Tag Archives: Communications

WHO IS KARLA PÉREZ AND WHY IS THE CUBAN GOVERNMENT FORBIDDING HER RETURN TO CUBA?

By TED A. HENKEN

No Country MAGAZINE, 03/23/2021

Original Article: Karla Pérez


Karla Pérez

Karla Pérez (Cienfuegos, 1998), the young Cuban woman whom the Cuban government prohibited from returning to her country yesterday, March 18, is 22 years old. She graduated with a degree in Journalism in December 2020 from the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica.

The prohibition of her return to the country where she was born in 1998 occurs almost exactly four years after she was expelled for political reasons from the Journalism program of the Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” de Las Villas (UCLV) on April 13, 2017.

According to a detailed report from the Observatorio de Libertad Académica in November 2020, a few months before entering UCLV, when Pérez was still only 17 years old, she joined the political movement Somos +, an organization established in 2013 with the objective of “building a modern, prosperous and free country.”

This dissident initiative has been both disqualified and persecuted by the Cuban government, which classifies it as a subversive and counterrevolutionary project financed by the United States.

According to Pérez, at that time she was attracted to Somos + because: “There were many good people there, people that I considered an example to follow. In the beginning, that movement was like a mirror of the country that I wanted.”

As a consequence of her membership in Somos + and as punishment for expressing herself openly on the group’s blog, she was accused of having violated university regulations and expelled on the morning of April 13 by a group of “decision makers” from the university, made up of four journalism professors and six members of the University administration.

More shocking is the fact that a brigade of FEU (University Student Federation) members from Pérez’s own cohort, that is, the 14 other students who were studying journalism with her, also signed onto her expulsion. All of them had already been informed that anyone who opposed her punishment would themselves be “analyzed” at a later date.

Seeing all the channels for a professional future closed to her on the Island, Pérez accepted the offer of assistance from the staff of the Costa Rican newspaper El Mundo and was able to continue and eventually finish her Journalism studies in that country between 2016 and 2020. At the same time, she actively devoted herself to the practice of independent journalism, collaborating with Diario de Cuba and Havana Times in 2017 and serving as a “community manager” and correspondent at Tremenda Nota starting in 2018. She currently works with the magazine ADN Cuba.

As part of a larger project that I am currently undertaking that traces the career paths of independent Cuban journalists, I interviewed Pérez on March 15, three days prior to the Orwellian migration ordeal she is currently experiencing. The interview tries to capture the process of “conscientization” of a young Cuban woman attracted to the profession of Journalism in a country like Cuba. Furthermore, it reveals in gripping detail the many personal, family, and political costs that one must pay when embarking on the tortuous path of free expression in Cuba.


Ted A. Henken: How and why did you decide to study Journalism in college? What attracted you to the idea of ​​being a journalist in a country like Cuba?

Ted A. Henken: How and why did you decide to study Journalism in college? What attracted you to the idea of ​​being a journalist in a country like Cuba?

Karla Pérez: It is not a very romantic response at the beginning. I had always had an affinity for language and literature since elementary school. History, Spanish, and literature all fascinated me. The “romantic” came later, in high school. I managed to have more access to an alternative civil society, to find out what was happening in Havana and the “Oriente”, and also to become irritated because I could not read about these things in the state press.

My nuclear family and I had broken with the Cuban government a long time ago and I had long since decided that I would never work in the official press. I wanted to write about what was being marginalized from the “revolutionary” discourse and I knew that I couldn’t do it in the permitted newspapers.

Could you describe your family and social origins?

I come from a nuclear family (my father, mother, and me) of professionals. My father is a civil engineer and my mother is an economist. However, shortly after graduating, they began working in the private sector due to the poor conditions provided by the state sector. For my parents, there was never a break with the Revolution, because they simply never believed in it.

My grandparents, as is quite common in the Cuban family, are people integrated into the revolutionary process, and I wouldn’t want to go much beyond that out of respect for their privacy.

In my childhood and adolescence, I focused on going to school and getting good grades. I was already beginning to develop a critical capacity of my own, but apart from a few controversies with teachers in middle and high-school, it did not go beyond that.  I was never a member of the UJC (Young Communist League) or the FEU, for example.  In college, I was also like that; I never used the university as a platform to criticize the government. I did that on the outside (through the Somos + blog and in my on-line social networks).

What was your first job as a journalist in the state sector?

I never worked in state newspapers, although I did do an internship for a month, during my first semester of college between January and February of 2017. The provincial newspaper 5 de septiembre allowed me a lot of leeway within the “professional Calvary” that working in the official media represented.  They did not impose the topics I should write about and I was able to focus on giving a voice to actors in the private sector who were then emerging in the city (business owners and bicycle taxi drivers). There was one time where I was directly censored when the then director of the newspaper, Adonis Subit Lamí, called me into his office to ask me to “correct” certain phrases of an interview.

I cannot share any articles from that time with you because they have since been deleted from the newspaper’s website. Just now, I went back to look for them and they do not appear. However, in essence I interviewed an engineer who earned his living as a rickshaw driver, because working in his profession paid little and the owners of a private cafe known as “La Buena Pipa”; among other jobs that I don’t remember very well now.

Regarding the censorship of Adonis Subit Lamí, I remember that it was in the interview with the rickshaw driver and focused on a passage that quoted him as saying: “there is lack of freedom to do things[…]”. This was related to private sector work in Cuba. The official told me that using the word “freedom” was too strong in that context and that I should change it.

Why did you decide to leave the state media and become an independent journalist?

Already ever since I was a student working toward my degree, I wanted to work in the emerging alternative, independent media sector. I had been watching the appearance of new outlets like El Estornudo and Periodismo de Barrio.

How did you discover these two independent media start-ups and how were you able to access their content during these years?

Through the internet and through friendships that I had been building through Facebook, which I have been on since 2011. Also, remember that earlier the “weekly package” used to include content from dissidents, activists, and independent journalists, especially as part of programs produced in South Florida. That’s how I discovered figures like Yoani Sánchez and Eliecer Ávila. Now, however, this kind of content is systematically eliminated from the “package” by its distributors.

For me, it was just the dream of being part of the independent media, not actually putting it into practice, that led to my definitive expulsion from the world of higher education in Cuba.

That triggered my forced exile in order to complete my university studies. At the same time, I have been separated from my family for almost four years now (2017-2021). During that time outside of Cuba, I have also done independent journalism based as I am in a solid democracy like Costa Rica and have suffered no retaliation because of it.

