second period was marked by independent exercise of expression through publications that is direct, immediate and constant (Browning). The third period started when called the Republican period which started from 1902 and ended in 1930.
The third period was ruled under the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado (Browning). During his era, freedom of expression was enjoyed by journalists. Newspapers, publications and other dailies thrived in the city of Cuba, Havana. This period was also marked by prosperity because political parties sponsored lots of publications and added to the benefit of the country’s economy. However, the exercise of the freedom was shaken by the plan of Machado to assimilate and provide government subsidies in exchange for support in 1928 (Browning).
The following years was marked by economic downturn and political unrest that further led to the end of freedom enjoyed by the Cuban journalists. The fourth period started after Machado was overthrown in 1930 until 1959 (Browning). For 29 years, Batista ruled the nation. During the reign of Batista, the freedom of expression was experiencing threat of extinction. Though, technological innovations in journalism were introduced in the country. Among these includes increased commercial sophistication and steam-powered printing presses (Browning).
However, at the latter part of Batista’s reign, the freedom of expression has finally faded because the government took control of the press. The fifth period started when Batista was overthrown by the communist group led by Castro in 1959 and continues at the present era (Browning). Since the beginning of Castro era, the freedom of expression was already curtailed. Eventually, the press and media were finally controlled by the government and journalists were not given freedom to voice out their thoughts against the government. The government’s strict control over media started in 1930.
No independent journalists were freed to release publications which have the effect of criticizing the government. During that period, journalists tried to oppose the move of the government but to no avail. Finally, in 1990’s through the introduction of Internet, independent journalists have found new medium to castigate the government’s control of information (Browning). However, the media, private and public, are still under the control of the government. Information dissemination is still suffering strict regulation. Independent journalists also continue to struggle and risk their lives for an independent journalism.
It can be observed that since the evolution of media, the government already held control of it. The changes in phases under several governments have made media limited and restricted. Some of the actions that the government had done in curtailing free press and flow of information were censorship and closure of newspapers (Browning). Until now, the freedom of information remains evasive and independence of journalists is still obscure to be enjoyed. Current Status of Media in Cuba In Art. 53 of the 1976 Cuban constitution, freedom of press and expression have been explicitly stated.
However, such freedom is subjected to limitations as contained in Art. 62 Art. 5, further, contains that all communication should be controlled by the Communist Party for the benefit of the country (Browning). As an effect, information was regulated and controlled by the government. Journalists were also restrained from publicizing without the knowledge of the state. Apart from that, journalists were arbitrarily imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression. Mass media in Cuba is definitely not free. In the field of print media, the nation maintains three newspapers which are fully regulated by the government.
These nation’s newspapers are Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores (Browning). Granma is the official publication of the Communist Party which was founded in 1965 (Browning). Juventud Rebelde usually contains the same youth-oriented stories covered in Granma but in simplified and summarized manner. The Trabajadores, on the other hand, is more politically inclined publication as it contains Marxist principles (Browning). Notably, Granma’s circulation has widened in some other parts of the world through the power of internet.
The website is called Digital Granma Internacional (Browning). It is also noteworthy that during the recognition of the press, the Union de Periodistas de Cuba (Union of Cuban Journalists) was founded in July 15, 1963 (Browning). It is a nongovernment organization which engages the membership of professional journalists in order to work in distinguished media in the country. However, such organization has already been controlled by the government and its constitution also dictates that editorial line of journalists must follow that of government.
On this era of technological innovations, independent journalists found internet as a means of voicing out their cries and redress against the Cuban government. However, the control of the government in curtailing unwanted information has also reached the World Wide Web and several independent journalists have been imprisoned for such exercise of expression. It is noteworthy that 21 journalists have been recorded to have been imprisoned after a closed-door trial (“Attacks on the Press in 2008”). Among the journalists that suffered the harshness of the state is Yoani Sanchez, 33-year old blogger (“Attacks on the Press in 2008”).
Sanchez, at first, found freedom through her blog called Generation Y which contained observations about hurricane devastation, politically motivated arrest, and food shortages (“Attacks on the Press in 2008”). Her blog has been read abroad but has also been made known by the government. Thereafter, her passport was confiscated and was not allowed to leave the country. Today, state authorities has started to regulate internet cafes to track down individuals with the purpose of publishing dissent against the government through internet.
Another independent journalist that has experienced the government’s cruelty is Victor Rolando Arroyo (“Cuban Journalist in Second Week of Hunger Strike”). Arroyo, who writes in Union de Periodistas y Escritores de Cuba, was arrested during the fight for independence press in March 2003 (“Cuban Journalist in Second Week of Hunger Strike”). He caught the world’s attention when he took hunger strike for almost two weeks because of the maltreatment and indecent treatment of prisoners like him.