Freedom of Speech in Cuba Using the Market Place of Idea’s Theory


As of 2008, Cuba was reported to rank very high in the list of largest prisoners of journalists across the globe. It was listed next to the People’s Republic of China, which is positioned as the principal penitentiary for media correspondents all over the globe in keeping with the information provided by The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a global NGO. Further reports of The Committee to Protect Journalists suggests that Cuba ranks fourth in the list of worst countries for bloggers in the whole world, asserting that “only government officials and people with links to the Communist Party have Web access” (Simon, 2009) and “only pro-government bloggers can post their material on domestic sites that can be easily accessed“. (CPJ, 2009) Cuba was also placed almost at the bottom of the Press Freedom Index published for the year 2008. The Inter American Press Association states that subjugation of self-regulating journalists, abuse of imprisoned reporters and extremely stern government monitoring, are some of the factors that restrict availability and accessibility to alternative origins of information and frequent occurrences of such instances can still be observed in the country. Cuba was listed amongst the ten severely suppressed nations in the context of freedom of speech across the planet according to the publications of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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In light of such a grim situation, this document makes use of the Marketplace of Ideas Theory to condemn such acts, particularly the senseless imprisonment of journalists for holding an alternative viewpoint.

The Marketplace of Ideas Theory

The “marketplace of ideas” is an underlying principle for the notion of freedom of expression rooted in a parallel drawn to the economic model of a free market. (McLeod, 2005) The “marketplace of ideas” theory asserts that the fact, reality or best practices come to pass from the contesting widely range of ideas through an independent, visible public communication framework, and is an integral element of every liberal democracy. (Lewis, 1995) This notion is frequently relevant to discussions relating to patent law along with other considerations such as freedom of the media and the ethical functionalities of the press. However, of late, the concept has come to be also associated with educationalists in the field of higher education linking the perception with academic freedom. (Quist, 2007)

The formulation of the theory of the “marketplace of ideas” is usually credited to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr’s disagreeing view in Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919). Interestingly even though, Justice Holmes (1919) connoted the very meaning of concept in his dissenting viewpoint, he did not make use of the specific term. Holmes (1919) stated: “…when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas…that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.” (Pique, 2009)

The specific term “marketplace of ideas” was first recorded in the 1967 Supreme Court judgment in the Keyishian v. Board of Regents case wherein the Court declared that “The classroom is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas“. (Bosmajian, 1992, 134) However, despite such recordings, it may be said that the perception of the classroom as the “marketplace of ideas” did not come into being during the twentieth century itself. Richard Hofstadter and Walter Metzger (1955) in their study initiatives have identified awareness to the reality that the notion is rooted in historic and nineteenth century practices. The blueprint of the method may be traced back to the times when the rule of law was mostly dominated by feudal systems or during the era of Socrates and Aristotle. The Socratic Method is the academic manifestation of the theory of “Marketplace of Ideas.” (Fish, 1994) During the more recent times, John Stuart Mill and Thomas Jefferson have come up with their own elucidation of the “marketplace of ideas” theory. While referring to the University of Virginia, Jefferson in his letter to William Roscoe in 1820, asserted that the institution would be rooted in the limitless free will of the human intellect as one should not fearful and must embrace truth regardless of it might lead, and that no error is acceptable provided that reasoning is still an option and all possibilities have not been exhausted. (Lachman, 2006)

In 1813, while corresponding with Isaac McPherson, Jefferson also expressed his views relating to the issues with regards to patent law: He stated that ideas should unreservedly spread all across the world, meant for the ethical and shared information of humankind, and enhancement of conditions in which they live, that appear to have been curiously and munificently planned by nature in the process of creation, such as fire, which can expand across all given space, without dwindling intensity at any phase or place, and the air is quintessential for breathing, movement, sustaining any life form. (Harris, 2009)

