Cuban Dissidents Harness Blogs, Social Media to Spread Cause Globally
By Curt Devine
July 22, 2013
Fewer than half of Middle East residents think it’s safe to express
political opinions online, according to a study by sponsor Northwestern
University in Qatar. Explore the data on this interactive site and watch
a recent MediaTwits chat about the study. The research will be presented
on August 10 at the AEJMC conference in Washington, DC.
For the past half dozen years, dissidents such as Yoani Sanchez and her
blog “Generation Y” have opened the political debate like no other time
since the Castros came to power in Cuba.
But Cuba’s dissident movement has deep roots, with many working in
relative obscurity for decades.
That’s all changing with modern technology.
With the global expansion of the Internet, dissidents have been able to
step into the international limelight, using blogs and social media to
generate vast networks of supporters.
Websites such as Voces Cubanas and The Havana Times allow dissidents to
critique the government, offer alternative perspectives and connect with
other civil society groups.
Although only 5 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet,
dissidents have used innovative methods to spread their messages.
“The Cuban who is writing the blog cannot easily or inexpensively access
the Internet to update the blog,” said Ted Henken, professor of Latino
Studies at Baruch College of New York, “so they have a partner abroad
who voluntarily helps them do that … So for example Havana Times … the
editor lives in Managua, Nicaragua, the webmaster lives in Japan and all
of the writers live in Havana. They harness people around the world who
translate, who administer.”
CREATIVE WAYS TO BYPASS THE GOVERNMENT
Because the Cuban government condemns all anti-communist speech as
“enemy propaganda,” activists still must take extreme precautions.
They often download the blogs and secretly share them on flash drives to
allow Cubans on the island to access these materials. This gives
dissidents the power of the Internet even when they cannot get online.
Henken explains that the Internet has also enabled activists to form
stronger connections with Cubans living in the diaspora. Now, when the
government attempts to suppress dissidents, a global audience stands
united to critique those actions.
“For example in 2008, the lead singer for the punk group … Porno Por
Ricardo … he was arrested and was going to be charged with pre-criminal
dangerousness,” Henken said. “There was a local outrage and very soon it
became visible on the international scale through the Internet, and
there was an international petition that was started. Before, if you
were a dissident you tried to hide because you would be vulnerable, but
now … visibility has become an asset.”
Henken said the growing unity within Cuba’s civil society and its
connections to the diaspora could create significant political leverage
in years to come.
PITFALLS OF ACTIVISM
The leverage will not fall into the hands of the Cuban people
Cuban dissident Antonio Rodiles understands that democracy will only
become possible when stronger ties exist between domestic and exile
Rodiles’s organization, “Estado de Sats,” strives to create public
spaces where Cubans can discuss reform and build a wider network of
support. The organization has filmed about 70 panel discussions and
distributed them on DVD to generate conversation.
“The strategy is to try to create bridges between all different sectors
of society, between the activists and artists and lawyers and all the
actors,” Rodiles said. “We are trying to create a nexus of support and
collaboration … If we do not have a civil society, we are not going to
develop a democracy. We are going to develop an unpredictable system.”
Rodiles spearheads a campaign called “Por Otra Cuba,” or “For Another
Cuba.” The initiative aims to pressure the Castro regime to ratify the
two United Nations’ agreements for civil and political rights signed in
2008. Already, “Por Otra Cuba” has gathered more than 4,000 digital
But Rodiles said this work is more difficult than it sounds. Last year,
the government detained him for 19 days on charges of resisting arrest.
He says the government uses these forms of intimidation to stifle the
“The Cuban Government is going to try to use violence to stop us — in
fact they have been doing this to social actors for years to send a
clear message to the rest of society,” Rodiles said.
DOES SOCIAL MEDIA REALLY WORK?
Rodiles agrees that the Internet gives activists the opportunity to
speak from a new platform, one that the government cannot easily suppress.
Although the Castro regime has begun to spread propaganda online, he
says dissidents have widely used social media to their advantage.
“I think that social media need to be used to change the reality,”
Rodiles said. “It is clear that the government controls the TV and
newspaper and radio and the way that we have to evade with the resources
we have in new media.”
Some scholars caution activists against overestimating the power of the
“Internet utopianism” refers to the idea that cyberspace and new media
will bring unprecedented freedom to the world, particularly to societies
governed by repressive regimes.
Mary Long of the University of Colorado says this line of thinking
reduces new media into too narrow of a political reform.
“I see something different,” Long said. “I do see community being
created and connections happening, but they are not going to fulfill the
old political vision of creating a place where we are all equal and valued.”
She said blogs offer unprecedented opportunities for global discussions
and that social media allow citizens to organize in new ways.
Despite these trends, she does not believe Cuba’s use of new media will
translate directly into political reform apart from traditional forms of
For now, the future impact of the Internet on Cuban society remains
But the way dissidents use it to circumvent the government and create
international networks has become increasingly clear. As Cuban activists
become increasingly connected on the island and throughout the world,
they may achieve the political leverage necessary to create lasting reform.
As a freelance writer and human rights advocate, Curt Devine leverages
media to give a voice to the voiceless. He is currently pursuing a
master’s in international media at American University in Washington D.C.
This story was originally broadcast on Latin Pulse.
Source: “Cuban Dissidents Harness Blogs, Social Media to Spread Cause
Globally | Mediashift | PBS” –