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Recent news may cause casual Cuba-observers to believe that democratic reform has finally begun on the island.  Earlier this year, American pop icons Beyoncé and Jay-Z caused a stir when they vacationed in Havana.  Meanwhile, a change in the regime’s travel policy has allowed some dissidents like the Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and renowned blogger Yoani Sanchez to travel abroad.


Unfortunately, little has really changed on the island.  Take freedom of expression, an inalienable right of all people. As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this “includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Apparently, the Castro brothers and their regime disagree.


Suppressing freedom of expression is actually enshrined in Cuba’s constitution. Article 53 states that “citizens are granted freedom of speech and press in accordance with the aims of the socialist society.” Additionally, Article 39 states that “any artistic creation is free provided that its content is not contrary to the revolution.” It doesn’t take a scholar to interpret that any dissent against socialism or the so-called Cuban revolution is prohibited.


Likewise, draconian legislation such as Law 88 and the Law of Protection of the National Independence and the Economy of Cuba (also known as the “Gag Law”) punishes “those actions designed to support, facilitate, or collaborate with objectives” directed against “the Socialist State and the independence of Cuba.” Violating Law 88 comes with a maximum penalty of 20 years of imprisonment.


The state controls all information on the island including the press, radio, cinema, television and the Internet. The latter  is rarely accessible within the homes of ordinary people.  Most are reliant on cyber cafes for access to the web.


While it’s true that the Cuban government recently opened 118 of these cafes where citizens can surf the Net through the national portal “Nauta,” the cost is an exorbitant $4.50 per hour, or approximately 24 percent of the average Cuban’s monthly salary. What’s also not being said is that the Internet in Cuba is still monitored and censored by the regime. Connections are easily hacked, and those who dare advocate for greater rights and democracy online can be punished. Moreover, Cubans can’t access web pages and digital blogs critical of the Castro brothers or the government. Those pages are blocked.


Such actions demonstrate that the regime’s policies remain identical to those of the last fifty years.  Despite suggestions to the contrary, little if anything is changing in Cuba.


Normando Hernández is a Freedom Advocate Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.  He is also a Cuban dissident and former prisoner of conscience. Learn more about his story here.