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These perceptions were to a great extent founded on the views of John Milton’s prime opinion about freedom of expression. He believed that each human being is gifted with the capacity of using making use of reason and differentiating correct from the incorrect, good from the evil. So as to be capable of employing this capacity effectively, a person needs to gain unrestrained access to the viewpoint of other people in a free-minded and openly contested encounter. (Anderson, 2007) Hence, the thought of a free marketplace of ideas may have been built on Milton’s writings which presented the concept that in a debatable situation the superior argument would always win through. In his writing, he said that when everyone with an individual take on an issue is allowed to express themselves freely, only the factual and pertinent would be able to endure and that the fake and unrealistic would be outdone. Thus, he suggested that every Government should not engage in arguments and consider the chances supportive of one side or the other. (Bunker, 2001) The author’s values of the “self-righting process” and “open marketplace of ideas” were advanced by notable figures like Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson, who completely believed in such principles and asserted that, “any government which can not stand up to published criticism deserves to fall“. (Weimann, 2006, 232)

Current State of Affairs in Cuba

The censorship issue in Cuba has been brought to notice at length and has led to sanctions being issued for Cuba by the European Union in addition to protesting actions coming from various non-governmental groups, administrations, and distinguished individuals. (Anderson, 2007) As mentioned earlier, in 2008, Cuba was reported to rank very high in the list of largest prisoners of journalists across the globe. (Harris, 2009) Further reports of The Committee to Protect Journalists suggests that Cuba ranks fourth in the list of worst countries for bloggers in the whole world, asserting that “only government officials and people with links to the Communist Party have Web access” (Simon, 2009) and “only pro-government bloggers can post their material on domestic sites that can be easily accessed“. (CPJ, 2009) Cuba was also placed almost at the bottom of the Press Freedom Index published for the year 2008. (Harris, 2009)

Publications, newspapers and magazines, radio and television networks, motion pictures and even music are subjected to censorship. Covert media, although sporadically present, is extensively curbed. (Quist, 2007) Shockingly Cuban authorities refer to the world most impacting revolution- The Internet as the great disease of the present century. (Anderson, 2007) Even though Internet accessibility is granted to a select few Cubans through the issue of a special permit, it eludes the grasp of the masses in Cuba. The utilization of mobile phones is an unusual and very rare sight in the nation. (Harris, 2009)Foreign press correspondents who are allowed to work in Cuba are handpicked by the governmental authorities. Media is subjugated to the intervention of the Communist Party’s Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which formulates and synchronizes party aligned policies. (Lachman, 2006)

In accordance with the Cuban constitution, the Communist Party has the privilege of controlling the media. (Harris, 2009) It acknowledges concepts such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press in instances where it is aligned with the objectives of a socialist community. The government administers and supervises all media initiatives and confines Internet usage to only selected personnel. (Anderson, 2007) News is broadcasted on only four television networks, through two news organizations, a few radio channels, merely four websites, and three primary news dailies which carry the visions and stances of the country’s Communist Party in a controlled environment overseen by governmental authorities. (Harris, 2009) Some individuals who make an attempt to function as independent journalists are hassled, taken in custody, susceptible to tribunals or sentences, or prohibited from moving around freely in the country. Governmental organizations arrange manifestations dubbed as “repudiation acts” in front of the residences of self-regulating journalists. Government followers gather together around their residences, threaten the dwellers and stop them from departing or even receiving guests. (Lachman, 2006) Visas are issued to foreign journalists on a strictly conditional basis, and journalists belonging to fraternities that are perceived as unfriendly are immediately denied a working permit in the country. (Quist, 2007)

Cuba is reported as the only authoritarian nation in the Americas, as per the Democracy Index published by The Economist in 2008. Dictatorships have been traditionally known to bowdlerize the freedom of expression of the masses. At present, in contemporary Cuba, individuals are taken into custody for challenging or contradicting the activities, visions, standpoints and / or course of action of the communist regime. (Harris, 2009)

