With nearly 111,000 square kilometers Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean Sea. It is located only 180 kilometers off Florida on the American continent. Since 1976 the República de Cuba has been subdivided into 14 provinces of almost equal size and one special municipality (Isla de la Juventud). The total population is 11.3 million; 2.2 million live in the capital Havana. The official language is Spanish.
For a long time Cuba was ruled by Spain, but since the end of the nineteenth century it has been under American hegemony. In 1959, the authoritarian dictatorship of Batista was overturned in a guerilla war under the command of Fidel Castro. Subsequently a socialist government was established. Fidel Castro became president and continued to adhere to communism even in the 1990s after the systems in the Soviet Union and its satellite states had broken down. As support from the Soviet Union ceased, Cuba faced a severe economic crisis. The so-called “Período Especial en Tiempos de Paz” brought considerable restrictions. Increasing tourism led to some relief, but the temporary toleration of the US dollar as currency was abandoned. For health reasons, Fidel Castro delegated the power to his younger brother Raúl in 2006. Since then there has been great uncertainty about the political future of the country.
Even at the beginning of the twenty-first century Cuba is – in accordance with its political system – globally one of the last media systems of the Soviet totalitarian type (Siebert et al. 1956). Today, however, basically two media systems coexist in Cuba: one for the population that is still strictly controlled, and the other for tourists, diplomats, and foreigners living in the country enjoying greater liberties.
Art. 53 of the Cuban constitution (1976, amended in 1992) grants citizens the right to freedom of speech and of the press “in keeping with the objectives of socialist society.” The latter justify restrictions of this freedom. Mass media are considered as public and social property, and private individuals are under no circumstances entitled to own them.
There is no explicit media law in Cuba. But in the 1990s laws were enacted restricting the freedom of the media and of journalists: Law no. 80 “Reaffirming Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty” (1996), further tightened by Law no. 88 in 1999 (“Law of Protection of the National Independence and Economy of Cuba”). Based on this more than 70 opponents of the regime were arrested in 2003, predominantly journalists, resulting in international protests by human rights activists. In the 2006 Press Freedom Index published annually by the journalist organization, Reporters without Borders, Cuba ranks 165th out of 168. Only in three countries of the world were the media classified as even more inhibited.
The first newspaper in Cuba was published in 1764 (La Gaceta). When press freedom was guaranteed in the constitution of 1812 the number of newspapers increased. Under the authoritarian governance of Batista there were still 58 newspapers, mostly receiving state subsidies. Due to suppression many illegal publications emerged.
When Fidel Castro came to power a press concentration took place. The newspapers also suffered from the problems of the “Período Especial.” Hence most of the 24 newspapers in Cuba today appear only once a week. Only two of them are published nationwide: Granma, since 1965 the official organ of the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC), bearing the name of the yacht with which Castro and his followers crossed over from Mexico to Cuba in 1956 to start the revolution. The paper has a circulation of 400,000 and comes out as a tabloid. It prints the official news and the speeches and editorial articles of Castro himself (Saavedra Hurtado 2003). Juventud Rebelde is the second nationwide newspaper. It was originally designed for youth but is read today by a broader public. The Cuban provinces have a weekly newspaper each. Since 1996 there has been an international edition of Granma, intended as antidote to the US media. Besides Spanish it appears in four languages (English, French, Portuguese, German); the circulation is 50,000.
In 2002, 284 magazines were published in Cuba (Massmann 2003, 425), launched mostly by organizations and unions. Before the Período Especial there were more than 600 magazine titles. Since the mid-1990s the magazine market has been growing again. This mainly concerns specialist journals (medical science, culture, etc.). The most important general magazine is Bohemia, which has been in existence since 1908. It is published biweekly with a circulation of 100,000.
The Americans brought radio to Cuba in 1922. Thus the medium was initially operating in the private sector. After the revolution the radio stations were expropriated and nationalized, or simply disappeared. Any kind of advertising was prohibited. Since 1962 radio has been supervised by the Instituto Cubano de Radiodifusión.
