Cuba Supports Press Freedom

“You cannot kill truth by murdering journalists,” said Tubal Páez, president of the Journalist Union of Cuba. One hundred and fifty Cuban and South American journalists, ambassadors, politicians, and foreign guests gathered at the Jose Marti International Journalist Institute to honor the 50th anniversary of the death of Carlos Bastidas Arguello —the last journalist killed in Cuba. Carlos Bastidas was only 23 years of age when he was assassinated by Fulgencia Batista’s secret police after having visited Fidel Castro’s forces in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Edmundo Bastidas, Carlos’ brother, told about how a river of changed flowed from the Maestra (teacher) mountains, symbolized by his brother’s efforts to help secure a new future for Cuba.

The celebration in Havana was held in honor of World Press Freedom Day, which is observed every year in May. World Press Freedom day was proclaimed by the UN in 1993 to honor journalists who have lost their lives reporting the news, and to defend media freedom worldwide.

During my five days in Havana, I met with dozens of journalists, communication studies faculty and students, union representatives and politicians. The underlying theme of my visit was to determine the state of media freedom in Cuba and to build a better understanding between media democracy activists in the US and those in Cuba.

I toured the two main radio stations in Havana, Radio Rebelde and Radio Havana. Both have Internet access to multiple global news sources including CNN, Reuters, Associated Press and BBC with several newscasters pulling stories for public broadcast. Over 90 municipalities in Cuba have their own locally run radio stations, and journalists report local news from every province.

During the course of several hours in each station I was interviewed on the air about media consolidation and censorship in the US and was able to ask journalists about censorship in Cuba as well. Of the dozens I interviewed all said that they have complete freedom to write or broadcast any stories they choose. This was a far cry from the Stalinist media system so often depicted by US interests.

Nonetheless it did became clear that Cuban journalists share a common sense of a continuing counter-revolutionary threat by US financed Cuban-Americans living in Miami. This is not an entirely unwarranted feeling in that many hundreds of terrorist actions against Cuba have occurred with US backing over the past fifty years. In addition to the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, these attacks include the blowing up of a Cuban airlines plane in 1976 resulting in the deaths of seventy-three people, the starting in 1981 of an epidemic of dengue fever that killed 158 people and several hotel bombings in the 1990s one of which resulted in the death of an Italian tourist.

In the context of this external threat, Cuban journalists quietly acknowledge that some self-censorship will undoubtedly occur regarding news stories that could be used by the “enemy” against the Cuban people. Nonetheless, Cuban journalists strongly value freedom of the press and there was no evidence of overt restriction or government control.

Cuban journalists complain that the US corporate media is bias and refuses to cover the positive aspects of socialism in Cuba. Unknown to most Americans are the facts that Cuba is the number one organic country in the world, has an impressive health care system with a lower infant mortality rate than the US, trains doctor from all over the world, and has enjoyed a 43% increase in GDP over the past three years.

Ricardo Alarcon, President of the National Assembly, discussed bias in the US media, “how often do you see Gore Vidal interviewed on the US media?” he asked. Vidal has recently said that the US is in its ‘worst phase in history.’ “Perhaps Cuba uses corporate news to excess,” he said, “Cuban journalists need to link more to independent news sources in the US.” Alarcon went on to say that Cuba allows CNN, AP and Chicago Tribune to maintain offices in Cuba, but that the US refuses to allow Cuban journalists to work in the United States.

As the Cuban socialist system improves, the US does everything it can to artificially force cold-war conditions by funding terrorist attacks, maintaining an economic boycott, launching a new anti-terrorism Caribbean naval fleet, and increasingly limiting US citizen travel to Cuba. It is time to reverse this cold-war isolationist position, honor the Cuban peoples choice of a socialist system and build a positive working relationship between journalists in support of media democracy in both our countries.

