Cuba: Censorship on Government Websites

Isbel Díaz Torres

Cuba's leading online website censors most comments that are not favorable to the Cuban leadership and government.
Cuba’s leading online website censors most comments that are not favorable to the Cuban government and its policies.

HAVANA TIMES — Strategies used to censor information at official Cuban government web-sites are not only varied, they are also employed at the complete discretion of their webmasters. In this post, I will focus on how user comments are censored on these webpages.

The website for Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), represents one of the extremes of this phenomenon, offering absolutely no space where Internet navigators can leave their comments. Apparently the PCC has absolute confidence in its ideas and needs no feedback.

Other government sites, however, have gradually opened themselves up to public opinion and have afforded users varying degrees of freedom of expression.

The site for Cuba’s Juventud Rebelde newspaper, for instance, is one page that offers a fairly broad space for comments by readers, who can express opinions that are diametrically opposed to those presented by the author of a given article.

The norms published by the site are: 1) All comments must be made on the basis of respect towards the opinions of others. 2) No offensive, vulgar or obscene remarks will be tolerated.

The webpage of Trabajadores, the official newspaper of the Cuban Workers’ Federation, limits comments to those who access the site via the Cuban domestic Intranet, and an unrestricted area for those who do so through the Internet. Do they think there are more workers with Internet connections that Intranet access in Cuba?

I recently discovered that the government’s webpage Cubadebate censors some commentators that participate in discussion at its discretion. The interesting thing here is not that certain opinions expressed in commentaries are eliminated because of their critical nature, but that the site directly targets and excludes certain individuals.

I can attest to this because I have tried to post comments at the site on several occasions, adhering to the norms of the page, only to discover my texts aren’t published, even when my opinions coincide with those of other commentators who did manage to have their remarks posted.

Cubadebate’s norms are: All comments that are off-topic or use vulgar, violent or racist language, or are offensive or contrary to the Law in any way, will be eliminated.

I am unsure as to how a comment could be “contrary to the Law”. If I wrote I am against the Cuban Adjustment Act, would I be censored as well? What if I said I was against the Cuban State’s Budget Law?

In addition, Cubadebate also enables and disables an article’s comments window at its discretion. I imagine there are certain authors who hold the absolute truth and cannot be contested in their views in any way.

In short, I don’t see how the technical and financial limitations alluded to by Cuban authorities in connection with the full use of Internet’s potential could have anything to do with this restriction in the use of available technological resources.

In my view, it is a question of censorship, plain and simple. If it isn’t, I’d be more than happy to have someone explain to me what it is.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.


7 thoughts on “Cuba: Censorship on Government Websites

  • July 22, 2013 at 8:21 pm
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    Most sites, in Cuba and elsewhere, ban known trolls.

  • July 15, 2013 at 8:02 am
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    John, you can go to the New York Times or Washington Post websites and leave a comment calling President Obama a “boob”, or an “idiot” or whatever, just short of vulgarity, profanity or violence and they will post it. Try sending a comment to CubaDebate calling Raul Castro anything other than “President General” and see if it gets posted. Honestly, John, there is no comparison between the censorship in Cuba and the ‘moderating’ that occurs in the US. Don’t be ridiculous.

  • July 14, 2013 at 9:21 pm
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    Don’t be ridiculous. One can find an enormous range of political opinion in US media, ranging from the most conservative positions through to the most radical, of any flavor. The editor of this blog, Circles Robinson regularly links to interviews from Democracy Now, a leftist news media source from the USA. Dozens more examples exist.

    Anybody who says their is no freedom of speech or diversity of opinion the US media is unserious and unrealistic.

  • July 14, 2013 at 9:15 pm
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    “Cubadebate” is an oxymoron. It should be called “Cubanodebate”.

    Such has been the nature of
    Cuban political discourse for 54 years. Plenty of talk but no debate.

  • July 14, 2013 at 3:46 pm
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    As long as there is the sort of lack of freedom of expression in the organs of power that there is, democracy can only be the distant dream it is for Cubans.

    It is quite similar to the free press in the U.S. wherein free expression is limited to those whose thoughts and opinions do not greatly contradict the truth as narrowly defined by those in power.

    It’s no conspiracy.

