Cuba has the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the Americas, and at least 24 journalists were in prison in the country during 2009. The constitution prohibits private ownership of media outlets and allows speech and journalism only if they “conform to the aims of a socialist society.” Moreover, Cuba’s legal and institutional structures are firmly under the control of the executive branch. Among other legal mechanisms, laws criminalizing “enemy propaganda” and the dissemination of “unauthorized news” are used to restrict freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. Insult laws carry penalties of three months to one year in prison, with sentences of up to three years if the president or members of the Council of State or National Assembly are the objects of criticism. The 1997 Law of National Dignity, which provides for prison sentences of 3 to 10 years for “anyone who, in a direct or indirect form, collaborates with the enemy’s media,” is aimed at independent news agencies that send their material abroad.
During 2008 the authorities had relaxed restrictions on the purchase of communications technology, and the growing number of blogs in Cuba provided some new space for free expression, but in 2009 the government continued to harass and threaten journalists. The most serious development was a three-year prison sentence imposed in May on Alberto Santiago Du Bouchet of the independent news agency Habana Press. He had been charged with disrespect and distributing enemy propaganda. In other cases, independent reporters Ileana Perez Napoles and David Aguila Montero were arrested and questioned in July, and Yosvany Anzardo Hernandez, editor of the online newspaper Candonga, was detained for two weeks in September. The director of the Havana-based news agency Hablemos Press, Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez, was also repeatedly detained and questioned.
The government owns all traditional media except for a number of underground newsletters. It operates three national newspapers, four national television stations, six national radio stations, and one international radio station, in addition to numerous local print and broadcast outlets. All content is determined by the government, and there is no editorial independence. Cubans do not have the right to possess or distribute foreign publications, although some international papers are sold in tourist hotels.
During 2008, as part of a policy of greater economic openness promoted by President Raul Castro, the authorities introduced measures to ease the private purchase of some consumer goods, including mobile telephones, computers, televisions, and tape recorders. However, the internet remained extremely slow and expensive. It is estimated that around 14 percent of the Cuban population uses the internet, but this is a government-run intranet, and only marginal numbers of people are able to access the global internet. Cuban officials strictly regulate and monitor internet use, with the threat of five years in prison for connecting to the internet illegally and 20 years for writing “counterrevolutionary” articles for foreign websites. Despite these restrictions, there is a small but vibrant blogging community. In 2009, writers in Cuba produced at least 25 independent, journalistic, and regularly updated blogs. Most of these writers are under the age of 35 and generally avoid links to dissident groups. Nonetheless, state officials have questioned and threatened a number of bloggers. In November, state security officers detained and assaulted the internationally renowned blogger Yoani Sa
nchez and two of her colleagues, Claudia Cadelo and Omar Luis Pardo Lazo. The authorities also barred Sanchez from travelling out of the country.