Why do you say “forced exile”?

Well, it seems enough to me to qualify as “forced exile”, based on my expulsion at the age of 18 from the university and the entire system of higher education in Cuba. At that age what you do is study, right? What was left for me in a country where I could not continue to achieve my academic goals?

What were the costs and benefits of your decision to practice independent journalism?

It’s bad enough that haven’t been able to see my parents, sister, and other relatives for four years. Perhaps the greatest benefit has been to have a clear conscience for having fulfilled my duty and feeling that I have served a useful purpose for Cuba, reflecting that part of reality that never appears in the official media. And that is a big part of what makes up Cuba.

What is it that fundamentally differentiates independent journalism from official journalism?

The essential difference is that independent journalism covers more of Cuban reality; it covers a much wider spectrum of how life actually goes on in Cuba. Meanwhile, the official media looks the other way when it comes to poverty, the repression of dissent, and vulnerable communities.

It is an automated operation and anyone who has tried to push the limits suffers the consequences. Plus, the salaries for official journalists are among the lowest in the state sector, pushing its practitioners into precariousness.

You are a journalist, but doing journalism outside the official media in Cuba turns you into a kind of “dissident” in the eyes of the state, even when that is not your aim. Right? For you, what is the key difference between being an independent journalist and a dissident? Is it possible to be both at the same time?

I think that in a totalitarian state like Cuba, I am both: a journalist and also a dissident; I “dissent” from the established order because it affects me directly both on a personal and professional level. So, I am not interested in distancing myself from one thing or the other. Still, of course, I have established limits in my coverage of dissidents, organizations, and movements.  I am not an active member of those groups, but I do advocate for causes that I consider just.

And even if a democracy were founded on the island tomorrow, I would always work to hold the government and its leaders to account. I would continue being a “dissident” vis-à-vis policies that seem wrong or arbitrary to me.  Injustice is not automatically eliminated with the arrival of democracy.

For a time, some blogs and then later independent media outlets emphasized the fact that they were produced “from Cuba,” in contrast to others that were produced “from abroad.” For you, does this distinction still have importance, significance, or relevance given the increasingly “transnational” reality of both journalism and the Cuban nation itself?

To advance in our common goals, the inside and outside should no longer be thought of as separate settings.

Although, of course, I consider the people who do journalism from within the island of greater value based on their resistance, and I never would, from my position of privilege, minimize them or try to tell them what to do.

In the end, I think we complement one another very well. Exiled professionals have always pushed those who fight, in this case journalists, from within totalitarian regimes.

In all parts of the world, the model of media financing is in crisis. In Cuba, there is also an official discourse that argues that the independent journalists and media are actually “subversives” or “mercenaries” because they have developed alternative financing. How do you navigate in this extremely polarized and politicized context?

The key in my work is that there is no imposition of agendas, editorial lines, or approaches that betray my values ​​and what I believe is fair. Everything can be discussed in the newsrooms. There must be openness, of course, but there are basic principles that are non-negotiable. This is a conversation that we have (and must have) within our media outlets.

The defamations and slanders that are showered down from Cuban officialdom no longer affect us. What concerns me is clarity within myself and with my nuclear family.

What are your experiences of harassment, intimidation, or detention and interrogation by state security? Has your free movement been prevented or “regulated” within or outside the country?

I was interrogated three times (between September 2016 and January 2017) when I was 18 years old when I was a Journalism student at the Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” de Las Villas (UCLV).

What were the reasons behind these interrogations?

My posts and denunciations on social networks; my collaboration on the blog of the Somos + Movement; my relationship with figures like Eliecer Ávila and Iliana Hernández; my absence from political-indoctrination events at the University, such as those that occurred with the death of Fidel Castro.  Later in April 2017, I was expelled from UCLV and permanently from the entire system of higher education in Cuba.

I have seen the document that was given to you justifying your expulsion. Are there other similar cases of students or professors who have been expelled from Cuba’s Journalism schools for ideological reasons?

I personally know of the case of a professor from my own University (UCLV), Dalila Rodríguez, a Master of Linguistic and Editorial Studies, who was expelled just weeks after I was. She did not belong to any opposition movement, but the repression occurred because she was the daughter of a religious leader, Leonardo Rodríguez, an opposition leader associated with the Instituto Patmos.

Ted A. Henken (Pensacola, 1971) is an associate professor of sociology at Baruch College, CUNY. His most recent academic works include Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Policy (University of Florida Press, 2021) and Cuba empresarial: emprendedores ante una cambiante política pública (Editorial Hypermedia, 2020). He is currently working on a history of independent journalism in Cuba.

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A Pre-Review of CUBA’S DIGITAL REVOLUTION: CITIZEN INNOVATION AND STATE POLICY, Forthcoming, June 1, 2021, by TED A. HENKEN AND SARA GARCIA SANTAMARIA

By Larry Press Professor of Information Systems at California State University

Original Article at Larry Press’ Blog

Larry Press
Larry Press

Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Policy (Reframing Media, Technology, and Culture in Latin/o America), June 1, 2021
by Ted A. Henken and Sara Garcia Santamaria

In spite of having a slow, expensive, government-controlled Internet infrastructure, Cuba is undergoing what Ted Henken and Sara Garcia Santamaria refer to as a digital revolution.

The digital revolution might be said to have begun in 2007 when Yoani Sánchez launched her blog “Generation Y.” Internet access was difficult — she would get illegal connectivity at tourist hotels, and the blog was initially hosted in Germany. Soon, the Huffington Post began publishing her posts, and she has subsequently received many international awards, including the Ortega y Gasset Award for Digital Journalism in 2008.

I recall reading of her teaching others to blog at her home, and other blogs followed, but that was just the start of the digital revolution. Today, she publishes a daily digital newspaper 14Ymedio which is available in Spanish and English, and there are many independent (non-government) media sites that cover fashion, sports, art, music, and technology as well as news, commentary, and current events.

Since Cuba had and still has very poor Internet infrastructure, one might ask how this digital content is distributed. The digital-distribution revolution began in 2008 with el Paquete Semanal, the “weekly package” of digital material distributed on hard and flash drives that became a nation-wide sneakernet. El Paquete is financed by advertising and customer fees and it has been suggested that it is the nation’s largest private employer. In 2015, the Government began opening public-access WiFi hotspots. Cubans hackers also created local community networks which did not have a connection to the global Internet. The largest, Havana’s SNET, had an estimated 100,000 users before it was taken over by the government. More recently, 3G mobile service was introduced and now 4G is beginning to roll out.

