CubaBrief: Castro’s revolutionary imperialism on display in gag laws passed in both Venezuela and Nicaragua that copy existing legislation in Cuba

The Cuban government since 1959 has had a vision that can be fairly described as both revolutionary and imperialist. It has been revolutionary in the sense of its repeated attempts to subvert and destroy democratic governments, such as Romulo Betancourt‘s social democracy in Venezuela with armed guerillas throughout the 1960s, that failed and later succeeded with Hugo Chavez through the ballot box in 1998 and continued since 2013 with Nicolas Maduro.

Daniel Ortega, Raul Castro, and Nicolas Maduro

Daniel Ortega, Raul Castro, and Nicolas Maduro

The Castro regime’s attempts to install communist revolutionary regimes across the Americas through armed struggle was a great failure, save one exception: Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas were able to gain power in 1979 and hang on until free elections, and an armed anti-communist guerilla struggle drove him out of power in 1990. However, Ortega, like Chavez, was able to return to power via the ballot box in 2006 and has spent the past 14 years dismantling Nicaragua’s fledgling democracy. In both Venezuela and Nicaragua the Cuban presence, both military and intelligence services, to effectively occupy both countries. This is also reflected in legislation that is a copy of the Cuban model, and is transitioning both countries from democracy to dictatorship. Venezuela is farther along in this process, but Nicaragua is catching up. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, on September 30th said:

“After several weeks of intensified state repression against activists, human rights defenders and journalists, the ruling party presented two bills [ the Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents and the Special Law on Cyber-crime ] that attempt to silence those who criticize government policies, inform the population and defend human rights. It seems that President Daniel Ortega’s government is preparing the legal framework to begin a new phase of repression. The new legislation was presented by the ruling party days after the president expressed interest in initiating a reform to establish life imprisonment, which could be used to punish those who raise their voices against repressive policies.”

This “new phase” of repression is very old and familiar to Cubans. In December 1996 the Law Reaffirming Cuban Dignity and Sovereignty (Ley de Reafirmación de la Dignidad y Soberanía Cubanas) was passed and became known as the Gag Law (Ley Mordaza). The implementing legislation titled “The Law for the Protection of Cuban National Independence and the Economy (Ley de Protección de la Independencia Nacional y la Economía de Cuba) took effect in March 1999.According to Human Rights Watch in their 1999 report Cuba’s Repressive Machinery:

[T]he law criminalizes the accumulation, reproduction or diffusion of “material with a subversive character” for the purposes described above with three to eight years of imprisonment.172 Cubans risk two to five years in prison for “collaborating in any way with radio or television stations… or other foreign media” toward the objectives detailed above.173 The law’s heaviest penalties are directed toward those who “provide information to the United States government, its agencies, dependencies, representatives or officials, to facilitate the objectives…” Persons convicted of this crime face seven to twenty years of imprisonment.174 The law also creates seven-to twenty-year penalties for persons who commit “any act designed to impede or prejudice the economic relations of the Cuban state or the economic relations of any industrial, commercial, or financial institution or any other type of institution.” Those whose actions lead the U.S. government to take measures against foreign investors in Cuba face the longest sanctions under this provision.175  Ironically, while the protection law penalizes extraterritorial actions by the U.S. government, Cuba’s Justice Minister Roberto Díaz Sotolongo said that persons violating the law while outside Cuban territory could also be subject to punishment under its provisions.176

The Cuban government has also adapted to the internet age with a number of measures to contain information access within the Cuban populace, but it has also passed  Decree Law 370 to punish Cubans who upload digital information that portrays the Castro regime in a negative light with fines, confiscation of equipment, and arbitrary detention. Regime agents, according to Freedom House in their newly released report, Freedom on the Nethave also carried out “online intimidation and harassment directed at LGBT+ activists and independent journalists during the coverage period [that] sometimes included death threats.” It has also exported its “Gag Law” in legislation to Venezuela in 2004, that has grown more restrictive over the years and is now advancing the silencing of independent voices in Nicaragua.

Today Nicaragua, got their headline “Nicaragua Adopts the Cuban – Venezuelan Model” partly right, Nicaragua is adopting the Cuban model, the same model that Venezuela has adopted. It does not need to be hyphenated. Earlier this year on January 20th Nicolas Maduro at the XX Meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission of the Cuba-Venezuela Integral Cooperation Agreement reaffirmed the colonial status of the Venezuelan government stating, “I’ve told our older brother and protector, Raúl Castro Ruz, and he agrees. And it has been discussed in this mixed commission and we agree. The ambassador is practically part of the Council of Ministers, the ambassador of Cuba has open doors in each ministry to coordinate, to move forward.”

