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Latin America

Independent journalism thriving in Cuba, in spite of restrictions

While journalists continue to face censorship, the last five years have seen independent sites flourish on the island, according to a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
28 Sep 2016 – 04:06 PM EDT
Though the internet is expensive to access, more Cubans are accessing the Web via their cell phones. Crédito: Enrique de la Osa/Getty Images

From startups to zines to thousands of blogs, independent reporting in Cuba is on the rise.

Despite limited and expensive access to the internet, Cuba's new media is flourishing online on blogs, news websites and webzines. There are now around 3,000 blogs in Cuba and in Cuban communities in the diaspora. News startups from El Estornudo to Periodismo del Barrio have emerged in recent years, according to a new report published today by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"Reporters, from the most critical—who are known as dissidents—to journalism graduates, documentary filmmakers, and pro-revolutionary bloggers are opening new spaces for free expression and entrepreneurial journalism that not long ago seemed off limits," wrote CPJ's program director and senior program coordinator for the Americas Carlos Lauria in the report.

The most critical sites, like Yoani Sánchez's 14ymedio, are still often blocked on the island and independent journalists face "state monitoring, online harassment and sporadic censorship," according to the report.

The independent press began to grow in 2011, when President Raúl Castro implemented reforms to boost the economy.

Alejandro Rodríguez, a journalist who used to work at a state-run weekly, told CPJ that he quit his job to start a blog. “We are seeing opportunities that were inconceivable five years ago,” he said.

Still, journalists face the threat of detention and up to 20 years in prison as Cuban law limits free speech in order to protect the "independence or territorial integrity of the state." The island ranked tenth on the CPJ's 2015 list of the world's most censored countries.

Also, the constitution prohibits private media ownership, meaning only the government can legally run news organizations. This puts independent journalists in a tough position legally, making them wary of criticizing the government.

“We are going to be in a legal limbo until this country understands that media outlets like us ... must be taken into account in the Cuban media system because we are doing quality journalism,” Elaine Díaz, founder of Periodismo de Barrio, told Univision in April.

While new media is on the rise, some say the state-run model is failing. José Ramón Vidal, a former editor of the daily newspaper Juventud Rebelde, said in a recent interview with Mexico's Razón y Palabra magazine that Cubans don't pay attention to propaganda-based media anymore. Many state-run newspapers now include "Letters to the Editor" sections allowing readers to express their opinions, and some journalists at these outlets are trying to shake things up -- if only a little.

“Granma is like a wolf," Laura Becquer, a 28-year veteran at the national state-run newspaper, told Univision in April. "Everybody is afraid of it. But ultimately there are lots of young people trying to do journalism from within, with the technological limitations we have.”

Plus, new media is forcing legacy government-run outlets to expand their horizons.

“When the independent media cover a story, the official media the next day is forced to deal with those issues because everyone is already talking about them,” Cuba expert Ted Henken, associate professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College in New York, told CPJ.

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