Cuba Makes It Illegal to Criticize Government on Social Media

Biden administration slow-walks efforts to give Cuba internet access

(Photo by YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images)
August 18, 2021

The Cuban government on Tuesday made it illegal to criticize the regime on social media, giving the government more tools to punish pro-democracy protesters.

A decree from Communications Minister Mayra Arevich bans criticism of "the constitutional, social and economic" rules of the state and acts that "alter public order." The decree also creates a form that Cubans can use to report each other for "cybersecurity incidents." The decree comes a month after the regime restricted internet access for citizens in an attempt to stifle criticism. Penalties for violating the decree will be set in legislation later.

Internet access in Cuba has been inconsistent since the protests started on July 11. After viral social media photos and videos showed protests across the island, the Cuban government curtailed access to social media sites through the state-owned internet service, ETECSA. Cuba already has multiple laws criminalizing opposition to the regime.

The crackdown highlights the difficulty Cubans face in communicating with the outside world. U.S. lawmakers and officials have called for the Biden administration to ramp up efforts to provide internet access to the island, pointing to virtual private networks and cell service tools that could connect Cubans. Last week, the Senate passed a bill by Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Tim Scott (R., S.C.) that establishes a fund for Cuban internet access.

The Biden administration says it is exploring its options. But sources on Capitol Hill say regime sympathizers at the State Department have slow-walked efforts, frustrating lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr, who has pushed a multi-pronged effort to bring wireless internet to Cuba, called the Biden administration's response "disappointing."

"It's been weeks since the Cuban regime shut down internet services to hide their brutal response," Carr told the Washington Free Beacon. "And it's been nearly that long since the administration said it would stand with the people of Cuba by exploring ways to restore internet services."

Carr said initial conversations with the State Department had seemed to go well, but that he has received no follow-ups or explanations as to why the administration is not acting.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.