The Muzzle that is Cuba’s Latest Cyberspace Law

By Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES – On August 17th, Decree-Law No. 35 on Telecommunications, Information and Communications Technolologies, and the Use of the Radioelectric Spectrum was published in the Cuba’s Official Gazette.   

Passed by the National Assembly in April, this new law once again attacks one of the government’s most famous “enemies”: the Internet. From now onwards, the State has another legal instrument to further censor and control posts in cyberspace. I say another one because the government published Decree-Law 370 last year, and it’s still in force.

Cubans connected on a sidewalk to the Internet. File photo: AFP

Social media has become a real headache for the Cuban government in recent years. A wide array of user profiles denounce, criticize and ridicule the ruling class, especially for their distance from the country’s reality and their failed policies. 

This new decree-law criminalizes the spread of fake news, and the publication of offensive messages or slander that attacks “national prestige”. A friend tells me that what could be understood as slander remains unclear, or if it can be considered fake news and what the “prestige” they talk of is, but she says that every country must have a legal framework for Internet use.

With this very ambiguity, and war-like language that has become normal of the State, the decree-law outlines cases of cyber-security with high danger levels that can be classified as cyberterrorism, cyberwarfare and social subversion, which includes “attempting to subvert public order and encouraging social indiscipline.”

I told my friend that if we read it properly, nothing needs clearing up. The first of a long list of Decree-Law 35’s objectives is to “Contribute to using telecommunications services as an instrument to defend the Revolution.” It’s no surprise that everything else is focused around this objective. It’s no coincidence that something hasn’t been explained in enough detail.  On the other hand, it could be used as a way to prosecute some cyber “criminals”, whose “crime” still hasn’t been classified.  

The Internet has been crucial for independent journalism which sometimes makes mistakes, as it is run by humans, but it is fundamental to help us learn and understand what kind of country we are living in.

Independent journalists have always been on the government’s radar, who they say are “on the Empire’s payroll” and those who aren’t; they make the State uncomfortable just because they cover what the official press can’t.

With this decree-law, the State is also trying to silence Cubans who have found in social media a platform where they can develop their civic and political activism. This is what they are thinking about when they try “to stop telecommunications/ICT services being used to attack National Security and Public Order.”

Life has changed after 11J, even though the country is carrying on with its activities, there are some people who are resisting and don’t want everything to carry on as normal. Social media was where we were able to learn the magnitude of what had happened as a result of the protests: arrests, disappearances, summary hearings, all of the arbitrary actions against people who took to the street shouting for freedom.

The Decree-law includes clear sanctions, including: “in coordination with the corresponding authorities, the suspension of the Internet service or ending users’ contracts, who have used these contracted services”… to do what the government doesn’t like. This is what happened on 11J when ETECSA left the country without mobile data services, on government orders.

There was no respect for users who had paid for quite an expensive service, the most important thing was to try and stop people from watching videos of the protests that had broken out in many places, from organizing and to do the same in cities.

I share the idea of stopping people who try to “carry out actions or transmit information that is offensive or harmful to human dignity; or discriminatory content; that leads to harassment; that affects a person’s or family’s intimacy; a person’s identity, wellbeing and honor; collective security and overall wellbeing.”  This would be great if there wasn’t a perfectly outlined objective at the beginning, let me repeat it again: “Contribute to using telecommunications services as an instrument to defend the Revolution.”

Read more from Irina Echarry’s diary here.

Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.


13 thoughts on “The Muzzle that is Cuba’s Latest Cyberspace Law

  • September 4, 2021 at 3:20 pm
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    It is well over five years since my book ‘Cuba Lifting the Veil’ was first published. In it, I wrote:

    “The Castro family communist regime rigidly demands conformity with their vision, no other is permitted.”

    I then explained that the requirements for Cubans seeking to have a quiet life were:

    “Don’t challenge the system, accept it, stay mute and exist.”

    On Sunday July 11, 2021, thousands of Cubans demonstrated on the streets of Cuba’s cities and towns. What were the consequences? The Castro based communist regime rigidly applied conformity with their vision.