Peter Phillips is a professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University, and former director of of Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored. He wrote his dissertation on the Bohemian Club in 1994. Read other articles by Peter, or visit Peter's website.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on May 24th, 2008 at 8:42am #

    I could not imagine a better example of why Americans, regardless of their political ideology, are a threat to freedom in the world! George Bush want to impose “freedom” on Iraq, Peter Philips want to impose “freedom” on Cuba! Neither one gives a damn whether the Iraqis or the Cubans want the “freedom” he is ramming down their throats. The decider, the goose-stepping gringo master race, has decided and the poor “Untermenschen” (95% of mankind!) just have to accept what their betters have decided for them! Yankee stay home!

  2. Hugh said on May 24th, 2008 at 11:51am #

    Cuba has NO press freedom at all!!!

    World Press Freedom Review

    By Charles Arthur

    Cuba has the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the hemisphere. The constitution prohibits private ownership of media, and allows free speech and press only if they “conform to the aims of a Socialist society.” Cuba’s legal and institutional structures are firmly under the control of the executive. The country’s criminal code provides the legal basis for the repression of dissent, and in the name of protecting state security, laws criminalising “enemy propaganda” and the dissemination of “unauthorised news” are used to restrict freedom of speech. The 1997 Law of National Dignity, which provides for jail sentences of 3 to 10 years for “anyone who, in a direct or indirect form, collaborates with the enemy’s media,” is aimed at the independent news agencies that send their material abroad.

    The few journalists working for independent news agencies, writing articles for foreign websites, or publishing underground newsletters, continued to be routinely monitored, harassed, detained, interrogated, or sometimes imprisoned. Not much changed as a consequence of the hand-over of power from President Fidel Castro to his younger brother, Raúl, in July 2006, but independent journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that official harassment declined in 2007, with fewer detentions and direct threats.

    During the year, two journalists were freed from prison, but two more were imprisoned, leaving a total of 24 journalists remaining in long-term detention. Twenty of those in prison were among the 27 journalists arrested in the so-called “black spring” crackdown of March 2003. …

  3. Aidan said on May 24th, 2008 at 5:00pm #

    This kind of ‘report’ is exactly what alot of Cubans are sick and tired of hearing. To be sure, there is not as much ‘press freedom’ as in, say, Venezuela, but let’s face it, the media there is almost completely overrun by anti-government bias.

    You have to be very careful with reports of ‘official harassment’, since it is very easy in our oh-so-free information system to amp up a threat from some nationalist thugs and turn it into an attack by ‘government agents’. Seriously, we get fed alot of bullshit by our mass media.

    Consider that Cubans are free to hear all the crap that America hurls at them – often quoted by none other than Fidel himself in the newspaper Granma. They are not kept brainwashed or deprived of information at all.

    The problem with press freedom in Cuba is only on a viewpoint basis, since only ‘pro-Cuban’ viewpoints tend to be given. This is as opposed to our media, that gives a whole load of varying viewpoints on a piece of information that isn’t even factual. You have to decide for yourself which is worse, and remeber that a western-style ‘free media’ in Cuba could very easily be hijacked by the bullshitters who feed information to the American people.

    And finally, don’t forget that those journalists in lockup are not locked up because of expressing their opinions. They are among the much vaunted ‘political prisoners’ of Cuba, imprisoned for recieving money from oversees sources, which in all honesty is a very fishy business. The only thing that can be said in their defence is that they have very harsh prison sentences, in a similar vein to hijackers.

    Let’s not forget that Cuba has to battle every bloody day with ideas and words to keep itself free of the Empire to the north. It doesn’t mean we must condone the abuses of justice perpetrated there – but we should at least understand the motive behind them: survival of a nation.

    I am relieved to finally see an educated report on the complex relationship between Cuba and press freedom. Thank you, professor Philips.


  4. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 25th, 2008 at 6:06am #

    Bravo, Pedro!

    – GL Rowsey

  5. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 25th, 2008 at 6:08am #

    Read it again, Michael Kenny.

