Is Google really the latest threat to freedom of expression in Cuba?

After Google took down Cubadebate’s YouTube channel on Wednesday, the web was alive with protest. By Friday afternoon, nearly 2,000 people had joined the Facebook group “No mas censura en Youtube, restablezcan a Cubadebate,” [No more censorship by YouTube, reactivate Cubadebate] and by this morning, Facebook had shut down the group. This afternoon a new group, “Apoyo al grupo ‘No mas censura en Youtube, restablezcan a Cubadebate‘” [Support for the group ‘No more censorship by YouTube, reactivate Cubadebate] was up and accumulating members rapidly.* Twitter was bustling with cries of “libertad de prensa” and “viva la revolución”–two expressions that don’t often appear side by side. Of course, I am against the decision to take down the entire channel. But I can’t ignore the blunt irony of a Cuban, state-run news site accusing anyone, even Google, of censorship.

In a statement pleading with YouTube to restore the channel, Cubadebate wrote, “we fervently denounce this threat to freedom of expression” and identified the site as an “alternative website in an embargoed country.” Evidently, Cubadebate, an active critic of many Cuban bloggers, is only concerned about freedom of expression when it comes to their own material. And while they are indeed located in an embargoed country, Cubadebate is hardly an alternative website. This is a state-run news site that exists only online, unlike others (such as Granma) that are simply electronic versions of national newspapers. Does this make them alternative? No. But it was a clever choice of words, because it gave those unfamiliar with Cuba’s highly restrictive media policies the impression that Cubadebate is independent. The truth is that the site is run by the same government that makes it nearly impossible for most citizens to use the Internet. Given this, what I want to know is how many people in Cuba have been affected by (or even know about) the takedown.

*I can’t figure out what’s going on with Facebook and why they took down this group’s page. The news is pretty recent, and Cubadebate, as usual, isn’t giving much detail on the situation. I will add to this when I know more.

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