Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Seventh Anniversary of the “Black Spring” Marked by Protest

On Monday, the Cuban opposition movement “The Ladies in White”(pictured right) began a week of protest to mark the seventh year anniversary of the “Black Spring,” a media crackdown where 75 journalists and librarians were imprisoned between March 18th-20th in 2003. The Committee to Protect Journalists(CPJ) states that 22 of these individuals still remain imprisoned for their dissident opinions

Reuters reports that the movement, which was awarded the 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, initiated a mostly silent protest, the only words spoken was the phrase “Zapata lives!”

“Zapata” refers to Orlando Zapata Tomoyo, a member of Cuba’s Republican Alternative Movement and one of Amnesty International “Prisoners of Conscience” who died in prison on February 23rd after a 85 day hunger strike. This course of action was in protest to poor prison conditions.

“All of the journalists are suffering from medical problems that have emerged or worsened during their..incarcerations,” a two year old CPJ report said.

Cuban officials have always asserted that those imprisoned are agents of the United States seeking to destabilize the country. The dissidents were convicted under Law 88 and Article 91, laws enacted by the Cuban government to protect the nation from foreign influence. Cuba has been subject to a 50 year embargo embargo by the U.S. which Amnesty International has described as “immoral.”

However, in an open letter to the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Reporters Without Borders called on Brazil and its regional partners to exert more pressure on the Cuban government to release the prisoners, stating that the regime’s struggles against the embargo “does not excuse the brutal treatment and humiliation of journalists, activists, trade unionists and their families.”

According to the Associated Press, Guillermo Farinas, a fellow imprisoned Cuban, was hospitalized earlier this month. The 48 year old independent journalist had began a hunger strike in response to the death of Zapata and to continue the protest for better prison conditions.

“He remains firm in his hunger strike,” his mother told the news service.

Photo Credit: Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Huffington Post blogger blocked from accepting journalism award by Cuban government

Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban blogger for The Huffington Post who garnered attention in recent months for offering frank criticism of her country’s Communist government, said last month that she was barred by Cuban officials from traveling to the U.S. to accept a coveted journalism award.

Sánchez has been publishing the blog Generación Y – full of social commentary on daily life and political struggles from her hometown of Havana, and offering some of the most blatant criticism of her country’s one-party system found within Cuba – for the past two years. Despite strict government censorship in Cuba, she has managed to keep her blog alive and active by evading police and sometimes emailing entries to her friends in other countries to post. Time magazine listed her as one of the world’s 100 most influential persons in 2008, stating that “as one of the under the nose of a regime that has never tolerated dissent, Sánchez has practiced what paper-bound journalists in her country cannot: freedom of speech.”

In May, Cuban authorities denied Sanchez permission to fly to Madrid to accept the Ortega y Gasset Prize in digital journalism for creating Generation Y, which gets more than 1 million hits a month.

Then, in early October, she became the first blogger to win one of the Maria Moors Cabot Prizes given by Columbia University for journalism that advances inter-American understanding. But she was again denied an exit visa by the Cuban government, rendering her unable to attend the event where she made history.

She made a video recording in response to her visa denial, which she posted on her blog and which was played at the Cabot Prize award ceremony on October 12. “We Cubans are like small children,” she explained in the message, “who need Father’s permission to leave the house.”

Censorship in Cuba: Leaps but not Bounds

By Katie Lee Hull

While restrictions on travel to and from Cuba are slowly being lifted, strict regulations on media and information remain for Cuban citizens. Since taking over for his brother in February of 2008, Raul Castro has lifted bans that used to make it near impossible for Cubans to access information on the internet. Hotels are one of the few places on the island with access to internet, and up until recently, Cubans were banned from tourist hotels. But even now that the ban has been lifted, the government still manages to keep the internet out of reach by charging exorbitant prices that keep both personal computers and internet connection out of the price range of most Cubans.  
But even with restrictions, many still manage get their voices heard. Yoani Sanchez is one such blogger whose site, Generation Y, is censored in Cuba. Named as one of Time magazines 100 most influential people, her blog makes its way around the island nation on everything from computer memory sticks to lose leaf paper.

Just being censored by her government no doubt helped catapult her to fame both in and out of her country, and at the same time, her international reputation is probably the one thing keeping her out of jail. Currently, 21 bloggers are in jail in Cuba, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

She hasn’t been allowed to leave Cuba to accept Spain’s prestigious Ortega and Gasset prize for digital journalism, which she won last year, or to attend the publication party held in Italy to honor her new book, Cuba Libre, which is comprised of a collection of her blogs. Sanchez writes on her blog that “If the situation continues, I will have to start telling my life in the improbable tense: ‘I could have been there except,’ ‘I would have presented the book if not for…’ or ‘I would manage to travel if I shut up.’ Today I’ve been to the launch of Cuba Libre, in the virtual way that only a blogger can.  I spoke by phone with those present, answered some questions, and the connection failed before I could say ‘Goodbye.'” 

Read more about Internet restrictions in Cuba here.