Cuba’s independent media and ad-hoc distribution channels are a product of a culture of innovation — from restoring old cars and equipping bicycles with lawn-mower engines to creating community networks like SNET, software startups, and work as independent, self-employed programmers. Necessity is the mother of invention.

I’ve been speaking of media, but Henken estimates that there is also a digitally-convened movement or protest in Cuba every two months or so. He describes several of these and their leaders in this article.

If you are interested in more on Cuba’s digital media revolution, check out Henken’s recent interview at Tulane University. (It’s over an hour-long, but he speaks clearly so you can listen at 2X speed). He talks about Cuban media and introduces a forthcoming anthology he and Santamaria edited. In his presentation, Henken discusses independent Cuban media and summarizes each chapter of the book, which will be available from the University Press of Florida on June 1.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction

In Medias Res: Who Will Control Cuba’s Digital Revolution?, Ted A. Henken

Part I. History, Media, and Technology

1. The Past, Present, and Future of the Cuban Internet, Larry Press

2. Historical Itineraries and Cyclic Trajectories: Alternative Media Communication Technologies, and Social Change in Cuba, Edel Lima Sarmiento

Part II. Politics

3. Information and Communication Technology, State Power, and Civil Society: Cuban Internet Development in the Context of the Normalization of Relations with the United States, Olga Khrustaleva

4. Ghost in the Machine: The Incompatibility of Cuba’s State Media Monopoly with the Existence of Independent Digital Media and the Democratization of Communication, Alexei Padilla Herrera and Eloy Viera Cañive

5. The Press Model in Cuba: Between Ideological Hegemony and the Reinvention of Civic Journalism, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez Arechavaleta

6. Digital Critique in Cuba, Marie Laure Geoffray

Part III. Journalism

7. From Generación Y to 14ymedio: Beyond the Blog on Cuba’s Digital Frontier, Ted A. Henken

8. Independent Journalism in Cuba: Between Fantasy and the Ontological Rupture, Sara Garcia Santamaria

9. Perceptions of and Strategies for Autonomy among Journalists Working for Cuban State Media, Anne Natvig

10. Independent Media on the Margins: Two Cases of Journalistic Professionalization in Cuba’s Digital Media Ecosystem, Abel Somohano Fernández and Mireya Márquez-Ramírez

Part IV. Business and Economy

11. Online Marketing of Touristic Cuba: Branding a “Tech-Free” Destination, Rebecca Ogden

12. A Una Cuba Alternativa”? Digital Millennials, Social Influencing, and Cuentapropismo in Havana, Jennifer Cearns

Part V. Culture and Society

13. Without Initiation Ceremonies: Cuban Literary and Cultural E-zines, 2000 — 2010, Walfrido Dorta

14. Images of Ourselves: Cuban Mediascapes and the Post-socialist “Woman of Fashion,” Paloma Duong

Sara García Santamaría
Blanquerna – Universitat Ramon Llull (Spain)

Ted Henken

Baruch College, City University of New York.

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WHO WILL CONTROL CUBA’S DIGITAL REVOLUTION?

TED A. HENKEN

South Florida SUN SENTINEL, DEC 28, 2020

Original Article: Cuba’s Digital Revolution

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent global proliferation of new information and communication technologies, including the internet and social media, the Cuban government’s mass media monopoly has progressively eroded and Cuban citizens — working independently of and sometimes in open opposition to the government — have increasingly become active participants in the worldwide digital revolution, remaking the Cuban media landscape in the process.

This second, digital revolution has erupted within the Cuban Revolution, leading to a dynamic and unpredictable struggle over the meaning, impact, scope and direction of both. Who will control Cuba’s digital revolution? Who will benefit from it? To what ends will it be applied? Who will be left behind?

The San Isidro Movement (#MSI), which burst into international notoriety in late 2020 thanks in part to its members’ savvy use of digital technology, is a loosely affiliated group of independent artist-activists that emerged in late 2018 demanding the revocation of Decree-Law 349, a measure that extends Ministry of Culture control over the island’s thriving independent artistic community.

The group’s central figure, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (whose home in the Old Havana district San Isidro doubles as the group’s headquarters), has been detained more than 20 times between 2018 and 2020. This is a result of his often provocative and always unauthorized public art performances, including one in which he paraded around the city wearing a construction helmet to protest a building collapse in Old Havana in January 2020 that killed three young girls.

In early November, rapper and group member Denis Solís was sentenced in a summary trial to eight months in prison on the trumped-up charge of “disrespect” after he broadcast via social media his altercation with a police officer who illegally entered his home. This provoked MSI members to stage a hunger-strike at Alcántara’s home demanding Solís’ release, which state health and security agents raided on Nov. 26 on the pretext of controlling “the propagation of the pandemic.”

Despite government efforts to block access to social media, the real breakthrough of the MSI was its effective breakdown of the government-erected wall of fear and isolation that had previously separated such marginalized “artivists” from Cuba’s state-sanctioned artistic mainstream. After learning of the previous day’s violent raid via their cellphones, on Nov. 27, more than 500 mostly young artists and intellectuals from a broad array of disciplines staged an unprecedented, music-fueled, day-long “clap-in” (giving birth to the moniker, “La revolución de los aplausos”) outside Havana’s Ministry of Culture in solidarity with the MSI.

They demanded a meeting with the cultural minister to address not only the MSI’s original aims but also the more fundamental issues of artistic freedom, freedom of speech and the right to dissent.

While this mass gathering briefly forced Ministry officials to the table, in subsequent weeks they reneged on their promises of open dialogue and safeguards from retribution against the protesters. Instead, the government unleashed a wave of character assassination in the official media against movement leaders as supposed “terrorists” and “mercenaries.”

This is only the latest digital-age ordeal for the Cuban government. Prior to the recent MSI breakthrough, but since the coming of 3G mobile internet in December 2018, Cuba saw several inventive cyber-denunciations of the government that left an impact. Among them:

  • the digital campaign urging Cubans to either vote against (#YoVotoNo) or abstain from voting (#YoNoVoto) on Cuba’s new constitution on Feb. 24, 2019;
  • an independent LGBT march spontaneously organized in spring 2019 via social media after the island’s officially controlled “pride” march was inexplicably cancelled via a Facebook post by Mariela Castro herself;
  • an online demand that Cuba’s telecom monopoly Etecsa lower its costly internet prices (#BajenLosPreciosDeInternet); and
  • a gathering outside the Ministry of Communications together with an expression of digital solidarity (#YoSoySNET) with the netizen founders of Cuba’s SNET (street-net), an enormous unauthorized patchwork of local area networks, after these independent online communities were outlawed and dismantled starting in August 2019.