    In Cuba, although cell ‘phones have provided access to information, nothing has changed! Such is the success of communist dictatorship.

  • August 31, 2021 at 7:48 pm
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    You know for an Island country with a lot of problems you really cannot afford to stick your nose in other countries like Africa, the Middle East or Israel. Worrying about the US and the embargo when you can trade with 90 percent of the world. I bet so many of you given the chance would run so fast to the United States there would be few left on the Island.

  • August 31, 2021 at 6:56 am
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    Many comments above have strayed away from the Cuba-centric focus of this blog as a means to justify a world view they are choosing to apply to the self-imposed disaster that is the Castro dictatorship. Can we all agree that the US has clearly meddle in the destabilizing of governments in Latin America and elsewhere around the world? Does this hypocritical foreign policy give the Castros permission to oppress the Cuban people for more than 62 years?

  • August 27, 2021 at 6:01 pm
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    Hey Olga,
    I’m not talking about the rights and wrongs of your democracy ideals. Democracy is all very well. I think democracy is a great idea. No problem with it.
    What I’m saying is that:
    1. Historically speaking, the USA has been by far the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the Americas. Way over and above any other contributor.
    2. Regarding Cuba’s involvement in Africa – I’m going for Nelson Mandela’s take on it over your take on it. And he was African. You ain’t.

  • August 27, 2021 at 11:59 am
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    Nick you are precisely very predictable but that is ok. If you think is wrong for me to be against the Cuban dictatorship but is ok to for the Cuban Regime to train guerrillas around the world. And Chas I’m not anti Cuba I’m ANTI DICTATORSHIP against a horrendous bloody criminal drug trafficking Cuban regime. So is time ppl like you and others who live and enjoy the wonder of democracy stop denying to the Cuban people the rights you enjoy

  • August 26, 2021 at 2:38 pm
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    I didn’t see anywhere in Olga’s story an explanation of why the government passed the law. Perhaps some quotes from appropriate government officials would be informative. The internet has now become the main weapon for the American war on Cuba. I would like to be informed about whether the Cuban government is now trying to take action to prevent the CIA from unleashing its propaganda campaign on the Cuban people. And if so, how does this new law accomplish that?

  • August 26, 2021 at 2:11 pm
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    Olga,
    You suggest that Cuba is a sponsor of terrorism in the Americas?
    There are many who would say that by far the biggest sponsor of terrorism in the Americas has been the USA. It has been responsible for countless atrocities, extra-territorial killings, torture and terror. During the Cold War the USA was easily as ruthless as Russia when it came to stamping down in it’s local region.
    More recently atrocities took place at Guantanamo Bay where people were shipped over from Afghanistan and other places to be tortured away from the eyes of the outside world. These illegal detentions are ongoing even as the catastrophic consequences of trump’s miserable surrender to the Taliban unfold.
    Is this what that nasty little clown meant by ‘Make America Great Again’?
    Surrendering to the Taliban??
    From a position of control and calm, we have now seen many desperate civilians and a dozen U.S. service personnel needlessly lose their lives.

    Regarding your opinion on Cuba’s involvement in Africa:
    Sorry Olga, but many people would go along with Nelson Mandela’s opinion rather than yours. And he was African. A legendary African too. And he had the total opposite point of view to yours regarding Cuba’s involvement down there round his homeland. Whereas the USA was advising the apartheid regime in South Africa on how to stay in power.

    If you ever get a spare few minutes Olga, google ‘objectivity’.
    It’s interesting stuff.

  • August 26, 2021 at 12:32 pm
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    I’m not surprised how predictable people are specifically when blind for ideology I’m against the occupation of Palestina but condemning the horrible regime obsolete Cuban dictatorship sponsor of terrorism Israel knows that Cuba in the 60’s to 1980’s we’re training hamas in Cuba territory Cuba is sponsor of the every conflict in Latino America the Sandinistas. And every single guerrilla in the Western Hemisphere, and Africa as well Namibia Angola, and Congo, even when the dictator Franco help the Cuban regime with lucrative credits ( that of course Castro never paid) Castro was helping with training to ETA and on. In my humble opinion I think USA has been very tolerant with the Havana’s regime the embargo is very weak. The marines should have arrived in Alamar’s cost long time ago the Cuban people would live better today.