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The Law for the Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba or the “88 Law”, that came into force during the month of February in 1999 was soon commonly referred to as the gagging law amongst dissident fraternity. It came into existence as an imminent endangerment for any individual who associated with, through whatever means, radio stations or television channels, periodicals or any other overseas media or supplied information that was regarded as expected to be aligned with US policies. (Anderson, 2007) The law brings in requirements of extremely profound punishment such as more than two decades of custodial confinement, taking away of every private possession and monetary penalties of up to hundred thousand pesos (approximately $5000, with the archetypal Cuban earnings being in the range of two hundred to two hundred and fifty pesos which is equal to monthly twelve dollars). This piece of legislation also has provisions of sentences for the fostering, arranging, providing impetus to, or the involvement with meetings or demonstrations criticizing the actions of the government. (Lachman, 2006)

Among the most notable provisions of this law are:

  • Article 6 which stipulates imprisonment for a duration ranging between three and eight years for any person who procures, collects, reproduces or circulates material of rebellious nature issued by the United States authorities and its organizations, subsidiaries, diplomats, or from various other foreign bodies.
  • Article 7 lays down provisions for imprisonment sentences for two to five years in jail for any person who teams up through whatsoever means with overseas radio stations or television channels, news dailies, periodicals or other forms of mass media with the intention of undermining the nation’s integrity and devastating the socialist character of the state. The intensity of the punishments is increased to three to eight years under captivity if such association is formed with the intention of making a profit.
  • Article 9 lays down imprisonment sentences ranging from seven to 15 years for any individual who performs any activity with the purpose of impeding or detrimental to the economic status of the Cuban nation.
  • Article 11 sentences imprisonment of three to eight years for any individual who directly or by the help of arbitrators, procures, spreads or is involved in the process of circulating economic, material or supplementary resources, received from the governmental organizations, subsidiaries, agents, authorities or other private entities in the United States. (Harris, 2009)

Although the Law 88 is apparently had been enforced under the pretext of offsetting the U.S. economic war on Cuba, the actions of the government in the course of implementing the law does not suggest that the U.S. government is its primary target. On the contrary, it is the self-regulating journalists, dissident civic fraternities in the country along with foreign entities such as U.S. and European nongovernmental group which attempt to provide aid to them, are at the receiving end of the stipulations of the law. (Quist, 2007)

In addition to this, Article 91 of the Penal Code has provision for punishments imprisonment of up to two decades or even death against any individual charged with actions hurting the independent or integral character of the nation. According to this legislative article, “he who, in the interest of a foreign state, commits an act with the objective of damaging the independence or territorial integrity of the Cuban state, incurs the penalty of ten to twenty years imprisonment or death“. (IPWPC, 2004)

Article 91 and 88 were used in conjunction in March 2003 in order to take 75 nonviolent independent journalists and academicians, along with various human rights workers into custody, sentenced later with up to 3 decades under imprisonment through allegedly biased trial procedures. 54 of these guiltless individuals, who expressed their views in favor of a democratic community and preservation of and upholding human rights, till date, still remain, locked up in a brutal environment. 20 amongst these prisoners are independent journalists. (Harris, 2009)

A few other pieces of legislation enforced in Cuba in order to curb dissent or activities that challenge the actions of the communist government are described below.

Article 144, relates to the crime of desacato, this is equivalent to the term “disrespect“. (CAL, 2009) It asserts that any individuals who terrorizes, insults, offends, harms or in any case offends or violates, in words or through writing, the poise or respect of an position in power, public authority, or their representatives or subordinates, could be jailed for a duration ranging from three months to one year or may be subject to a financial penalty or both. Depending on the severity of the crime the imprisonment term may be raised from one to three years. (Quist, 2007)

Articles 208 and 209 refer to the crime of asociación ilícita; this is equivalent to the term “illicit association”. (CAL, 2009) These laws provide for sentences such as financial fines or prison terms of up to a year for anyone associated with an unlisted organization.