Today there are 59 radio stations in Cuba. Seven of them broadcast their program nationwide, 52 only have a regional transmission area (Saavedra Hurtado 2003, 77). The programs concentrate on information rather than on entertainment. Furthermore there are service and educational programs. There are no music stations as such, but Radio Reloj is purely a news station. One exception is Radio Taíno addressing foreigners and tourists in Cuba. Radio Habana Cuba is designed also to propagate revolutionary ideals internationally. In Cuba there are more than three million radio sets, one to two per household.
Before the revolution Cuba had a private-sector television system with six programs. Under Castro this system was also nationalized. Today it is technologically outdated and also abstains from advertising. Televisión Cubana developed in 1962 and broadcasts via two channels: Cubavisión (channel 2) focuses on information and entertainment, Tele Rebelde (channel 6) on information and sports. During the Período Especial the airtime had to be reduced. In 1999 Cubavisión was on air for an average of 13 hours per day, Tele Rebelde for 16 hours. Televisión Cubana has 15 Telecentros, regional broadcast stations covering nearly all provinces. These Telecentros normally broadcast 90 minutes with local information via Tele Rebelde from Monday to Friday. Before the revolution TV was restricted to the province La Habana and only covered half of the island. In 1988 TV reached 93 percent of the population.
Another TV station is Cubavisión Internacional, presenting a cable program for tourists, diplomats, and foreigners. In 2005 Televisión del Sur (teleSUR) came along. This is a joint program of various Latin American countries. “Founding father” was the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who wanted to establish an “opposite pole” to the influence of the American TV station CNN International. Cuba holds a 19 percent stake in the station.
Although Cuba had already introduced new information and communication technologies for education and in the health sector, the government tried to obstruct the licensing of the Internet because it is difficult to control. However, as the Internet is important for tourism, the domain name “cu” was allocated in 1996. In the same year, Law no. 209 decreed that only companies, state institutions, and universities get internet access. For private individuals this is prohibited. The regulation of the Internet was put in the charge of the Ministerio de la Informática y de las Comunicaciones de Cuba (MIC), newly founded in 2000. In 1996, Granma Internacional was the first Cuban media outlet with an Internet presence. Today nearly all newspapers, magazines, and broadcast stations have one. Although it is illegal, the Internet is the medium most likely to be used by people in opposition. Private and illegal news agencies use it (Cuba Press, Habana Press, Prensa Cubana). Partly these are web pages maintained abroad. Employees and users within the country have become victims of a wave of arrests and sentenced because of subversive activities.
Media extending into Cuba from outside have been in existence for decades. They are organized by exile Cubans and considerably subsidized by the American government. By these means the Cuban population can receive news other than just the filtered news in the country. Since 1985 Radio Martí has been the most important radio station for this purpose. Five years later TV Martí was added, supervised by the US American Office of Cuba Broadcasting. Critics accuse the stations of being one-sided. In Cuba, their reception is prohibited and jammed. There are no reliable data available on the spread of utilization.
- Gallimore, T. (1998). US propaganda broadcasting to Cuba in post Cold War order. In J. Wilke (ed.), Propaganda in the twentieth century: Contributions to its history. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, pp. 133 –148.
- Massmann, A. (2003). Kuba: Globalisierung, Medien, Macht. [Cuba: Globalization, media, power]. Frankfurt and London: Iko.
- Ratliff, W. E. (1987). The selling of Fidel Castro. The media and the Cuban revolution. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
- Saavedra Hurtado, C. (2003). Massenmedien in Kuba [Mass media in Cuba]. In J. Wilke (ed.), Alte und Neue Medien in Lateinamerika [Old and new media in Latin America]. Hamburg: ÜberseeInstitut, pp. 15 –110.
- Siebert, F. S., Peterson, T., & Schramm, W. (1956). Four theories of the press: The authoritarian, libertarian, social responsibility, and Soviet communist concepts of what the press should be and do. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.