The Castro regime is an imperial power in the Americas and both Venezuela and Nicaragua are in the dictatorship’s control, and that is also reflected with the presence of Cubans on the ground and changes to both Venezuelas and Nicaragua’s legal systems copied after the Cuban dictatorship. The new gag law that Daniel Ortega is trying to impose on Nicaraguans is the latest example.

Today Nicaragua, October 12, 2020

Nicaragua Adopts the Cuban – Venezuelan Model

By Confidencial

In early October 2018, Daniel Ortega’s regime installed a state of siege via a Police decree prohibiting civic marches. The OAS Inter-American Commission for Human Rights warned at the time that Ortega instituted a de facto State of Emergency. He had essentially suspended constitutional rights such as the freedom of assembly and mobilization, free speech, and a free press.

The goal of the state of siege was to wipe out the independent civic protest and to suppress and divide the opposition. Further, they aimed to impose a false normality through repression. With this, they hoped to coopt the large business leaders and reestablish the regime’s political and economic alliances.

Nevertheless, looking at the facts, Ortega instead deepened his national and international isolation. In addition, for two consecutive years he aggravated the economic recession and the social crisis. This continued until the negligent management of the Coronavirus health crisis brought him an unexpected political invoice. The mismanaged public health crisis wore down the credibility of his leadership, even among the members of his own party.

The regime now announces the imposition of new punitive laws. There’s a push to allow the use of life sentences for certain crimes. There’s a new law to regulate supposed “foreign agents”, and a “cybercrimes” law, better known as the “Gag law”. With these, the regime is recognizing the failure of the police state. The repression never succeeded in squashing the civic protests. Even without massive demonstrations, the spirit of the resistance remains intact.  Despite the National Coalition’s stumbles and the lack of a united national front, today the resistance is greater and better organized. It now has a presence in all of the country’s municipalities.

In the next two weeks, the regime’s parliamentary steamroller will assure the approval of that combo of punitive laws. These impose severe jail sentences for any and all opposition, a majority who represent over three-fourths of the electorate.

However, in reality, the regime has never needed legal pretexts to repress and imprison. Almost two years ago, the police assaulted the offices of Confidencial and Esta Semana and executed a de facto confiscationThis was done without the backing of any judicial orders. Yet, despite the television censorship, they never silenced us. We continue our truth-based journalism. Meanwhile the independent press – persecuted, harassed and sometimes exiled – now enjoys much more credibility and influence than the official machinery.

The latest Cid-Gallup polls confirm that the majority of the population no longer believes the government’s lies about COVID-19. The express burials and the Ministry of Health statistics on pneumonia fatalities and COVID-19 tests speak for themselves. These facts refute the daily monologues of Vice President Rosario Murillo.  Because of that deception, every day political support for Ortega and the FSLN shrinks still more. His backing among the public employees, both civilian and military, continues eroding.

In reality, the “Gag Law” is aimed at threatening the honest and professional public servants. It is meant to keep them from leaking information to the press and the public regarding acts of political corruption.  Such acts are occurrences that the regime wishes to hide.

The “Cybercrimes Law” also threatens users of social media with jail time. However, the dictatorship will continue losing the battle for the truth in social media. They can’t control the massive exercise of free speech and the use of new information technologies now at the service of citizens.

These punitive laws aren’t a symptom of strength, but rather of the political and moral defeat of a minority regime. Why, then, does Ortega need to impose them against wind and tides?  There are at least three hypotheses to explain this imperious political necessity.  All are based on the regime’s urgency to adapt the Cuban and Venezuelan “model” of repressive authoritarianism to Nicaragua.

First, they intend to make full use of the Constitution and laws as one pillar of their repressive strategy. However, they don’t want these as guardians of rights, but as a means to criminalize democratic liberties and civic protest. Clearly, it’s not a carbon copy, but this strategy definitively reflects the Cuban and Venezuelan “model”. The regime is adapting that model to fit a dynastic family dictatorship with the aim of liquidating the democratic project in Nicaragua.

Expedited by the “Law” he’s mandating, Ortega will now be able to eliminate organizations of civil society. He will also control any eventual adversaries and political competitors, by criminalizing them as “foreign agents”. The Venezuelan experience demonstrates that despite high international political costs, the Cuban “model” can prove effective in giving the regime stability. Through this model, pure and harsh repression can be draped in a “legal” mantle. For Ortega, this translates into an incentive to accumulate political hostages and gain time.

Secondly, the regime intends to take over the agenda of justice and present itself as a punisher of “hate crimes”. The latter would now carry a sentence of life in prison. This, in the end, is merely a defensive act. It responds to the need to assure the Sandinista bases that they’re not the ones under the gaze of justice.

