At the end of the 1990s, Cuban dissidents sought out different media to disseminate the reality of life on the island. Reports on violations by a government that proclaims itself a human rights’ defender began to circulate around the world, damaging the image that the socialist state wants to project to the rest of the world. This is how a movement of independent journalists has been born in Cuba.
The government’s response has been repression. Law 88, known as the gag law, criminalizes the right to freedom of expression and opinion. But even so, voices continue to rise up within Cuba. New information technologies favor, in great part, the development of Cuban independent journalism, and, as a result, of the Cuban blogosphere.
Many have tried to give this phenomenon a name, precisely because of the stage in which is it unfolding. In Cuba, since the “Socialist Revolution” triumphed, all forms of media have been controlled by the government. Moreover, all those who have not disseminated the official version of what is happening inside and outside of the country have been banned from state owned media. Information is highly filtered and manipulated. In this way, the government can impose and prefabricate public opinion.
But even in this adverse situation, dissident groups, young people with social concerns, who do not have government support or acknowledgement for different reasons, look for innovative ways to access the Web and leave proof of what is happening in this country. There means of connecting to the Internet, and of expressing oneself as a whole, are described by many as “underground.”
It is a spontaneous phenomenon that has emerged in the midst of limitations and repression. On the other hand, these bloggers believe it is pretentious to think that they will be able to provoke change. They can, however, influence public discourse, precisely because they have created an independent state of opinion.
Some bloggers even deny that they do the same work as independent journalists. They only accept that they are citizens and as individuals they have the right to blog and to express their opinions. Among them are young people 20 to 35 years of age, the post-revolutionary youth that was largely born during the Special Period of the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union.
This easily explains the great diversity of issues that are discussed on their blogs. There are journalistic blogs, first person opinion blogs, life histories, artistic blogs, photography and anthropological blogs, and literary blogs, amongst others. Some are anonymous, like “El Guajiro Azul” and “El Jinete Qué” while others are personalized.
Access to the Internet is highly restricted for the average Cuban. There are few ways to access the Web legally: at embassies, cybercafés and hotels. In hospitals, and student and professional centers the Internet is available, though at those places, government control is even tighter. There are also people who have illegal internet accounts.
Bloggers use different means to publish their posts. They save their work on flash drives and post them. In some cases, they are able to do it directly from Cuban servers. In other cases, posts are published by people abroad – in a vast majority exiled Cubans.
Despite the new ways to keep and update a blog, the political police can block them. In order to avoid this situation, bloggers look for hosting services in other countries where they can post their blogs.
Bloggers save their work on PDF files or burn it onto hard drives that they distribute. However, the alternative Cuban blogosphere is still a phenomenon in an embryonic state of development. It still faces challenges and is restricted by limitations.
Keeping an updated blog in Cuba can be very costly. Lack of resources is one of the main reasons for lack of continuity and systematization in the updating of the blogs that are being worked on from Cuba. And this is because bloggers today are an option for Cubans livings in the island to present their opinion and feelings, without intermediaries. They are an alternative for the exercise of freedom of expression so strongly repressed in Cuba.
Laritza Diversent reports for several news websites outside of Cuba and writes for the blog Las Leyes de Laritza en Desde La Havana
The complete version of this article, which was first published by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, is available(here).