  • August 25, 2021 at 1:54 pm
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    Regarding Cuba – ‘The apartheid Zionist Israeli regime’ as described by Olga, is the only other regime in the world which, at the UN, votes in favour of the USA’s hypocritical, corrupt, anti-freedom and anti-democratic policy toward Cuba.

    Regarding the ongoing situation in the apparently Godless ‘Holy Land’ – sure the Palestinians have committed all kinds of acts of violence. But these people are having their lands stolen due to the Israeli ‘lebensraum’ policies.
    If some gun-toting f**ker tries to steal what’s mine, I’m going to try and repel them by whatever means available. And if it gets desperate, I’m resorting to desperate measures. No time for niceties.

    Even the disgraceful US attitude toward sovereign Cuba is no match for the sickening and racist policies of the Israelis toward the people whose homelands they are stealing.

  • August 24, 2021 at 11:53 am
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    Dan, you could at least have told the complete circumstances of the recent problems at the Gaza frontier From the Guardian UK website

    Israeli aircraft struck Hamas sites in Gaza late on Saturday, the military said, in an escalation of hostilities after earlier cross-border gunfire seriously injured an Israeli soldier and wounded 41 Palestinians, including two critically.
    The injuries came during a Gaza protest organised by the enclave’s Islamist rulers, Hamas, and other factions in support of Jerusalem, where Palestinian clashes with Israeli police helped spark an 11-day Israel-Hamas conflict in May.
    Hundreds of Palestinians gathered near the strip’s heavily fortified border, where some tried to scale the border fence and others threw explosives towards Israeli troops, the Israeli military said. “IDF (Israeli military) troops responded with riot dispersal means, including when necessary live fire,” it said in a statement.
    Among the two Palestinians critically injured was a 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head, Gaza’s health ministry said. It described most of the other injuries as moderate, including gunshots to limbs, backs and abdomens.
    Cross-border fire from Gaza seriously wounded an Israeli border police soldier, who is in hospital receiving medical treatment, the military said. There was no claim of responsibility for the Gaza gunfire.

  • August 24, 2021 at 11:45 am
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    Dan I’m against my tax money going to support the apartheid Zionist Israeli regime.
    6 people got shot in the Cuban protests one dead in Cárdenas. Now Dan tell me how you feel about the new decreto 35 and the cyberspace Law? How about children younger the 18 in the obligatory military service in Cuba used with sticks to beat the the peaceful protester? Minor in jail for only doing the most elemental human rights protests peaceful ? If you can answer me without mentioning the word Blockade would be great.

  • August 24, 2021 at 9:41 am
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    Olga, do you ever read the posts on HT about anything besides Cuba ? Like today for example, “Dozens of Palestinians Hurt as Israeli Soldiers Fire on Protestors” That injustice must really upset you, since you become incensed when the police in Cuba shove people too hard. Isn’t it funny ? No one is trying to overthrow the Israeli Government, to the contrary, US taxpayers pay billions of dollars to prop it up. Yet they feel free to treat people in this manner, because the Palestinians are not, to quote Chomsky, worthy victims. The article says that 269 Palestinians, include 66 children were killed this year. Is anyone you know working on a slick, Patria y Vida type presentation for these people ? How many protestors in Cuba were shot this year ? I’m sure that you know that Orientales in Havana used to be called “Palestinos” by the Habaneros. Summon up all your honesty and answer this question. Which set of Palestinians enjoys the most human rights ?

  • August 23, 2021 at 2:08 pm
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    Prestige? Well yes, some people think Cuban have better life that the rest of the Latino Americans, that the regime is a democracy, and after 60 years can call that disaster Revolution. Those blind fanatical leftists are always going to believe in the lies of the Cuban regime.

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