The story of Bernardo Arévalo Padrón is an excellent example of the plight many Cuban journalists are forced to endure for the sake of spreading information. Padrón, an independent journalist for opposition publication El Cubano Libre, de Hoy, was arrested in September as a result of his reporting. He was subsequently threatened with four years in jail or forced exile.
In the article linked above, Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk, comments on the ultimatum: “Exile or prison, that’s freedom of information in Cuba today.”
Padrón was a political prisoner from 1997 to 2003 after allegedly insulting Fidel Castro. Freedom House names stories of even more journalists who have faced similar pressure from the government. Calixto Martínez Arias was detained for seven months after his reporting on the cholera and dengue epidemics were published without ever being officially charged or tried. José Antonio Torres was detained after writing about a mismanaged construction project and was given a 14 year prison sentence. Blogger Ángel Santiesteban Prats is currently serving a five year sentence for assault and trespassing, charges he says were fabricated.
This article on Pen International discusses some of these cases, calling on the Cuban government to publicize the details of these trials (very often believed to be rigged/mishandled) and to separate their journalistic work from their sentences.
6,805 politically motivated arrests have been made in Cuba since the beginning of 2014. Out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 World Press Freedom Index, Cuba ranks 170. Although Freedom House reports that the country may slowly be opening to the media, it still received a 90/100 for Press Freedom Score (100 being the worst) and is officially considered not free.
As of October 2012, Cuban citizens no longer have to obtain an exit visa before leaving the country, though the government can still withhold passports necessary for traveling for frivolous reasons. Freedom Press explained that because relatively fewer high-profile events have been occurring in Cuba, there is less reason to impose sanctions. However, two specific examples suggest the opposite.
When Pope Benedict XVI visited the island in 2012, it was made very clear that everyone be on their best behavior, or else. The visit was mostly covered by official sources. The Ladies in White, an all-female government opposition group who continues to campaign for the release of jailed dissidents, were prevented from attending the Pope’s mass at any close proximity. And during the funeral of political dissident Oswaldo Payá (thought to have been killed in a purposeful car accident orchestrated by the government), homes of fellow dissidents were highly guarded in order to keep them inside and out of trouble; the service itself was attended by government forces to ensure no sympathetic forces could make their voices heard.
Has the situation changed markedly in recent years, and if so, why?