Article 103 refers to the crime of propaganda enemiga, in other words, this is equivalent to the term “enemy propaganda”. (CAL, 2009) It stipulates that any individual who is charged with

acts of provocation harming the social arrangements, global solidarity or the socialist nation in words, writings or through any other form of misinformation, or fabricates, circulates or procures such propaganda, may be subjected to incarceration of up to fifteen years. (Harris, 2009)

Article 207 refers to the crime of asociación para delinquir; in other words, this is equivalent to the term “associating with others to commit crimes”. (CAL, 2009) It asserts that if three or more individuals, team up forming a group to perform crimes, they are liable to sentences of imprisonment for up to three years, just for gathering together or else a financial penalty is levied on them.

Article 115, relates to the crime of “difusión de falsas Informaciones contra la Paz Internacional”, (CAL, 2009) or “dissemination of false information against international peace.” (CAL, 2009) It asserts that any individual who is found guilty of propagating fake news with the aim of upsetting global harmony or endangering the stature or recognition of the Cuban nation or plays a part in spoiling its relationships with other nations may receive an imprisonment term of one to four years. (CAL, 2009)

Article 143, relates to the crime of resistencia, or “resistance.” Occasionally, the crime is also known as desobediencia, or “disobedience.” (CAL, 2009) It asserts that any individual who refuses to accept or disobeys an authority in the process of carrying out his responsibilities is liable to receive a punishment of incarceration up to five years or maybe financially penalized.

Articles 72-90, refer to the crime of peligrosidad, or “dangerousness”. This set of articles are listed under the headline- “The Dangerous Status and Security Measures“, (CAL, 2009) and as per this legislation, an individual may be sentenced for up to four years under captivity on the condition that the governmental establishment considers that the person exhibits a special tendency of performing criminal acts, even if such acts may not have been committed in actuality. (Harris, 2009)

Dissident Groups

Cuba presents itself to the outer world as a state having outstanding literacy rates and healthcare facilities. However, majority of its civilians consider otherwise, given that for years Cubans have been subjugated to Castro’s dictatorship. Castro’s government curbs the freedom of speech and expression of the masses by randomly outlawing any material that is considered to overawe the communist standards and is marked as counter-revolutionary. (Harris, 2009)

However, all is not lost. People who firmly believe in the marketplace of ideas theory still exist in Cuba. They believe in democracy and consider that free expression of contested ideas is a necessity for democracy to prevail. Through above 30 years of continuation, the Cuban democracy movement has exhibited hard-wearing capabilities of both enduring as well as growing through pulsating phases of relative forbearance and atrocious persecution by the governmental actors. The pro democratic revolution has broadened its horizons to encompass components belonging to various civil society segments like independent journalists, human rights activists, political groups, or labor associations. As per some testimonials, the ideals movement has spread and been accepted by several supporters across the island. (Lachman, 2006)

The existence of more than one political party leads to expressions of different ideals, morals and values. In such an environment people are exposed to varying thought processes and in a democratic manner, chose the more viable and pertinent option which they consider to be true. This is in line with the marketplace of ideas theory. However, the situation in Cuba is a bit different. Although modifications of the Cuban Constitution in 1992 legalized the privilege to create political groups, save for the Communist party, no party is allowed to organize or carry out its public political agenda on the island. However, these parties do exist and firmly but nonviolently endorse a democratic movement. (Harris, 2009)


In conclusion, it would be relevant to mention that all media, in Cuba is state monitored or controlled. However, independent journalists exist who believe in spreading perspectives other than that of the government to the masses. Although they are brutally harassed and always live with the danger of being imprisoned, they operate within their means to foster a democratic framework wherein marketplace of ideas theory is an essential component. (Lachman, 2006)

Public space such as the Internet is often perceived as a marketplace of ideas that provides an opening for the most excellent ideas to appear. Implied in this is the supposition that the concepts that succeed as they are substantial enough like the products that prevail in a “marketplace”. Although access to the Internet is extremely restricted and blogging, a modern-day Internet-based tool to express one’s ideas, are prohibited in Cuba, people like Yoani Sánchez, a known critic of governmental actions, promote the Internet and encourage people to embrace its possibilities to lead Cuba into a 21st century democratic environment. (Harris, 2009)


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