  6. Peter Phillips said on May 25th, 2008 at 2:06pm #

    Reporters without Borders received US government money to write the report on Cuba. Some 75 Cuban journalists were being paid by the US Interest section in Havana as much as a year’s salary to write negative stories about Cuba. 12 of the 75 were Cuban agents who documented the pay outs. There is a whole book on the story, which I have. I did interview two of the under-cover women who were paid hundreds of dollars cash to write negative labor stories.

    It would take more time than I have now to lay out the full story, but I do plan to do just that.


  7. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 25th, 2008 at 3:03pm #

    Be prepared for your work to not even surface, much less disappear.

    I flew to Havana in 1998 to deliver personal funds in a moneybelt to the Cuban people and Fidel in memory of Che and Camilo. But only over the past year have I come to realize that the US embargo of Cuba is the longest and most inhumanly effective arms-length treatment of one nation by another since nations began forming in the 14th century. This, because I’m an American who’s been subjected to the insane propoganda bullshit put out about Cuba in America for my entire adult life. And the insanity is worse now, by orders of magnitued, than it’s ever been before.

  8. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 25th, 2008 at 3:04pm #


  9. evie said on May 26th, 2008 at 9:05pm #

    Granted, the US embargo of Cuba is wrong, always has been as it hurts the people, not the ruling class. And three generations of vindictive Cubans in Miami have made the anti-Castro “movement” a lucrative industry. God help them if the US ever befriends Cuba.

    Only thing that bothers me is that for all the praises of Cuba’s accomplishments in education and healthcare (never mind Spain had to send equipment and a surgeon after Fidel’s first 2 surgeries, reportedly a botched colon resection) – they can only find a new president every 50 years.

    I’ve an acquaintance in Havana, American, who has worked as a journalist in Cuba for 15 years. Before that a dozen years in Nicaragua. He writes sappy fluff on Castro and the State. My acqaintance is no longer a spring rooster but in a country with poverty such as Cuba he can still attract all the senoritas his Viagra can handle, the beach is perfect and the rum good.

    If you’re ever held for a few days by Cuban authorities, well-trained in interrogation techniques, and who suspect you of working for the CIA – ya might not be quite so thrilled with Castro’s Cuba.

  10. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 27th, 2008 at 6:50am #

    evie. Some months ago, I tried to deal with the argument that Fidel is at fault for remaining president for… (in your words, “they can only find a new president every”)… 50 years. Regrettably, the exact words are lost in the ether, but they went a lot like:

    Regarding Fidel’s not respecting free speech in Cuba, I think the shouting-“fire”-in-a-crowded-theater exception applies. Except the “fire” in Cuba’s case is not a theater but an entire country, its people, and the enormous progress they’ve achieved in the past forty years.

    Your “acquaintance in Havana” may just be right, you know, little evie. And to attribute his continuing commitment to the cause of the Cuban people to personal lechery — much less, in two sentence as marked with clumsiness as with unsupported condemnations of Cuba — is appalling.

    Why don’t you clean up your act, evie, then come back to Dissident Voice and make some contributions to social justice in America?

  11. evie said on May 27th, 2008 at 4:48pm #

    I’m not condeming Cuba, I’m just not impressed with reports from the American “left” on Fidel & Bros. accomplishments. You are aware are you not that CIA was also giving aid to Castro in the late ’50s – some folks in the US were ready to dump Bautista.

    What has Cuba/Fidel accomplished in 50 years Lloyd? I would say remaining in power is his greatest feat to date, and how is that? As I asked previously, do you really believe the CIA or any other intel agency could not take Castro out?

    You’re deluded if you believe the American “left” is not run by the same powerful entities who run the “right.”

    Social justice in America? What’s your contribution Lloyd? Belittling my opinions b/c I’m not propping up the gods of the American “left”? Or do you resent me as a “rich American” who could search for treatment to try and save my child? In the glorious words of another American “left” hero – “God damn” me.

  12. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 27th, 2008 at 5:57pm #

    I’ll answer the above, paragraph by paragraph. Tomorrow morning, evie, when my poor (66 year old) brain is functioning on a good night’s sleep.