Both MSI and all of these previous protests have unleashed pent-up netizen demands and eroded two of the key pillars of government information control on the island: fear of the consequences of speaking out of turn and isolation from others who harbor similar complaints.

However, we should not assume that a handful of Twitter hashtags linked tenuously to brief marches and protests by a relative handful of “connected” and politicized Cuban citizens (however unprecedented they may be) amounts to a social movement capable of posing an existential threat to a regime that remains entrenched in power with no well-known or widely credible political alternatives.

Still, one lesson the short-term success of Cuba’s San Isidro Movement teaches us is that national culture and political context matter when evaluating the political impact of new technologies on any given society.

The same digital platforms and social networks that have come under increasing scrutiny and justifiable regulation in the United States and Europe for their monopolistic practices, abuse of user privacy and spread of “fake news,” retain their democratizing and indeed revolutionary potential in the hands of a new generation of artists and activists, facilitating their loss of fear, overcoming isolation and penetrating the information blockade built over the last 60 years by the Western Hemisphere’s oldest gerontocracy.

Ted A. Henken, an associate professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York, is the co-editor of the forthcoming book Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Policy, to be published in June 2021 by the University of Florida Press.

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EL PAQUETE: CUBA’S UNDERGROUND NETWORK IS LIKE NETFLIX AND SPOTIFY, WITHOUT THE INTERNET

“Quartz Obsession”

March 16, 2018 at 3:46:38 PM

Cuba has one of the lowest rates of internet usage in the Western Hemisphere, and access to media is strictly restricted—but that doesn’t stop Cubans from watching Game of Thrones. Their secret is El Paquete Semanal (“The Weekly Packet”), a clandestine in-person file-sharing network that distributes hard drives and flash drives full of media.

Nobody quite knows how El Paquete, which has thrived since the mid-2000s, is created or how it makes its way across the country every week. But Cubans have come to rely on the pervasive distribution of music, TV, and movies—not to mention pirated software and e-commerce platforms.

Ultimately, the uniquely Cuban tech phenomenon is proof that just like life in Jurassic Park, information always finds a way—especially when you’re jonesing for the latest episode of a subtitled South Korean soap opera and the closest open internet is an ocean away.

BY THE DIGITS

  • 5.6%: Cuban households with dial-up connections, at speeds of 4–5 kB/s
  • 386%: Cost of household internet service in Cuba as a percentage of per capita GDP
  • 0.007%: Cuban broadband internet penetration (8,157 connections for 11 million people)
  • 2018: Year the Cuban government has promised to offer mobile internet service
  • $2: Cost per hour of public Wi-Fi hotspot access, equivalent to 10% of the average monthly salary
  • $3: Estimated cost of one week’s Paquete, accessed on a Monday
  • $1: Estimated cost on a Wednesday

 

How does it work?

There are a lot of question marks about El Paquete—more accurately, Los Paquetes, as there are reportedly several versions—but this much is clear: At the end of each week, its creator(s) compile the most in-demand media of the week—roughly 15,000 to 180,000 files, 1 terabyte in total. The provenance is murky, but the most likely source is a mix of illicit broadband internet access, secret satellite dishes, and hard drives and flash drives smuggled in from overseas.

From there, it’s top-down distribution. A network of Paquete wholesalers (many based in street-level phone repair and DVD shops) copy the contents onto their own hard drives and flash drives, which are then copied many more times. The last links are the door-to-door Paquete delivery guys, who will bring it to individual residences, copying over select files or the entire thing to customers.

The network is based in the capital Havana, but El Paquete also makes its way to most Cuban towns, with a noticeable time lag. El Paquete is most expensive early in the week; by Thursday or so, prices will have dropped by 50% or more.

 The kingpins of El Paquete

Former engineering student Elio Hector Lopez is one of the people credited with starting El Paquete around 2006, where it built on longstanding clandestine networks used to distribute physical media like books, videotapes, CDs, and DVDs.

“At the beginning we saw this as a way to make money—but after having penetrated the entire country we see it more as a responsibility,” he told NBC in 2015.

“For the time being, El Paquete replaces the Internet for those who don’t have it,” Lopez told Reuters. “If tomorrow El Paquete disappears I don’t know what people would do, it’s like water, or a pill for the Cuban body.” According to the CBC, as of 2016 Lopez had moved to the United States.

“El Paquete was founded by several people, each with a desire to find a way to entertain their towns,” he told Polygon last year. “We wanted to find a way for the island to see the world in ways outside of politics, showing them culture, sports, entertainment, economy and society, showing them all the things going on in the world that weren’t making it to our TVs.”

 Cuba’s make-do culture

El Paquete is a distinct phenomenon of the internet age, but according to Nick Parish, author of a fascinating in-depth study,there’s an interesting precedent in Cuban history. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 left Cuba reeling, “the military issued a book called “Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos” (With Our Own Efforts) that served as a chronicle to survival through shared knowhow, with everything from horticultural knowledge and recipes to herbal medicines to public health to transport, featuring tips submitted by ordinary Cubans.”

“The make-do culture in Cuba, known locally by the term “resolver,” and the propensity for Cubans to bring a unique isolated, constrained lens to solving problems is important to bear in mind as we see some of the features and systems that make el paquete a unique Cuban solution.”

This week’s list

A volunteer site, Paquete de Cuba, lists the weekly contents, though they’re not available for download.

In the absence of actual internet access, techies in Havana and elsewhere have created a homebrewed network called SNET “that reproduces much of the consumer internet we know in the free world,” according to Wired. It includes copycat versions of Facebook and Instagram—and facilitates dissemination of El Paquete.

 

How does advertising work?

There are classifieds in El Paquete. According to a report from the Yugoslavia-based Share Foundation: “If you send an SMS to a certain number, the content of the message will appear in the El Paquete folder ‘classifieds’ in form of a jpeg image that has your message on one half and some advertisement on the other half.”

But local ads are also embedded directly into the content: Users might also see video advertisements for local services embedded at the end of a trailer for a Hollywood movie, or ads sandwiched between magazine pages.

There’s even an e-commerce supplement: “a 199-page PDF catalog with interlinked product pages and ordering instructions, so people can purchase handmade products such as purses, shoes, boots, backpacks, and belts,” according to Nick Parish.

