Interviewed November 2011
Normando Hernández is an independent journalist who has dedicated his career to providing alternative sources of news and information in Cuba. In 1999, he co-founded the Cuban Foundation for Human Rights, and in 2000, he established the Camaguey Association of Journalists, the first independent organization in Camaguey province since 1959. Declared a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International following Cuba’s “Black Spring” (2003–2010), during which dozens of dissidents and journalists were imprisoned for their activism, Mr. Hernández was exiled to Spain in 2010 and has since resettled in the United States.
The author of numerous articles and publications, including the book El Arte de la Tortura: Memorias de un Ex Prisionero de Conciencia Cubano (The Art of Torture: Memories of a Former Cuban Prisoner of Conscience, 2010), he has received several journalism and human rights awards, including the Norwegian Writers Association’s Freedom of Expression Award (2009), the PEN American Center’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award (2007), and a special mention by the Inter-American Press Association for excellence in journalism (2003). Mr. Hernández is currently a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, where he is examining the Cuban communications monopoly and considering strategies by which independent journalists may combat totalitarianism.
The situation in Cuba is unique because unfortunately any person outside of Cuba knows more about Cuba than the Cuban themselves who live on the island. The constitution of the Republic of Cuba, that piece of paper written by Jose Martí, that constitution that is completely anti-democratic- liberticide is stipulated in Article 53 where it defines very clearly an information monopoly. It states that only those who conform to the socialist ideas have permission to write and publish. To conform to the ideas of socialism and communism.
Anyone who opposes this does not have the freedom to write and publish. If the Cuban population recognizes these leaders, it is because these leaders have been able to represent a section of their society. Or by means of communicating to the masses controlled by the state like a roundtable or the news. These forms of media with their very unique ways to lie to the people were recognized by Fidel Castro in a statement he made at the Assembly of Latin American Sociologists in 2003. And how did I know about this? Through the Cuban media.
They see them as mercenaries, as corrupt people, as people with their own agenda. As a person who is not interested in the Cuban population. They are against everything. They are fighting so that the Cuban people do not live in misery anymore, to live based on need and they live more exploited than before. Unfortunately that's how it is. But that is why the Cuban people need more information. There has to be a way to create media in an independent form, an alternative form of information without the daily censorship in Cuba. And by means of this media, these leaders who are respected people can be known to the Cuban people. They would be able to give their discourses, programs, political and ideological thoughts so that the people can begin to follow them.
Practically, there is a state of silence in Cuba. The leaders do not allow people to leave their houses. Jose Luis García Pérez practically lives as a recluse in his house. He cannot leave, cannot even go to the front porch of his house because the police will come quickly, enter his house, and put him back inside. He is to stay in the house or be arrested. And that's how a lot of the resistance leaders live in Cuba. That's the reality of those who live and grow up in Cuba. A lot of people who listen to Radio Martí are sympathizers. 100% of them although I do not know them personally but I have heard them speak.
Cuba, an island nation of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean Sea, is a totalitarian state.
Fidel Castro led the 1959 Cuban Revolution and ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his younger brother Raul in 2008. Raul Castro is the current head of state and First Secretary of the Communist Party, which is recognized by the Cuban Constitution as the only legal political party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” Raul Castro has said that he will step down from power at the age of 86 in 2018.
Cuba was a territory of Spain until the Spanish-American War. The United States assumed control of the island until 1902, when the Republic of Cuba became formally independent. A fledgling democracy was established, with the U.S. continuing to play a strong role in Cuban affairs.
In 1952, facing an impending electoral loss, former president Fulgencio Batista staged a successful military coup and overthrew the existing government. While his first term as elected president in the 1940s largely honored progressive politics, universal freedoms, and the Cuban Constitution of 1940, Batista’s return to power in the 1950s was a dictatorship marked by corruption, organized crime and gambling. He held power until 1959 when he was ousted by Fidel Castro’s rebel July 26th Movement.
While promising free elections and democracy, Castro moved quickly to consolidate power. By 1961, Castro had declared Cuba to be a communist nation.
Castro’s communist government nationalized private businesses, lashed out at political opponents, and banned independent civil society. As Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union, Cuban-American relations soured, including a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union came close to war, after the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, prompting a U.S. naval embargo.
Since the revolution, Cuba has remained a one-party state. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the evaporation of Soviet economic support, Cuba loosened some economic policies, became more open to foreign investment, and legalized use of the U.S. dollar. By the late 1990s, Venezuela had become Cuba’s chief patron, thanks to the close relationship between the Castro brothers and Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.
The regime continues to exercise authoritarian political control, clamping down on political dissent and mounting defamation campaigns against dissidents, portraying them as malignant U.S. agents. In a massive crackdown in 2003 known as the Black Spring, the government imprisoned 75 of Cuba’s best-known nonviolent dissidents.
The Cuban government does not respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion. The government and the Communist Party control all news media, and the government routinely harasses and detains its critics, particularly those who advocate democracy and respect of human rights. Frequent government actions against dissidents often take the form of attacks by regime-organized mobs. Prison conditions are harsh and often life-threatening, and the courts operate as instruments of the Communist Party rather than conducting fair trials.
Cuba relaxed its travel laws in 2013, allowing some prominent dissidents to leave and return to the country. It continues to experiment with modest economic reforms but remains committed to communist economic orthodoxy.
In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Cuba was designated as “not free” and is grouped near the bottom of the world’s nations, with severely restricted civil rights and political liberties.