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    Guerrilla Blogging

    INSIDE CUBA: Guerrilla Blogging
    A virtual democracy against all odds.
    By Orlando Pardo Lazo

    Blog." Many people in Cuba don't understand all the fuss regarding this
    mono-syllabic word that seems to have no relationship to the daily
    routine of survival.

    On the Island, the blogosphere is an incipient media and, outside of
    Havana, all but invisible. Though their work generates controversies and
    awards worldwide, Cuban bloggers are largely unknown here. With Internet
    access in Cuba restricted to the very few, the nation's bloggers
    function as a kind of guerrilla underground. They work as independent
    agents whose existence heralds a civic re-activation that will modulate
    the Revolution's Realpolitik—or is that Raúlpolitik?

    Blogs Sobre Cuba, an online database founded in 2007, lists more than
    1,000 blogs on Cuban topics, both on and off the island.

    The State monopoly of the printed word, which continues to be the media
    most read, doesn't seem interested in acknowledging the 21st century's
    cursed tetragrammatron: BLOG. So when a State journalist needs to quote
    from some foreign (never domestic) blog in his article, he does it with
    sterilized surgical gloves, never explaining the format of his source.

    Curiously, these same State newspapers have their own digital replicas
    that are a lot less orthodox than their print counterparts. They're on
    State cyber-portals that celebrate the government's achievements in
    health, sports, technology, education, tourism, culture, etc. As a
    counter-offensive in the "War of Ideas," dozens of official journalists
    are also allowed to hang blogs on sites such as Bloggers Cuba and
    Blogueros y Corresponsales de la Revolucion . In both cases, the vast
    majority of these writers are male and white—not exactly reflecting the
    country's population or the rest of the world's multi-culti blogosphere.
    Even Fidel Castro has become a blogger with the publication of his
    reflections in Cubadebate.

    Anidelys Rodriguez, a communications professor at the University of
    Havana, has studied the blogs in the State-sponsored Cuban blogosphere.
    According to Rodriguez, the majority reflect "professional ideologies
    and traditional news values" and "a self-imposed commitment to re-affirm
    national identity." In other words, these are not personal blogs but
    appendices to the State media in which the writers already work.
    Perilous connections

    But for a Cuban blogger to get to the mythical Ithaca that is the
    Internet, they must first navigate an odyssey of obstacles. First, there
    is the scandalous cost of connecting, which in just a couple of hours
    can swallow an average monthly salary ($15 to $20 U.S.). Then there are
    the Paleolithic browsing speeds (usually less than 50 Kbps). And
    finally, of course, there is the ministry-level apartheid that prohibits
    Cuban nationals from opening a web account with ETECSA, the national
    telephone company—whereas any foreign resident can do so with a simple
    bureaucratic application accompanied by hard currency.

    Nonetheless, whether through tricks or under-the-table payments,
    information in Cuba today travels with unprecedented speed. Some people
    use online computers at diplomatic compounds, like the U.S. Special
    Interest Section, and thus are attacked as "dissidents" by official
    spokespersons. Many occasionally log on from hotels to upload and
    download all their material for the week—or the month. (Sometimes Cuban
    nationals are allowed to do this openly, other times they're banned from
    the cyber cafes at hotels that cater to foreigners; it's always a
    mystery what will happen at any given hotel on any given day.) Others
    don't upload or download their texts and images themselves, but send
    them instead, as e-mail attachments, to a collaborator who will do them
    the favor from abroad. This is also how many blogs publish in different
    languages.

    According to the National Office of Statistics (which doesn't count
    anything outside of formal channels), out of a Cuban population of more
    than 11 million, only 1.5 million use the Internet. Online connections
    made through student or work centers ban "pornographic and
    counter-revolutionary" sites, creating an incriminating nexus between
    those two words, and denying access to almost everything published by
    Cubans abroad. Domestic connections authorized for individual government
    officials are, in practice, also domesticated: portals such as Cubanet
    and Cuba Encuentro, both exile news services, are blocked by the Cuban
    government, as are various proxy servers. Cuban national servers, such
    as Infomed and Cubarte only allow browsing on ".cu" domains, which are
    exclusively Cuban State pages and as such are a kind of cyber chastity
    belt euphemistically referred to as the "Intranet." In practice what
    this means is that most of the few Cubans who have online access don't,
    in fact, have access to the Worldwide Web at all—only to e-mail.

    Users on these restricted networks assume that their e-mails are
    monitored, or even erased if they contain politically incorrect words.
    To violate State sensibility can mean having the service suspended, or
    worse.

    Take the case of Ángel Santiesteban, who writes a blog called Los hijos
    que nadie quiso (The Children Nobody Wanted).

    Santiesteban, a much-lauded writer who has won most of Cuba's top
    literary prizes, wrote about the shameful behavior at a minor Mexican
    book fair of a delegation of Cuban writers In essence, he chided these
    writers "who never question government management" for opportunism, and
    for demanding abroad what they would never ask for at home. He quoted
    one anonymous writer as saying he/she had agreed to go to Mexico because
    of the "proper meals, daily clean sheets, CNN and hot water for showers."