    It’s the way money and power have corrupted and trumped democracy.
    The United States is an oligarchy: an unelected dictatorship of money.

  • July 14, 2013 at 11:46 am
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    Excellent comment. Good article. I appreciate the background information you have provided regarding the regime’s laws which authorize government repression.

  • July 14, 2013 at 3:53 am
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    Censorship in Cuba is a fact of life. Self censorship as well.

    People and even foreign correspondents take care what they say and write in public. Having a comment removed is an annoying but small thing compared to the other sanctions people may face. People that speak out face all kinds of legal and para-legal sanctions. This can range from a visit of your local chivato to warn you over loss of education, job, housing, … to loss of freedom. Remember that Cuba has laws like the law of “dangeousness” that allows the regime to put people in jail for years without them having done anything. Being judged as “antisocial” -which includes opposing the regime – is enough.

    As far as what is against the law in Cuba there are lots of repressive laws.

    Article 144, which defines the crime of desacato, or “disrespect.” It states that anyone who threatens, slanders, defames, insults, harms or in anyway outrages or offends, verbally or in writing, the dignity or honor of an authority, public official, or their agents or auxiliaries, in the exercise of their functions or because of them can be imprisoned for between three months and one year or fined or both. If the act of disrespect is directed at the head of state or other senior officials the penalty is a prison term from one to three years

    Articles 208 and 209, which define the crime of asociación ilícita, or “illicit association.” These articles state that anyone belonging to an unregistered association can be fined or imprisoned for between one and three months. The promoters or leaders of such an association can be fined or imprisoned for between three months and a year. Anyone who participates in illegal meetings or demonstrations can be fined or imprisoned for between one and three months. The organizers of illegal meetings or demonstrations can be fined or imprisoned for between three months and a year.

    Article 103, which defines the crime of propaganda enemiga, or “enemy propaganda.” It states that anyone who incites against the social order, international solidarity or the socialist state by means of verbal, written or any other kind of propaganda, or who makes, distributes or possesses such propaganda, can be imprisoned from between one to eight years. Anyone who spreads false news or malicious predictions likely to cause alarm or discontent among the population, or public disorder, can be imprisoned from between one and four years. If the mass media are used, the sentence can be from seven to fifteen years in prison.

    Article 207, which defines the crime of asociación para delinquir, or “associating with others to commit crimes.” It states that if three or more persons join together in a group to commit crimes, they can be imprisoned for between one and three years, simply for meeting together. If the only objective of the group is to provoke disorder or interrupt family or public parties, spectacles or other community events or to commit other anti-social acts, the penalty is a fine or a prison sentence of between three months and one year.

    Article 115, which defines the crime of difusión de falsas informaciones contra la paz internacional, or “dissemination of false information against international peace.” It states that anyone who spreads false news with aim of disturbing international peace or putting in danger the prestige or credit of the Cuban State or its good relations with another state can be imprisoned for between one and four years.

    Article 143, which defines the crime of resistencia, or “resistance.” On occasion, the crime is referred to as desobediencia, or “disobedience.” It states that anyone who resists an official in the exercise of his duties can be imprisoned for between three months and a year or fined. If the official is trying to apprehend a criminal or someone who has escaped from prison, the penalty is a prison term from two to five years.

    Articles 72-90, which define the crime of peligrosidad, or “dangerousness.” These articles come under the heading, “The Dangerous Status and Security Measures,” a section of the Penal Code under which someone can be sentenced for up to four years in prison on the grounds that the authorities believe the individual has a “special proclivity” to commit crimes, even though he or she might not have actually committed a crime. These articles broadly define “dangerous” people as those who act in a manner that contradicts “socialist morality” or engage in “anti-social behavior.” Moreover, Article 75 provides for an “official warning” to people the authorities deem to be in danger of becoming “dangerous,” i.e., those who are not yet “dangerous” but who are regarded as having criminal tendencies because of their “ties or relations with people who are potentially dangerous to society, other people, and to the social, economic and political order of the socialist State…”

    See: Repressive Laws in Cuba abusing human rights” http://www.cubaverdad.net/repressive_laws.htm

    Also see:
    http://cubacensura.impela.net/
    http://peligrosidad.impela.net/

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