 So, does the government know?

Cuba’s authoritarian government is known for its censorship and intolerance of dissent, which has prompted many conspiracy theories about El Paquete: Is it all a government scheme to placate the masses with the opiate-like effects of western mass media?

There’s perhaps one telltale clue that Raul Castro’s government chooses to tolerate the existence of El Paquete: It contains no porn or political speech, or even western news accounts that might run afoul of the country’s communist party.

“There exists a kind of established agreement in which El Paquete must not reproduce content critical of the government, propaganda, or pornography, and in exchange the state turns a blind eye,” one Paquete distributor told Cubanet.

At least, that was true until recently: Cubanet reports a new folder called “Tremendo lío” (“tremendous mess”) recently appeared in El Paquete, which contains videos from some Cuban social media stars who voice anti-government views, along with those who support it. Is this a brave new era for El Paquete, or a signal that a government crackdown is coming?

“In a country where materials, shopping, and consumption are limited to food and maybe clothing, El Paquete becomes a luxury, a form of asserting one’s independence from the state’s attempts to suppress individuality.”

— “El Paquete: A qualitative study of Cuba’s Transition from Socialism to Quasi-Capitalism,” an undergraduate thesis by Princeton sociology major Dennisse Calle.

“Prefiero gastar un dólar que estar como un zombi. (I would rather spend a dollar than be a zombie.)”

 El Paquete customer Alejandro Batista

 

 

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New Publication: CUBA: LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

CUBA: LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

William LeoGrande, Guest Co-editor; Arien Mack, Journal Editor

TABLE OF CONTENTS

William M. Leogrande, Introduction: Cuba Looks to the Future                235

 

PART I: UPDATING THE ECONOMY

Ricardo Torres Pérez, Updating the Cuban Economy: The First 10 Years                                                                                                                            255

Archibald R.M. Ritter,   Private and Cooperative Enterprise in Cuba’s Economic Future                                                                                                                           277

Richard E. Feinberg,  Bienvenida—Maybe: Cuba’s Gradual Opening to World Markets                                                                                                                          305

Katrin Hansing,  Race and Inequality in the New Cuba: Reasons, Dynamics, and Manifestations                                                                                                               331

 

PART II: FACING POLITICAL CHALLENGES

William M. Leogrande,  Updating Cuban Socialism: The Politics of Economic Renovation                                                                                                                     353

Margaret E. Crahan, Cuba: Religion and Civil Society                                          383

Rafael Hernández, Intellectuals, Civil Society, and Political Power in Cuban Socialism  407

Ted A. Henken, Cuba’s Digital Millennials: Independent Digital Media and Civil Society on the Island of the Disconnected                                                                                     429

 

PART III: ENGAGING THE WORLD

 

Philip Brenner And Teresa Garcia Castro,  A Long Legacy of Distrust and the Future of Cuban-US Relations                                                                                                    459

Carlos Oliva Campos And Gary Prevost,  Cuba’s Relations with Latin America   487

Mervyn J. Bain, Havana, Moscow, and Beijing: Looking to the Future in the Shadow of the Past                                                                                                                                          507

 

 

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A special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists: CONNECTING CUBA: MORE SPACE FOR CRITICISM BUT RESTRICTIONS SLOW

By Carlos Lauría

More in This Report

Table of Contents

Recommendations

Multimedia

Video: Internet in Cuba

Video: Interview with Elaine Díaz Rodríguez

Graphic: Unpacking the Packet

Graphic: How Cubans Get Online

Complete Report Here: Download the PDF

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: CUBA’S MEDIA VITALLY TRANSFORMED BUT CAUTIOUS APPROACH IS SLOWING PROGRESS

A lively blogosphere, an increasing number of news websites carrying investigative reporting and news commentary, and an innovative breed of independent reporters who are critical of, yet still support socialist ideas have vitally transformed Cuba’s media landscape in the past five years.

 zazaThe energized press scene is in stark contrast with the island nation’s restrictive legal framework, which curbs freedom of speech under the pretense of protecting the “independence or territorial integrity of the state.” The constitution bans private ownership of the press and all media are supposedly controlled by the one-party Communist state, but the spread of independent reporting is a sign of a changing Cuba.

Reporters, from the most critical—who are known as dissidents—to journalism graduates, documentary filmmakers, and pro-revolutionary bloggers are opening new spaces for free expression and entrepreneurial journalism that not long ago seemed off limits.

Bloggers with whom CPJ spoke said they have embraced the loosening of restrictions. “We are seeing opportunities that were inconceivable five years ago,” said Alejandro Rodríguez, who quit his job in 2012 at Adelante, a state-run weekly in the eastern city of Camagüey, to start a blog.

However, many said that more work needs to be done, with the threat of arbitrary detention, vague and outdated laws, and limitations on internet access slowing Cuba’s press freedom progress.

Internet access in Cuba, which the U.N. ranks in last place in the Americas, is still inaccessible to most citizens. And while large-scale systematic state repression has eased significantly, the most strident opponents in the media told CPJ they still face harassment and intimidation from authorities.

The burgeoning media field began its expansion in 2011, when President Raúl Castro introduced market-style reforms to reinvent socialism. However, many of those reforms have been implemented sluggishly, and even reversed in some areas.

When the call for loosening of restrictions was first made, the party leadership urged the Cuban population to be critical of the government and state institutions. Castro told the People’s Assembly in a December 2010 speech not to fear discrepancies and differences of opinions.

Journalists, especially those working for the state press, have been emboldened by these statements. And while there is almost no criticism of government policies in state media, most newspapers—including the national daily Granmahave started “Letters to The Editor” sections that provide a vehicle for Cubans to express opinions.

State journalists and academics in Havana said they recognize the need for the official press to become more critical, and some have called for a public information law. Laura Blanco Betancourt, a reporter for the state-owned provincial daily Vanguardia, acknowledged that the lack of “a culture of debate” had prevented candid discussions within the official press. José Ramón Vidal, a former editor of the daily Juventud Rebelde, went further in an interview published in the December 2015-March 2016 edition of Mexican magazine Razón y Palabra, where he argued that Cuba should change its “communication model” because “important social issues” were being left behind. Vidal, now a communications professor at the University of Havana, said the propaganda-based media model was facing a crisis and Cubans no longer paid attention to it.

Raudiel Peña Barrios, a lawyer in Havana, wrote in the online magazine OnCuba, “the mere fact that [freedom of information] is under discussion is big news in the Cuban context.” In the article, “The Right to Information Cuba: Possibility or Utopia?” Peña said that such legislation “should help to democratize access to information.”

