Cuba’s Government Targets Social Media Influencers

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Screenshot from a video showing Ruhama Fernández. 
© YouTube/Ruhama Fernández

Cuba’s government has a well-documented history of harassing dissidents, journalists, and opposition party members. Now it has a new target: social media influencers.

On October 14, police arrived at the homes of four Cuban YouTubers about to participate in an online forum discussing Cuban politics. Two—Jancel Moreno and Maykel Castillo—were detained, Iliana Hernández and others had their internet cut. One, 21-year-old Ruhama Fernández, had to hide to participate in the discussion by phone.

The incident was just the latest example of the type of harassment influencers have faced.

Take the case of Fernández, who started her YouTube channel just ten months ago.

In Fernández’s videos, which are often critical of the government, she discusses current events and interviews people about their daily lives or their views on politics.

Soon after she started making videos, her friends began receiving citations from the police, she told Human Rights Watch. Officers would appear outside their homes and their parents’ workplaces. “They wanted to know who I was, where I lived, if I had a boyfriend.”

People began stopping her brother on the street—sometimes police, but often people dressed as civilians. “They tell him I should stop doing what I’m doing, or I might disappear.”

In April, she received her first police citation. At the station an officer told her she should stop posting videos, or else they could prosecute her for “counter-revolutionary” activities.

In July, authorities forced her internet provider to cut the connection at her home. Fernández received internet access through an informal network run by one of her neighbors—a common practice in Cuba where internet access is extremely limited. The neighbor said that police threatened to shut down the entire connection if she continued supplying Fernández.

In August, authorities denied Fernández a passport to travel to the United States to visit her parents. An Interior Ministry official told her she could not leave the country for “reasons of public interest,” a justification measure frequently invoked to bar dissidents from traveling.  

In September, after being questioned a second time by police, she posted a video detailing her experience. Days later, she received a call from an unknown number threatening to “finish” her off if she left her house.

Like others, Fernández says she is undeterred. “Now that I’ve told the truth, there’s no turning back.”