    Following that blog post, Santiesteban was called in by an official with
    the Instituto del Libro. The tiff with the functionary inspired more
    blogs and an assault on the street that left Santiesteban with a broken
    arm, but still able to write. Since his blog isn't available in Cuba, it
    was presumed that his assailants, who called him "counterrevolutionary,"
    were sent by State security. Santiesteban filed complaints with both the
    Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba and the Ministry of Culture, which
    have promised to investigate.

    Then there is the story of Erasmo Calzadilla, a former university
    professor who writes for Havana Times, an English-language portal that
    was originally run from Cuba by a State-employed, foreign-born
    interpreter. (The site is now operated from Nicaragua, where the owner
    lives after losing employment in Cuba.) Calzadilla, 34, was fired from
    his university, Instec, after posting a series of entries on
    controversial topics, such as the naïveté of foreigners when it comes to
    Cuba, or how gay Cuban couples have nowhere to go to have sex. He
    detailed his dismissal from the faculty in his blog as well and, now
    teaching at another school, continues to write for Havana Times.

    In spite of this panoptic attempt to control a medium as emancipating as
    the web, Cuba has one of the most popular blogs in the world: Yoani
    Sánchez's Generacion Y. Sánchez is a 34-year-old philologist who doesn't
    write for a newspaper or have access to too many interactive tools, but
    she's at the cutting edge of Cuba's digital revolution. (The name of her
    blog stems from the curious predilection of Cubans in the '
    70s and '80s
    to name their children with Russian sounding names.) Like a lot of sites
    from the Island, including many official ones, Sánchez uses a
    foreign-based server to guarantee the integrity and security of her
    material.

    In a gesture of solidarity that serves as an example of the Cuba's
    independent blogosphere, she shares her site, Voces Cubanas , for free
    and without hierarchies, conditions or political sectarianism, with any
    Cuban national who wants to create a blog.

    On a government site, Cambios en Cuba, which seems practically dedicated
    to slamming Sánchez, authorities have added to the Generaci—n Y logo a
    swastika and letters reading "CIA."

    Because of the stigma now attached to Generacion Y many people
    interested in blogging are cautious about actually doing so just yet.
    But the diversity on Voces Cubanas is already well-known, including
    popular blogs like Sin Evasion and Desde Aqui ; the very dramaticVoz
    Tras las Rejas, written by the journalist Pablo Pacheco, who's actually
    in prison at an undisclosed location and whose work is produced
    completely in defiance of the authorities; the irreverent Octavo Cerco;
    a replica of Sánchez's blog, given that the original continues to be
    blocked in Cuba by the authorities vocescubanas.com/generaciony and my
    own photo-blog, Boring Home Utopics.

    Due to the high cost of connection in Cuba, those who can connect rarely
    read online, so the distribution of blog materials on the island itself
    happens through other means, particularly memory sticks and CDs.
    Unquestionably, immediacy and feedback are affected by these second- and
    third-hand reading experiences, which sometimes disconnect the bloggers
    from their natural audience.

    In addition, Sánchez has organized Itinerario Blogger 2009, which
    facilitates theoretical and technical exchanges about the blogosphere
    and its repercussions worldwide. This past summer, Kelly van der Kwast ,
    a frequent contributor to the Huffington Post, participated in an
    underground workshop in the provinces for future bloggers.

    Though the Cuban blogosphere is still emerging and can only be read in
    its entirety from outside (of course, on the Island, State security
    apparatchiks follow every little millimeter of progress, every update),
    today there's a certain optimism among local participants.

    The State has not yet passed specific laws against a phenomenon as new
    as blogging, although the habit of accusing critical voices of being
    "capitalism's useful idiots" or "mercenaries of enemy propaganda" can
    serve as a brake on free expression. "It's secret work and neo-colonial
    journalism," Fidel Castro said of Sánchez in 2008. But the attacks on
    and persecution of bloggers like Santiesteban and Calzadilla are, of
    course, frightening. There are also legal warnings issued for
    "peligrosidad predelictiva," or "dangerous pre-criminality," which has
    been used to arrest and harass, but not yet convict.

    Some well-known Cuban opposition figures have just recently begun to
    experiment with this form of instant publication, and they consider the
    bloggers possible allies in their efforts toward a democratic
    transition. But there's a generational conflict because the bloggers'
    infamy has practically taken traditional dissidents out of the media
    spotlight.

    For now, the Cuban blogosphere perseveres, on and off the island, with a
    broad, chaotic diversity of opinion on all sides—a virtual democracy,
    against all odds.?

    Orlando Pardo Lazo is editor of the e-zine The Revolution Evening Post.
    He is the author of Collage Karaoke (Letras Cubanas, 2001), Empezar de
    cero (Extramuros, 2001), Ipatr'as (Unicornio, 2005), Mi nombre es
    William Saroyan (Abril 2006) and Boring Home (digitally domestic, 2009).
    E-mail orlandoluispardolazo@gmail.com.

    INSIDE CUBA: Guerrilla Blogging — In These Times (6 December 2009)
    http://inthesetimes.com/article/5215/inside_cuba_guerrilla_blogging

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