Blanco Betancourt, who is based in Santa Clara province, said that a public communication strategy could help, adding that any such legislation “must include access to public information for all Cubans.”

While Cuba’s tight grip on the press has waned in recent years, authorities still exert control over the media and the most critical independent journalists continue to face harassment. Long-term incarcerations have become rare since the 2003 crackdown—during which CPJ documented 29 journalists serving lengthy prison sentences—but detentions and summons are still common, CPJ research shows. The once-common accusation of acting as “mercenaries” at the service of the U.S. has become almost obsolete.

“We are seeing opportunities that were inconceivable five years ago.” Alejandro Rodríguez, blogger

The restoration of diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana in December 2014, coupled with U.S. President Barack Obama’s historic March 2016 visit to Cuba, have made it harder for the government to justify press censorship as a means to protect the nation from American aggression, Cuban journalists said.

However, on the day that Obama arrived in Cuba, independent blogger and activist Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca was arrested and held in custody for five days after trying to cover a protest by the Ladies in White, an opposition group founded by the wives of jailed dissidents. The journalist told CPJ after his release that no charges were filed, but he was warned that he could face legal action if arrested again.

The restoration of ties has led to suggestions from some analysts that Cuba may return to the Organization of American States, which expelled Cuba in 1962. But in June, Cuba said that as a show of solidarity with Venezuela, it would not join the group, the BBC reported. Castro’s statement came after the OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro called for sanctions to be imposed on Venezuela. Membership to the OAS, whose charter includes a commission to protect human rights, would require Cuba to improve its press freedom record, including easing restrictions on internet access and ending the harassment of journalists.

Press freedom boundaries

Cuba, ranked 10th on CPJ’s 2015 list of the world’s most censored countries, has the most restrictive laws on free speech and press freedom in the Americas. Its penal code contains restrictive press freedom provisions.

Most criminal prosecutions that threaten freedom of speech include charges of contempt of authority under Article 144, “enemy propaganda” under Article 115, or acting against “the independence or the territorial integrity of the state,” under Article 91, which is often used in conjunction with Law 88, “protection of Cuba’s national independence and economy,” according to a 2016 comparative study of criminal defamation laws in the Americas, prepared for CPJ by the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton in collaboration with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The charges can carry a prison term of up to 20 years.

Most of the prosecutions refer to the defamation of public institutions, organizations, national heroes and martyrs, which is also often used in conjunction with other provisions to curb freedom of expression by preventing public debate and criticism of the authorities and government policies.

The far-reaching transformation of the media landscape has broadened the space for criticism allowing all sectors of the press to delve into issues previously perceived as taboo, such as gay rights, allegations of official corruption and poverty.

The internet is, perhaps, the biggest hurdle for journalists to becoming relevant, because most of their content is consumed outside the island. At the same time, they must pay high prices for online access and find original ways to disseminate their work to a home audience that is largely offline.

These new media journalists also operate in a legal limbo. Article 53 of the constitution bans private ownership of the press and recognizes “freedom of speech and the press in accordance with the goals of the socialist society.” Many of the journalists CPJ interviewed said that they approach their work cautiously and sometimes veer away from publishing overtly critical work because of the current legal framework.

Dismantling this framework for the press, removing all barriers to individual internet access, while expanding it to the population at large are key to fostering a more open environment, according to analysts and Cuba experts.

The slow loosening of restrictions reflects a government with many high-ranking leaders above the age of 80 who are not part of an active online community. Within the government and the party leadership there is a debate on how swift this opening should be.

Dissidents, journalists who report on social issues but are not considered hostile, pro-government bloggers, and members of the state-owned press all agree on one point: they want the government to provide more, inexpensive and less-restricted access for Cuba’s 11 million people.

In a July 2015 interview in Juventud Rebelde, José Ramón Machado Ventura, the second-highest ranking member of Cuba’s Communist Party, accused foreigners of trying to promote expanded internet access “not for Cuban people to communicate but to penetrate us and do ideological work for a new conquest.” This stubborn approach to internet access calls into question whether the government will meet its pledge of bringing internet access to 50 percent of the population by 2020, finances permitting. Such an achievement will demand a great deal of courage from the Cuban leadership.

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DID OBAMA CHANGE CUBA?

By Joel Simon

Columbia Journalism Review, April 19, 2016

Original article: Did Obama Change Cuba?

When President Obama made his historic visit to Cuba last month, the US media followed. At a joint press conference on March 21 with Cuban president Raúl Castro, Obama called on CNN’s Jim Acosta, who asked the Cuban leader if he would be willing to release political prisoners. A flustered Castro sputtered and demanded a list of those imprisoned. Obama directed aknowing wink at the assembled journalists.

Obama’s implication was that by maneuvering to force Castro to respond live in front of the Cuban people and the world, he had bolstered the power of the press. Indeed, one of the key goals of Obama’s Havana trip was to create more space for critical expression in a country that until recently was one of world’s most censored. Among the 13 dissidents Obama invited to meet with him at the US Embassy in Havana on March 22 were several independent journalists. He insisted that his joint news conference with Castro be broadcast live.

While it’s too early to assess the overall impact of Obama’s visit, it seems the right moment to ask a more basic question: Has anything changed for journalists on the island in the month since Obama departed?

Miriam Leiva, an independent  journalists and blogger who met with Obama, sees the presidential visit as accelerating trends already under way. “The Cuban government is losing credibility day after day,” Leiva noted by phone from Miami, where she was visiting relatives. “President Castro made many promises and has not been able to fulfill those promises.”

Leiva has been a leading voice of independent journalism in Cuba since 2003, when her husband, economist turned journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, was arrested as part of a sweeping crackdown known as the Black Spring. Espinosa Chepe was released after two years due to poor health (he died of a liver ailment in 2013). But many of those detained along with him were not freed until 2010, in a deal brokered by the Spanish government and the Cuban Catholic Church.

By far the favored strategy employed by the Cuban government against dissident journalists has been organized stigmatization and isolation. Independent journalists have been confronted by screaming mobs, denounced in the state media, and relentlessly tracked by state security.

That is why Leiva is so heartened by the fact that  her neighbors now greet her in the street and even occasionally read her stories, which are distributed by email. “People are now more open, they feel less fear,” she says. “We ourselves have gained spaces.”

