Covering Coronavirus in Cuba

Regime mismanagement and fake news continues to fuel the crisis.

Covering Coronavirus in Cuba

Regime mismanagement and fake news continues to fuel the crisis.

A woman wearing a face mask walks in Havana on September 14, 2020.
A woman wearing a face mask walks in Havana on September 14, 2020. © Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images
A Cuban woman wears a protective mask, Havana, Cuba, July 1, 2020.
A Cuban woman wears a protective mask, Havana, Cuba, July 1, 2020. © Sven Creutzmann/Mambo photo/Getty Images
A shopper wearing a face mask walks in Old Havana, on March 27, 2020.
A shopper wearing a face mask walks in Old Havana, on March 27, 2020. © Eliana Aponte/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images
A woman wearing a face mask reads a newspaper in Havana, Cuba on July 29, 2020.
A woman wearing a face mask reads a newspaper in Havana, Cuba on July 29, 2020. © Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images
Cuban medical student Darlyn de la Caridad (L) speaks with a woman looking for possible cases of the novel coronavirus. Zaragoza, Mayabeque province, Cuba, April 28, 2020.
Cuban medical student Darlyn de la Caridad (L) speaks with a woman looking for possible cases of the novel coronavirus. Zaragoza, Mayabeque province, Cuba, April 28, 2020. © Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images
Monday, 1 February, 2021

IWPR’s network of reporters in Cuba are defying one of the most repressive media environments in the world to expose mass government disinformation over Covid-19.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, the authorities cracked down yet further on free expression, ramping up the use of a gag law penalising citizens for expressing critical opinions on social media.

“Some of the stories published during the last year by IWPR can be presented as the ultimate testimonies of the difficult times experienced by all Cubans.”

Decree 370 mandates fines of up to 3,000 pesos, an amount four times the country’s average monthly salary and allows for the confiscation of all equipment needed to connect to the internet. In practical terms, this prevents journalists from doing their work.

Those who criticised Havana’s handling of the crisis found themselves taken in for interrogation and fined, as well as often having their computers or phones confiscated.

Despite this, IWPR’s network of reporters has continued to report how regime mismanagement and fake news continued to fuel the crisis, even though Cuba prides itself on having the best public health system in the region.

Not only did the government actively promote a homeopathic remedy made of duck hearts and livers as an effective way for its citizens to protect themselves against Covid-19, it promoted disinformation about mortality rates. 

Already chronic food shortages were also exacerbated by an economic crisis fuelled by the collapse of tourism, one of the island’s key sources of foreign currency. This meant that Cubans had to join crowds waiting in long queues in front of shops, making adhering to lockdown and social distancing measures nearly impossible. A lack of soap and detergent also made it hard for people to follow basic measures like washing hands several times daily or disinfecting clothing. 

IWPR articles also highlighted how, despite the grave risk to their health amid the pandemic, poverty and poor social care provision meant that thousands of older adults in Cuba were forced to work on the streets to supplement their income.

Other stories included how Havana’s promotion of dollar-only shops - which in effect have become the only source of basic goods - have caused substantial social division and boosted a thriving black market. 

“The alliance launched by IWPR with several independent media outlets to inform [the public] about Covid-19 in Cuba has produced some of the best journalist work written in Cuba about the pandemic,” said journalist and editor Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez Martínez.

“IWPR gathered a multidisciplinary team of reporters, editors, and data specialists to not only report on the threat to human health but also about the effects of Covid-19 on the already battered economy of Cuba, the triumphant discourse of top officials, the severe food shortages and the escalation of gender-based violence."

“Some of the stories published during the last year by IWPR can be presented as the ultimate testimonies of the difficult times experienced by all Cubans.”

“Evidence suggested that Covid-19 would keep us so confined inside our homes that it was almost like the practice of journalism would be suspended. The coronavirus pandemic made us re-think journalism and life,” said Carla Colomé, a journalist with El Estornudo.

“It was in this context that IWPR offered the possibility of not making quarantine a reason to stop working or telling stories. Some of the best reports this year have been published from our living room tables, from our bedrooms, or from any other corner of our homes used as a work spot. It has been a professional challenge and an adventure that kept us together, from a distance.”

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