Oppression of Free Expression in Cuba

The death of Fidel Castro on November 25th was a joyous occasion for many Cubans around the world as it marked the death of one of the world’s most oppressive dictators. However, regardless of his death, many Cubans still fear that their freedom of expression may remain in jeopardy.

The day following Castro’s death, the Human Rights Foundation  released a statement on Facebook regarding the arrest of Danilo Maldonado, also known as “El Sexto,” by Cuban State Security agents. The article said Maldonado was a target for the Cuban State Security due to his graffiti art attacking the Castro regime. This is not the first time Maldonado has been arrested by the Cuban State Security. In 2015, Maldonado spent about ten months in prison due his satire and art.

Following the Human Rights Foundation, Reuters, Al Jazeera,  and others reported the abduction of Maldonado. 

In her article for The Miami New Times, a Miami alt-weekly, Alexandra Martinez covered Maldonado’s  abduction.

“The Cuban State Security forcefully took an apartment key from the landlord and then made their way into Danilo’s apartment and abducted him,” Martinez told MediaFile.

According to Martinez, Maldonado was restricted from leaving the country for about ten days prior to Castro’s death. In fact, Maldonado was not supposed to be in the country on the day of his abduction – he was supposed to be at Art Basel, a premier art show, in Miami. However, when Maldonado showed up to the airport to leave, he was told he could not fly and was given no explanation.

“No charges have been brought up. He has not been given a reason for his arrest,” Martinez said.

She added that Cuba’s treatment of Maldonado has been brutal. “His mother saw him, he was badly beaten and had suffered an asthma attack,” she told MediaFile.   

In his Facebook Live video, Maldonado can be heard shouting “Abajo Fidel, abajo Raul [Down with Fidel, Down with Raul],” however no one seems to be out in the streets celebrating. In fact, Martinez told MediaFile, “People are scared of the uncertainty of what is next after Fidel’s death.”

When we asked Martinez if such fear of expression was a constant threat in Cuba, she  responded without hesitation – “yes.”

Protests are constantly broken up in Cuba and result in beatings and arrests of the protestors. Martinez  talked about Maldonado’s first arrest when he tried to release two pigs  with the names Fidel and Raul painted on them, however, was not able to see his plan executed due to his arrest.

According to Martinez, the situation in Cuba is only becoming worse with the death of Fidel Castro. Along with Maldonado’s latest arrest, Cuba is moving towards much heavier crackdowns on freedom of expression within the country. Not only is Maldonado’s jailing symbolic of Cuba’s oppression on freedom of expression, but it is concerning for the international community.

Maldonado’s abduction and arrest is not the lone incident, on Dec. 1st, Yoani Sanchez, a journalist for 14ymdeio.com, tweeted about the arrest of Reinaldo Escobar, chief editor of 14ymedio, and her husband.

The same day, Sanchez also tweeted, “Stopping journalists is a clear way of showing the world fear, panic to information, terror to press #DeMalEnPeorVamous.”

Sanchez’s tweets further display the turmoil and fear in Cuba. With Fidel Castro’s death, the oppression of journalism and freedom of expression has been heightened. This means the world outside of Cuba does not have much information about the situation occurring in Cuba if journalists and activists are being silenced left and right. Though this has been the situation in Cuba for some time, heightened crackdown means even less information will be available for the international community.

Not only are citizens of Cuba fearful of expressing their thoughts on the Castro regime, but they also fear saying simple phrases such as “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening.” Recently there was an incident which occurred on a Cuban news channel, where the reporters were told to not use “good” in their greetings to the viewers as it seemed to indicate the death of Fidel Castro was a happy moment in Cuban history.

The death of Fidel Castro will no doubt leave a mark on Cuba’s future, near and far. However, the present day situation of freedom of expression in Cuba is an issue of international importance. As Martinez noted something Danilo constantly says, “Fear only stifles creativity.” It will be interesting to see how such fear of freedom of expression will leave Cuba in the coming years.

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