Posted on Thursday, 09.10.09
Blogger contest reflects `vibrant' blogosphere in Cuba
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuban bloggers sent Twitter messages to announce the winners of their
first-ever contest — two milestones in a country where a report
Thursday said a “vibrant'' blogosphere is emerging despite “vast legal
and technical obstacles.''
“We're pretty happy to have achieved all this,'' said a clearly
ecstatic Reynaldo Escobar, a blogger and contest judge. “None of this,
none of it, has ever been done in Cuba.''
Both the tweets and contest prizes were landmarks for Cuban bloggers,
described in a report by the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists
(CPJ) as “mainly young adults . . . [who] have opened a new space for
free expression in Cuba, while offering a fresh glimmer of hope for the
rebirth of independent ideas in Cuba's closed system.''
The Cuban Communist Party controls all but a tiny minority of the
island's mass media, and the Communications Ministry has the legal power
to block access to Internet sites “with content that is contrary to
social interests, ethics and good customs; as well as . . . applications
that affect the integrity and security of the state.''
Nevertheless, the CPJ reported, “a vibrant, independent blogging
culture is emerging in Cuba, of all places,'' noting it counted at least
25 independent journalistic and regularly maintained blogs, 75 others
based on more personal interests and nearly 200 produced by government
The report, issued Thursday, notes that most independent blogs are not
aligned with the political opposition. Instead, they explore issues not
addressed by the official media, such as food shortages, problems in
housing and the health and education systems and the lack of Internet
Yoani Sánchez, one of the first and best known Cuban bloggers, said
that's true, up to a point. “In the real Cuba, where everything is
political, there are very few possibilities for living in a bubble
separated from that reality,'' she said in a telephone interview with El
The CPJ report added that while Cuba does not have a “sophisticated
system for Web censorship such as that used by China,'' it is “one of
the few countries in the Americas with explicit censorship rules
intended . . . `to defend the country's interests and security.' ''
The high cost of surfing the Web — $6 per hour in a country where
salaries average $17 per month — limits access. And computer science
students are reportedly deployed as “cyber police'' to monitor the
content of independent blogs, the report added.
Bloggers sidestep the restrictions, however, by writing their posts at
home on personal computers, copying them to flash drives or CDs and
taking them to Internet centers in cafes, hotels or foreign embassies to
e-mail them to friends abroad, according to the report. All the
independent blogs are based in foreign servers.
Although few Cubans can afford to spend the time online reading blogs,
Sánchez said, bloggers pass their posts to others on the island through
the CDs or flash drives. One set of posts from several bloggers has been
copied into more than 1,000 CDs and distributed around the island, she said.
The CPJ report concluded with a set of recommendations, urging Cuba to
stop harassing bloggers and independent journalists and remove legal
barriers to Internet access and calling on the international community
to push Cuba in that direction. Cuba argues that it must limit Internet
usage because the U.S. embargo makes access expensive.
Sanchez, who is married to Escobar, said the contest whose winners were
announced Wednesday was conceived a year ago as a way to recognize
Cuba's intrepid bloggers, reward quality sites and encourage newcomers
to join the blogosphere. Both served on the panel of six judges. El
Nuevo Herald interviewed them by phone from Havana.
Readers nominated 187 blogs — including many that favor the Cuban
government — but only 66 met the requirements: no anonymous authors, no
blogs totally based outside Cuba or infrequently refreshed. The tweet
was sent from www.unaislavirtual.com, a site with links to dozens of
The prize for best blog — a laptop that Sanchez was awarded by a group
in Spain for her blog, Generación Y — was awarded to Octavo Cerco by
Claudia Cadelo, a Havana woman who writes in her introduction that she
“feels useless and empty, and I look at the people without faith who
walk on the street, who are so afraid that they no longer realize they
Other prizes and special mentions were awarded for popularity, design,
news and literary writing, photography and other categories.
A special mention for work “under limited situations,'' went to the
blog Voice Behind Bars by Pablo Pacheco, an independent journalist
sentenced to 20 years in prison during the 2003 crackdown on 75
dissidents known as the Black Spring. His blog says he's at the Canaleta
prison in Ciego de Avila province, “and from there he dictates the texts.''
Cuban bloggers, while sometimes harassed by state security agents, have
not been subjected to the same levels of repression as independent
journalists, according to the CPJ report by Carlos Lauría and María
Salazar Ferro. Pacheco is one of 22 such journalists now jailed in Cuba.
That may be because Cuban leaders don't understand the impact of blogs,
since most are more than 70 years old, the report notes. “I suspect
there's a generational disconnect between the activities of Raúl Castro
and Yoani Sánchez'' the report quoted Dan Erikson, a Cuba expert at the
Washington-based organization Inter-American Dialogue, as saying.
The report adds that the bloggers' strong foreign connections —
Sanchez's posts now appear on the popular Huffington Post — can provide
them with a measure of protection from repression, but also expose them
to government charges that dissidents are little more than
Sánchez told El Nuevo Herald that Cuba's current economic crisis also
might be helping to protect the bloggers.
The 2003 crackdown on dissent sparked a string of economic sanctions by
the European Union, she said, “and with the current misfortunes,
[another crackdown] would bring it an enormous cost in terms of
Blogger contest reflects `vibrant' blogosphere in Cuba – Cuba –
MiamiHerald.com (10 September 2009)