Now That Cuba Has Allowed Social Media Access, Government Officials Are Blocking Those Who Criticize Them
While internet access is still relatively new in Cuba, there has already been some controversy when it comes to citizens criticizing public officials online. According to the Miami Herald, Twitter users have seen some of their profiles and comments regarding government officials blocked or removed altogether. Twitter users took to social media to voice their concern about having their voices and comments silenced by public officials.
Limited internet access in Cuba began in 2008 but it wasn’t until last December when mobile phones became readily available.
Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel promoted the idea of having a platform where Cuban officials and regular citizens could interact. With such a relatively new technology at the hands of public officials, they have swayed away from criticism. With internet access and Wi-Fi hotspots just becoming accessible to all on the island, many are getting their feet wet when it comes to social media. That includes government and public officials.
Jovann Silva Delgado, a Cuban lawyer who lives in the U.S, was recently blocked online by José Ramón Cabañas, the ambassador of Cuba in Washington. Silva says he was blocked by Cabañas because he criticized a protest last year initiated by the Cuban delegation at the United Nations.
“Beyond the political position of a public official, who holds a post presumably supported by voters, the social media networks of officials are to give an account of their management, which is paid with everyone’s money,” Silva told the Miami Herald.
This issue has been happening to multiple people trying to interact with public officials in Cuba.
Another user, Norges Rodríguez, founder of YucaByte, an online project on communication technology, said he was blocked. Rodríguez found out he was blocked by Jorge Luis Perdomo, minister of communications in Cuba, after trying to mention him in a tweet.
“Well, today I tried to mention the minister [of communications] in a tweet and I found out that I am blocked. I think I was respectful the last time I mentioned him,“ Rodríguez said in a tweet.
The Inventory project, a repository of open data for Cuba, is trying to list the names of Cuban officials who block citizens on social media.
There has already been a long list of officials who have been reported for blocking citizens. Among them are National Assembly member Mariela Castro, daughter of former president Raúl Castro and Juan Antonio Fernández, ambassador of Cuba in Austria.
Just last May, a U.S. judge banned public officials from blocking those who criticize them online.
In the U.S., it’s a complete different story when it comes to citizens criticizing public officials. Last May, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said that officials like President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked Twitter users who criticized him. The ruling was a victory for free speech and a harsh rebuke to Trump’s effort to prevent his critics from engaging with him on social media.
While there has been no law or ruling similar in Cuba, you can only expect some kind of action to be taken eventually. Social media interactions between citizens and public officials is still relatively new in Cuba but that gives no excuse to silence voices. Especially those trying to create public dialogue with leaders and government officials.