  13. Josie Michel-Brüning said on May 28th, 2008 at 3:25am #

    Appreciating Peter Phillips’ article very much and having it translated into German for our friends I want to add within the context that Cuba is permanently threatened in his freedom of development not only by the blockade but also by terrorist acts carried out by Cuban exiles in South Florida – Cuba complained in 1999 in front of the U.N. 3,478 deaths and 2,099 invalids because of those terrorist acts – that there are five Cuban political prisoners in U.S. jails serving terms from 15 years up to 2 life terms, plus 15 years. Their “crime”: having monitored without arms those terrorist groups for preventing further terrorist acts.
    In their case had been and are continued several violations of human right as many renowned organizations complained to the Bush administration, among other the U.N. Working Group of Arbitrary Detention in May 2005 and according to petitions signed by at least 9 nobel prize winners, lawyers and other famous personalities from the U.S. and all over the world.
    Please, visit to inform yourself about the case.
    We do think in Germany, if the US people would only know about this case, the knowledge about it is rather secluded by the US media corporations, the majority would be outraged how the integrity and democracy of the US people is on stake in front of the rest of the world. Meanwhile, there are more than 350 committees all over the world fighting for the freedom of the Cuban Five.

  14. Josie Michel-Brüning said on May 28th, 2008 at 3:59am #

    I just want to add: Even if the majority of the U.S. people does not agree with socialist ideas they should take into consideration that punishment will never improve a person neither will sanctions do to other smaller nations.
    Being educationalist and systemical family therapist by profession I know what is needed is understanding and common agreements regarding the different interest by respect of each other.
    And we have already those agreements: the International Law and you have the Bill of Rights, your rather wonderful U.S. constitution for relating to.
    Apart from that, Cuba has its own wonderful constitution, which is based on participative democracy. Please, read the Canadian author Arnold August who observed Cuban elections already twice and interviewed members of the national assembly.
    As William Blum already wrote occasionally to 9/11 in 2001 in his “brief history of US intervention” referring to Cuba.
    The saddest part of this is that the world will never know what kind of society Cuba could have produced if left alone, if not constantly under the gun and the threat of invasion, if allowed to relax its control at home. The idealism, the vision, the talent, the internationalism were all there. But we’ll never know. And that of course was the idea.

  15. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 28th, 2008 at 7:39am #

    Evie. I can add almost nothing to what Josie has written. Education is self-education always, but especially in America since Bush 2.

    Go to

    Go to

    Go to my attempt to write a less-than-1000 word book review of Fidel Castro: My Life: A Spoken Autobiography

    Go to Cuba

    Also contemplate Dissident Voice’s tagline: “A radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice.” Peace for whom? Social Justice for whom? Is social justice anywhere on the planet possible if America is at war? Is what you do in America contributing to ending The War? No need to answer these questions in front of God, the guy in the bathroom downstairs, and everyone who reads DV and stands in awe and sadness before the Cuban Revolution. Just ask yourself.

    Since last night, I’ve been having back spasms if I type for very long. I’ll keep my promise to reply to your post above, but you will have to contact me at one of my email addresses: namely, moc.liamgnull@yesworlg.

  16. Lloyd Rowsey said on May 28th, 2008 at 7:54am #


  17. Rachel said on March 17th, 2009 at 6:15pm #

    I understand the views presented in this article — the US government has, in fact, been one of the most poisonous factors in Cuba’s last century of history. Nonetheless, that doesn’t excuse the actions of the Cuban government.

    No, Cuba is not hell on earth, but the prisons that house the hundreds of journalists tried and sentenced for “counter-revolutionary” rhetoric just might be. I’m sorry, but even if there were only one reporter in jail for any sort of offense, that means that Cuban journalists have no freedom of speech.

    I say this as an American journalist who is grateful for the ability to condemn the many shameful policies of my own government without any legal consequences.