Indeed, Cuba’s media landscape is no longer static. While the stale state media predominates, there are over 3,000 blogs. Some espouse dissidence and resistance; others express support for the government and the Communist Party while highlighting shortcomings by local officials. “I wanted something small that wouldn’t be seen as a threat by the state media,” said blogger Elaine Díaz Rodríguez in arecent CPJ report. Díaz was the first Cuban journalists to receive a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University.

For Yoani Sánchez—another leader in the independent media—Obama’s visit had tremendous symbolic value. When Obama arrived in Havana in the middle of a rainstorm, he carried his own umbrella. Cuban functionaries had aides hold theirs. Obama is youthful; Cuba’s leadership is decrepit. Obama is black; Cuba’s leadership is white (despite the fact that Cuba is a majority black country); Obama shows off his family; Cuban leaders hide theirs.

Speaking this weekend at the International Symposium of Online Journalism, an annual media confab in Austin, Sánchez said the primary impetus for change in Cuba has been technology. Only 5 percent of the Cuban population has access to the internet (according to Sánchez; other sources say it’s higher). Cubans must use creative means to access information, including emailed PDFs and flash drives, which are easy to hide and distribute. More recently, Cubans have been flocking to a handful of expensive WiFi hotspots set up around Havana.

“We thought the Cuban people would take to the streets to topple the government, but instead they have done so to get online,” Sánchez quipped.

Sánchez, who started out posting an irreverent personal blog, is now essentially a publisher. She employs a regular staff that puts out a online newspaper, 14YMedio, that provides comprehensive coverage of daily events. “I’m worried less about who will be our next president, and more about who will our next citizens,” Sánchez explained. “As citizens become empowered, they need more information to make decisions. We want to be the newspaper of the Cuban transition.”

While the changing environment for news and information in Cuba is exciting, it is important to keep in mind that is still for the most part taking place within limits set by the Cuban Communist Party, which while no longer monolithic, is still firmly in control. Its reasons for opening Cuba are complex, but they are largely dictated by pragmatic concerns and a desire for self-preservation.

Even as it ceded the limelight briefly to Obama during his trip, the government made a point of consistently affirming the limits of dissent. Dissidents were roughed up and detained prior to and following Obama’s visit; the state media, which operates in accordance with Communist Party dictates, published identical headlines; Fidel Castro lashed out at Obama as soon as he departed the island; the Communist Party Congress, which ends today and will set the stage for transition from nearly six decades of rule by the Castro brothers, has been a particularly opaque affair, even by Cuban standards. Raúl Castro emphatically rejected new reforms during his opening speech, which only state media were invited to cover.

In visiting Havana, the gambit for Obama was that his mere presence could accelerate the opening in Cuba; the gambit for Raúl Castro was that he could gain international credibility and legitimacy without making political concessions. With his press conference wink, Obama implied that he had gotten the upper hand, but that is far from clear. While the press conference showed that Raúl Castro doesn’t like answering tough questions, there is no real evidence that he will be forced to do so again anytime soon.

After all, as 14YMedio photojournalist Luz Escobar pointed out, no independent Cuban reporters were present. “Cuba continues to be hostile for journalists” she says. “What gives me hope is the changing attitudes of the Cuban people.”

Joel Simon is a CJR columnist and the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. His second book, The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom, was published by Columbia University Press in November 2014.

 

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CUBA’S EMERGING STARTUP SCENE GIVEN A CANADIAN TECH BOOST

Jacob Serebrin

Special to The Globe and Mail, Monday, Feb. 01, 2016 5:00AM EST

Few countries are as technologically isolated as Cuba. Home Internet is rare, data plans are non-existent and, in a country where doctors make the equivalent of around $70 a month, paying almost $3 an hour for government-run WiFi is too steep for many.

Yet, even here, tech startups are beginning to emerge and they’re getting some help from Canada. Montreal technology hub Notman House has launched a program to give Cuba’s nascent startup scene a boost.  The idea of Develop Cuba is to create a seed fund and a way to support and educate the community on how to build an ecosystem,” says Noah Redler, the campus director at Notman House and the initiator of the Develop Cuba project. “The major obstacle they have isn’t around talent, it isn’t around want or desire, it’s literally just that basic seed capital.”

In Cuba, a little money can go a long way. So far, Develop Cuba has raised a few thousand dollars to rent space for startup groups to meet in Havana and bought a projector – a rare piece of equipment in a country where even basic supplies can be hard to find.

The next step will be to send a group of mentors from Montreal to visit Havana and work with local startups. If that goes well, Mr. Redler wants to help open Cuba’s first co-working space. The goal is to build capacity for Cuban startups, he says. While Canadians may be helping to get the project off the ground, it will be led by local people.

Internet usage has grown rapidly since the Cuban government lifted an almost total ban on Web access in 2008. By 2014, the country had more than three million Internet users, a little more than one-quarter of the population, according to Cuba’s national statistics agency. By now, that number is almost certainly higher.

On a Thursday afternoon in mid-January, about a dozen people are gathered in a public square in downtown Havana, looking at their phones. A couple more sit on nearby benches with laptops. It’s a scene that would be unremarkable in Canada, but was extremely rare in Cuba until just a few months ago.

In June, Etecsa, Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications monopoly, cut the price of Internet access in half and opened dozens of new WiFi access points in parks and public squares across the country. More have opened since then. Before that, getting online usually required waiting to use a computer at an Etecsa outlet or a post office; WiFi was rarely found outside of hotel lobbies. Free WiFi is still almost unheard of, and Cubans have to prepay and show ID to get online.

For startups, “the most difficult part is accessing the Internet,” says Martin Proenza, the founder of YoTeLlevo, a website for booking taxis. While his business is generating revenue, it’s not profitable enough for Mr. Proenza to afford home Internet. Instead, he relies on his day job at a government-owned software company for Internet access.

The lack of mobile data means that Cuban apps are generally built to work offline. AlaMesa, an app for finding restaurants, is fully functional without an Internet connection. Its restaurant directory and map are downloaded onto a user’s phone. If a user opens the app when they do have an Internet connection, the database is updated. “Considering the insufficient connectivity infrastructure and cost of Internet access in the country, an offline solution was mandatory,” says Alfonso Ali, AlaMesa’s lead programmer.

But they also face a uniquely Cuban challenge. “Due to U.S. blockade restrictions, we are unable to use PayPal or Stripe,” Mr. Ali says. “So standard operations like online booking, coupons, etc., are very difficult and costly to implement.”

