Originally published by Global Journalist in 2008

In the mid 1990s Raul Rivero and Rafael Solano created two news agencies, Cuba Press and Havana Press, to test freedom of speech. They sent their news analyses to overseas news outlets and published articles on the Internet that were critical of the government. Their activity led to a crackdown on March 18, 2003, when state security agents raided the homes of 75 independent Cuban journalists and dissidents.

The days that followed the arrests are remembered as “Cuba’s Black Spring.” The Inter American Press Association at its midyear meeting in Caracas on March 25 remembered these journalists by distributing press passes that bear the names and pictures of the imprisoned journalists.

Cuban Press Freedom

“The government chooses to imprison those journalists who are involved with organizations that promote freedom of speech and democracy,” said Juan Carlos González Leiva, executive secretary of the Human Rights Reparatory Council of Cuba, the largest independent organization in the country with 300 members.

Leiva organized meetings with other journalists and dissidents, but on Feb. 9, 2002, his friend was arrested because he participated in one of those meetings. When Leiva protested the arrest on March 4, 2002, he was imprisoned, too, without a trial. Leiva spent 26 months in prison and now works as a human rights lawyer and an independent journalist.

There are fewer than 1,000 independent journalists and activists in Cuba today. Thirty of them created a news and cultural group called Concenso last December. They publish a weekly magazine of about 100 copies and an online version of the same name.

“Those journalists who get more international attention don’t have to worry about prison as much as other journalists in Cuba.” says Nick Jiménez, member of Roots of Hope, an international network of young people dedicated to helping Cubans exercise their human rights in Cuba. “The government generally does not imprison the internationally known journalists because if they did Cuba would have to deal with the international pressure to release them”.

Under Raúl Castro, the press has begun to take on issues previously considered taboo. He has allowed printing letters from readers in newspapers, and has opened up the sales of home appliances and computers. In an effort to legitimize his government on the world stage, he has signed various human rights accords that Cuba had refused to honor in the past.

However, Leiva says that things have not changed much since Raúl Castro took over. In the first 120 days of 2008 there were 22 imprisonments and 350 arrests of dissidents and even though the sale of electronics is allowed, they cannot be found in stores; therefore people still have to buy them on the black market.