Those accused of true “hate crimes”, crimes against humanity, crimes with no statute of limitations, are in the regime’s inner circle. The finger points to members of the Ortega-Murillo regime who are most directly tied to the repression. However, as in the April killings and the failed official narrative of an attempted “Coup d’Etat”, Ortega will point the finger elsewhere. He’ll try to convince his followers that his own hate crimes can be attributed to the victims.

Thirdly, although the Nicaraguan Constitution proclaims political pluralism, this combo of punitive laws assures there’ll be no competitive elections. With these laws, Ortega has ratified his stance for the November 2021 elections. Given this, it’s illusory to expect some electoral opening from a regime that’s willing to play All or Nothing. Though they risk further international sanctions and a declaration of illegitimacy, they’ll be celebrating the elections with no competition and without transparency.

Will we arrive at the opening of the 2021 electoral campaign without a political reform?  The answer to this interrogative doesn’t depend on Ortega, but on the political opposition.  Ortega has already decided to radicalize his authoritarian model. Meanwhile, the opposition continues to be paralyzed. They’re discussing which electoral box is the safest, in imaginary elections in which they haven’t even been invited to participate.

Meanwhile, the national debate must center itself on determining the most effective strategy. The opposition must work on joining forces, weakening the regime, and altering the balance of power. They must thus force a political reform on the regime, one that results from national and international pressure. First, the reform, with or without Ortega, and later free elections.

Freedom House, October 14, 2020

Freedom on the Net 2020

The Pandemic’s Digital Shadow

Country Report: Cuba


Cuba has one of the lowest connectivity rates in the Western Hemisphere, and while the government has significantly improved technical infrastructure and lowered prices in recent years, regular internet access remains extremely expensive, connections are poor, and authorities both monitor usage and work to direct traffic to the government-controlled intranet. The state engages in content-manipulation efforts while blocking a number of independent news sites. Political dissent is punishable under a wide range of laws, including Decree Law 370, which has frequently been used against online journalists. However, despite heavy restrictions, Cubans continue to circumvent government censorship through grassroots innovations.

Cuba is a one-party communist state that outlaws political pluralism, bans independent media, suppresses dissent, and severely restricts basic civil liberties. The government continues to dominate the economy despite recent reforms that permit some private-sector activity. The regime’s undemocratic character has not changed despite a generational transition in political leadership between 2018 and 2019 that included the introduction of a new constitution.

Key Developments, June 1, 2019 – May 31, 2020

  • Narrow legislation implemented in July allowed residents to set up Wi-Fi routers in their homes and businesses, while restricting many more types of network connections. It also effectively outlawed community networks, including the largest, SNET (see A1).

  • The mobile data connections of several activists, journalists, dissidents, and YouTube content producers were reportedly disrupted for up to a few days, possibly to prevent them from sharing content, participating in online events, or reporting on other interference they had experienced.

  • Fake pro-government social media accounts known as ciberclarias harassed dissidents during the coverage period, and Twitter temporarily suspended the accounts of official media outlets and government officials, including former president Raúl Castro, for manipulating online information (see B5).

  • Numerous grassroots mobilizations took place via social media, including a widespread demand for lower internet prices and a protest against the closure of SNET (see B8).

  • Authorities increased their use of Decree Law 370, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic, to arbitrarily arrest, fine, and confiscate the devices of independent digital journalists. Journalist Roberto Quiñones was sentenced under separate legislation to one year of correctional labor in August after he refused to pay a fine (see C3).

  • The online intimidation and harassment directed at LGBT+ activists and independent journalists during the coverage period sometimes included death threats (see C7).

Full Report ]

Amnesty International, September 30, 2020

Nicaragua: Ortega government appears to be preparing for a new phase of repression

30 September 2020, 10:08 UTC

In light of the recent presentation of the Law for the Regulation of Foreign Agents and the Special Law on Cyber-crime before Nicaragua’s National Assembly, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said:

“After several weeks of intensified state repression against activists, human rights defenders and journalists, the ruling party presented two bills that attempt to silence those who criticize government policies, inform the population and defend human rights. It seems that President Daniel Ortega’s government is preparing the legal framework to begin a new phase of repression.”

“The new legislation was presented by the ruling party days after the president expressed interest in initiating a reform to establish life imprisonment, which could be used to punish those who raise their voices against repressive policies. People should not be sanctioned for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. Once again, we call on the government to end the repression. We will not stop denouncing it.”

“In a country where press freedom and the defence of human rights are under continuous attack, the international community must be energetic in condemning these events and demanding that the government, once and for all, guarantee the human rights of the population.”