The Cuban government appears to have taken little notice of the country’s growing startup community, but there are fears about what will happen if they do. While economic reforms that began in 2008 have opened the door to an increasing number of private businesses, there are no provisions for tech startups, making them illegal.

“You have to keep yourself under the radar,” Mr. Proenza says. “But is it a big concern? No. Really, the state is not running after people for creating online businesses.”  He does think the government will allow startups to operate legally in the future, and says that’s a view shared by others in the startup community.

In Montreal, Mr. Redler says he sees some hopeful signs – accommodation-rental site Airbnb was allowed to enter the Cuban market earlier this year; there are now over 2,000 listings. But he says he doesn’t expect change to come rapidly.

Despite the challenges, Cuban business owners say they’re optimistic about the future. “The Cuba education system is very good, so it’s very easy to find talented people to work on any field of innovation,” Mr. Ali says.  “We used to say ‘need is the mother of invention,’ so people in Cuba have good talent, skills and the mindset to find solutions to almost any problem.”

zz zzz zzzz

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CUBA: LESSONS ON TOTAL PRESS CONTROL

pravda-modernizarea-misiunii-de-pacificare-seamana-mai-mult-cu-lichidarea-acesteia-1351776650 November 13, 2014 – Havana Times –

Fernando Ravsberg

Original essay here:  http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=107315  HAVANA TIMES

Maintaining control over all of the media and having the power to decide who manages these and what gets published is probably the dream of many politicians around the world. Such a degree of control, however, is not without serious dangers. When all of the media are controlled by a small group of people in the governing party, these individuals have enormous influence over society, so much that, if push came to shove, they could use it to pressure the rest of the party and government.

The experience of the Soviet Union demonstrates the consequences of that control. Alexander Yakovlev, head of the Agitation and Propaganda Department (AGITPROP), became one of the main actors responsible for the disappearance of the USSR. For years, this “ideologue” was the second-in-command in this department. He was a rather insignificant figure until Mikhail Gorbachev appointed him head of AGITPROP, placing all of the Soviet Union’s media in his hands. He then went on to replace many newspaper editors, appointing people who were politically like-minded. He encouraged journalists to criticize certain sectors within the Communist Party in order to weaken the position of those who were opposed to the Perestroika process. Almost overnight, the same media that praised everything that transpired in the USSR began criticizing almost everything and had a decisive impact on public opinion, paving the road for the system’s implosion.

Ironically, some of the high communist officials who personally suffered the criticisms leveled by the press had been staunch defenders of Party control over the media.

In 1975, Cuba copied the Soviets in their control of the media, creating the Department for Revolutionary Orientation, which, according to Jorge Gomez Barata, a former member of that body, would later become the Party’s Ideology Department.

Periodico_granma As in the former Soviet Union, all Cuban newspapers, radio stations and TV channels repeat the same news – and they do so with such lack of subtlety that, on occasion, the three major newspapers (Granma, Juventud Rebelde and Trabajadores), have had the exact same front page.

What is truly curious is that these rigorously controlled newspapers belong to organizations aligned with the revolution: nothing other than the Communist Party, the People’s Power Organization, the Young Communists League and the Cuban Workers Federation. Those in charge of these organizations, and even the trade unions, are communist cadres who ought to be able to manage the media under their control without having Big Brother tell them what they can publish and what they can’t.

Giving control over the newspapers back to the organizations that publish them, letting these chose their editors and editorial stances, would be a first step towards transforming these into public media, that is to say, into newspapers that actually belong to Cubans. It would also be an important step towards allowing these media to fashion their own editorial positions, prioritizing the issues that interest their readers, be these about youth, trade unions, provincial developments or culture.

Decentralizing control over the media is key to preventing any one power group from taking full control over these and molding public opinion to suit its interests, as occurred in the Soviet Union. What was questionable about AGITPROP wasn’t the path it proposed but the centralized use of the media to manipulate citizens. They acted as those in previous decades had done but in the opposite direction, the direction in which the wind was then blowing.

In addition to the similarities with the Soviet model, we must mention that there is already a huge gap between the reform process being impelled by the government and the contents of the country’s press, and that the resistance to change isn’t to be found in journalists but in those who coerce them.

There are those who believe that those people who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat its mistakes – theirs and those of others.

ravsberg-755x490_fghFernando Ravsberg

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Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar launch Independent Online Newspaper

BBC, 21 May 2014

Original Article here: Independent Online Newspaper

The Online Newspaper is here:  http://www.14ymedio.com/

An online newspaper by Cuba’s best-known dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez, has gone live.

Sanchez said the website would provide daily news about the communist-run country, but insisted it would not be a platform against the government.

The paper is produced in Cuba, but is only available online; it does not have a print version. Cuban media, including the country’s three national newspapers, are under strict state control. But President Raul Castro has eased restrictions on dissidents in recent years, allowing opponents of the government – including Sanchez – to travel abroad.

The paper, which is called 14ymedio, launched at 08:05 Cuban time (12:05 GMT). The title makes reference to the year of its publication, 2014, and the word medio, which is Spanish for media.

In her blog published in the online paper’s first edition, Sanchez says 14ymedio has been an obsession for her for more than four years. She says she wants the paper to “contribute information so that Cubans can decide with more maturity their own destinies”.

Its first edition also features a report from a Havana hospital, describing the work of nurses and other staff on night duty and the victims of violence they attend to. It also showcases a lengthy interview with jailed opposition writer Angel Santiesteban.

 But not all its contents is of a political nature. There is also advice on how to deal with dry or damaged hair and a sports feature on why Cuban football is getting less coverage and state backing than baseball.

‘No loaded words’

The editor-in-chief is Sanchez’s husband, fellow activist Reinaldo Escobar. Escobar told the Associated Press news agency that the paper would try to avoid any trouble with the authorities by remaining as an online-only publication. But he said that it would apply for accreditation for official events.

“We want to produce a newspaper that doesn’t aim to be anti-Castro, a newspaper that’s committed to the truth, to Cubans’ everyday reality,” he told AP. Escobar said the paper would avoid using loaded words such as “dictatorship” and “regime” and would refer to Mr Castro simply as “the head of state” or “President Gen Raul Castro”.

About 10 staff worked for weeks in Havana on the launch of the first issue. Critics say the website will reach very few Cubans inside the country, where there is limited internet access.

Sanchez achieved international recognition with her prize-winning blog Generation Y, in which she criticised the restrictions on freedom of speech and movement imposed on the island since the 1959 revolution

yoani-marido-cuba--644x362Yoani Sanchez and Reinaldo Escobar

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