Pro-democracy dissidents in Cuba condemned the island’s “accredited journalists” — reporters from mainstream media outlets with Communist Party permission to work — for their silence in the wake of an increasingly violent wave of repression, the Spain-based Diario de Cuba reported on Tuesday.
Like most communist states, Cuba strictly regulates the creation of any media — visual art, journalism, music, or anything that can be interpreted as expression — by its citizens or foreigners. Most media outlets in Cuba are state operations, such as the Communist Party newspaper Granma or the nightly news broadcasts. A small corps of international journalists have received permission from the Party to report on an international stage, most from prominent newswire services like the Associated Press or Reuters, or from major American broadcasters like CNN.
Cuba is also home to a large network of independent journalists who expose human rights abuses, government incompetence, and economic woes in the country at the risk of extreme physical and mental abuse and imprisonment for crimes such as “disrespect” (desacato).
Human rights activists are documenting a growing wave of abuse by Communist Party police throughout the past two weeks that appeared to intensify following the arrest of Denis Solís, a pro-democracy rapper and activist, on November 9. Solís had used social media to publish posts and videos showing government agents harassing him. Solís is affiliated with the San Isidro Movement, a group of dissident artists, and regularly called for an end to communism publicly. Among his most recent acts of defiance was to tattoo the phrase “Change Free Cuba” on his chest and share it on social media, daring authorities to tear the tattooed skin off his body.
Friends and fellow dissidents say that Solís regularly complained of harassment by police and published evidence to prove it. Shortly before his arrest on November 9, he published a video of a state security official entering his home without property.
“I ask you to withdraw yourself to the door and you need my permission to enter my home or not, please,” Solís says in the video. “As far as I know, I haven’t killed anyone, I haven’t broken down any doors, I haven’t stolen anything the way your fucking executioners do.”
He later goes on to repeatedly insult the police officer on camera, concluding, “I’m ready to die.”
Solís was sentenced to eight months in prison for the crime of “disrespect,” according to Diario de Cuba.
According to the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a human rights organization, at least 28 arrests of dissidents have occurred since November 12, many of them of dissidents demanding freedom for Solís. Some of these were multiple arrests of the same people; for example, the head of the San Isidro Movement, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who was arrested at least three times. Several other members of the movement were arrested two or three times between November 12 and November 14. The Cuban communist regime disproportionately targets Afro-Cuban dissidents, like Solís and Alcántara, for arrests and police brutality.
The Democratic Directorate warned Tuesday of “a growing wave of arbitrary arrests, beatings, new sentences for political prisoners, house arrests, [and] abuses of power against the Cuban people occurred throughout all of Cuba in a violent, systematic, and sustained manner.”
That wave of violence has largely remained outside of the coverage of mainstream media outlets with reporters present on the island, according to irate dissidents.
“The phones of four young people who peacefully protested … have gone dark. The repressive wave continues. Where is the accredited foreign press who do not report on this?” journalist José Raúl Gallego asked this weekend on Twitter, tagging embedded reporters from Reuters, the Associated Press, CNN, and the Spanish newswire service EFE.
Dan apagado los teléfonos de los cuatro jóvenes que exigían pacíficamente en Cuba y Chacón la liberación de sus compañeros. Continúa la ola represiva ¿Dónde está la prensa extranjera acreditada que no informa sobre esto? @lorenacantoEFE @reuterssarah @ARodriguezAP @CNN_Oppmann pic.twitter.com/Q7dxn3rbwW
— José Raúl Gallego (@joseraul86) November 15, 2020
Another independent journalist, Norges Rodríguez of the outlet Yucabyte, quipped, “when the dictatorship finally falls and that accredited foreign press wants to make a timeline of how Cubans kicked the Castro regime out, they’re not going to have almost anything in their archives because they have reported too little.”
The reporters tagged in Gallego’s tweet have indeed not commented on the mass arrests at press time. In the past week, EFE’s Lorena Cantó has focused largely on Havana’s José Martí Airport reopening to foreigners and hurricane Iota slamming Central America; Reuters’ Sarah Marsh have discussed the reopening airport, Cuba’s dubious coronavirus vaccine candidates, and the growing economic crisis on the island; AP’s Andrea Rodríguez has discussed the airport and the vaccine candidates, and CNN’s Patrick Oppmann has focused on the hurricane, the airport, and a cruise ship in the Caribbean Sea experiencing a Chinese coronavirus outbreak.
Havana’s Jose Martí International Airport to reopen Nov. 15. https://t.co/7qViTAqbBq
— Patrick Oppmann CNN (@CNN_Oppmann) November 11, 2020
The wave of arrests continued into this week. Cubanet, an independent human rights outlet, confirmed the arrest of journalist Yoel Acosta Gámez on Monday. Acosta revealed the arrest following his release, stating that police brought him to a local station to threaten him with charges of “social dangerousness” over his journalism. Acosta said that police told him “they would send people any minute now to beat me on the street and to take away my means of working, that they would steal my phone.”