Now that the United States has "normalized" relations with Cuba, which was taken off of the State Department terror sponsor list this week, journalism professors from American universities are starting to train students inside the communist country. Despite the liberal leanings of the professors embarking on this task, this is a very good thing.
Press freedom and holding government accountable through the sunlight of reporters are two fundamental principles of a free society. Because of this, despite "normalization" and a "new era," the Castro regime still counts practicing journalism as a crime.
It's not just that they are studying journalism in a country where the mass media is controlled by the state, but how and where they are doing it: inside the U.S. Interests Section, the heavily guarded outpost of a government that has spent decades trying to undermine Cuba's communist government.
Cubans take the courses in independent journalism, led by U.S. professors via video link, knowing full well that they risk harassment or even arrest.
"What most concerns me is that they continue doing illegal things," Castro told reporters about activities inside the U.S. Interests Section. "For example, graduating independent journalists."
The Cubans see the courses as an extension of U.S. efforts to undermine the island's government, which in the past has been done through programs designed to bolster independent civil society.
And of course, the State Department won't openly or outright condemn the Castro regime's ongoing suppression of journalism and free speech, despite opening up relations with the country for the first time decades.
State Department officials wouldn't discuss the journalism program in detail, not wanting to upset delicate talks that began with the historic announcement of a detente by Castro and President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, but defended it in a brief statement to The Associated Press.
"The United States continuously works to promote free expression around the world through bilateral engagement, public diplomacy programming, and multilateral diplomacy," the State Department said. "This includes support to independent journalists around the world, particularly in closed countries where freedom of the press is lacking or independent journalists are under threat."
When journalists are arrested and thrown into Cuba's gruesome prison system, it will be interesting to see how the Obama administration reacts. Considering the administration has waged its own war on the press, I doubt the consequences for the Cuba regime will be severe.