By Ronal Quiñones
HAVANA TIMES – The massive July 11 protests in Cuba produced several effects. The most notable were the social ripples, the awakening of consciousness, and the irrefutable proof that the government is willing to do anything to stay in power.
The latter is being accomplished in several ways. The most violent of them was seen during those days of protest, but now there are other actions taking place under the mantle of legality. Examples of these are Decrees 35, 42 and 43 on telecommunications, and Decree 41 regarding the creation of a new Ministry of Information.
These initial measures all point towards greater restriction of free expression online; further, they constitute a threat to user privacy. Among other things, the new laws establish that the providers of telecommunications services (in this case, there’s only one – Etecsa), can interrupt, suspend or cancel services to users who post “false” information, or who affect “public morality” and “respect for public order”.
In addition, the norm indicates that providers should make available to the security apparatus the “technical facilities and services they require”. They should also provide the Ministry of Communications “the information they deem necessary”, clearly to know who is using the online media, and how. And, if it should become necessary, to publicly denounce them.
Of course, it also outlines the government’s response to “cybersecurity incidents”. In addition to addressing cybersecurity problems that everyone agrees with, they’ve added: “spreading of false news”, and “slander that impacts the country’s prestige”. It also sanctions messages that promote mobilizations or social indiscipline, or that undermine the reputation of a person – in other words, the leaders.
The objective is clear, given the avalanche of videos that came out of the public arena in the wake of the demonstrations, once the internet was reestablished in the country. In the first days there were also widespread denunciations of the police violence. Later videos also displayed the poor conditions in the hospitals.
It’s worth mentioning that – in contrast to legislation of this type in other countries – pornography is considered a mid-level violation, while “altering the public order and promoting social indiscipline” (in itself a very vague term) is considered “highly” dangerous. The measure was already being applied to some artists and dissidents, but it now has the scope of a Law, and could be applied to you or me, who maybe just think differently.
This new Gag Law also has international effects. The first example, which remains surprising, was the public “reprimand” Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez gave Anthony Stokes, the British ambassador here in Cuba. Stokes had denounced the harassment and detention of peaceful protesters and the trials without due process. Without realizing that he’d then be attacked in the same way, Stokes tweeted his criticism of the censorship embodied in Executive Order 35.
But there’s more. Article 22 mandates that: “approval for the operation of networks and public telecommunications services lies with the government, which will grant administrative concessions or authorizations that allow its operation and use by individuals and legal entities.” That’s clearly a message to the Biden administration, which was seeking a way to offer Cubans free internet services.
It’s left very clear that any attempt to provide the inhabitants of this country with telecommunications services must get approval from the State, so farewell too to that idea of the Democrats.
In addition, Decree 41 regulates the creation of the Institute for Information and Social Communication, which will replace the ICRT, assuming its basic objective of bringing together all the television and radio media, and now including all written and digital media, which they’ll control starting now.
Theoretically, there’s no change, but in fact the reinforced control will cover online content. It goes without saying that these decrees weren’t approved in Parliament, not even to dress them in legitimacy.
This became evident in several State communications media, when their workers were informed that they’ll be held responsible for what they post on any social networks, not only on their work networks. That is, if they complain to their contacts about the lack of medicine, it would be tantamount to posting a criticism in the media outlet they belong to. They were accordingly warned to be mindful of the consequences. These, too, were referred to in vague terms, all very open to interpretation.
There’s yet another important piece of news. The government has launched a call to recruit the youth and bring them into the Special Troops. Yes, those same Black Wasps that have never fought in any war and whose only contact outside their barracks has been repressing people during demonstrations.
Taking advantage of the fact that many young people have lost their jobs, and there’s really not a lot to choose from, and since the position offers meal privileges and a high salary in comparison with what the state jobs pay, the idea is to fill the ranks of that well-armed and trained body. In theory, they’re there for the job of protecting the country. In practice, they’re expected to defend the regime from its own citizens.
Entry into this elite corps has always been a dream for many young people who are attracted to the military life. They’re influenced by the movies and indoctrinated by the tale that they’ll be guardians of the Homeland’s peace. For these reasons, many join the ranks voluntarily, or at least try to pass the preparatory trainings famous for their harshness.
But since July 11, we’ve seen that their social mission isn’t combating an enemy whose face has never been seen, but striking out savagely against ordinary, unarmed Cubans, who could be their neighbors.
If previously this was a desire of those thousands of lovers of the martial arts and military life, now it’s a clear call to join the repression.
All these decrees continue tightening the noose around Cubans’ necks, with the goal of suffocating the cry that crossed Cuba that Sunday. Freedom!