Cuba: Bloggers Gather In Spite of the Challenges

In Cuba, connection to the internet is difficult and limited. In the civil population, only the foreign permanent residents in Cuba, journalists working for the official media, and high-ranking officials of public-private mixed companies have the right to have their own account: everyone passes through a filter prior to a review of “political conduct,” for those members of the Communist party or demonstrating through the use of the internet their ideological unconditionality.

Accounts also exist in institutional and labor centers, and they can have access to the Internet, but it is limited and all of the information utilized by the users is duly verified by a server. In these accounts, sites such as Gmail and Yahoo are blocked. Doctors, artists, university students among others have access to the Intranet through their institutions, an internal Cuban network, and access to email with the domain .cu, and some have access to international recipients. These people can access their email from home or from work, depending on the position that they hold, and some are able to access the Internet through a proxy.

In hotels, one can access the Internet through public locations, where connection time costs between 5 and 8 CUC per hour, equivalent to 120 or 200 Cuban pesos, which is half of an average salary per month.

Under these conditions, bloggers in Cuba have special characteristics:

-They blog from blocked sites, such as the case of the bloggers of Desde Cuba [es], who can only see their own blogs through a proxy and they cannot administer their sites from Cuba, and their friends abroad are in charge of posting, making links and everything related to the administration of their blog.

-They blog from the WordPress or Blogger platforms, as in my case: generally, those who blog also do not have access either legal or illegal, but when it comes to it (a friend allows us to their house, a public space) we can administer the blog. What happens is that we do not have online time to administer, the connection is very slow, the time on the account is not enough or the access is sporadic. We also need someone abroad, that via email we can send the post, photos, links or anything else that we want to publish.

There are bloggers that do not have computers, and they work from a friend's house. There are bloggers that have completely anonymous blogs and post through other bloggers in the country, who are sent posts by mail. Generally, we cannot read the comments, and in my case I have friends that bring me the blogs in other formats (flash memory, CDs) along with the comments, so I see my blog more or less 24 hours after each post, sometimes more.

In summary, we cannot participate in the comments, we cannot post every day, and frequently, we cannot administer our own blogs. In spite of these difficulties, the alternative Cuban blogosphere is growing: more and more there are blogs without pseudonyms, or with pseudonyms, but we all know who the blogger is, such as Pia Mc Habana [es], written by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo; and others that have made the jump from anonymous to open, such as Sin Evasión [es], the blog of Miriam Celaya.

For all of these reasons, Yoani Sánchez of Generación Y [es] decided to begin blogger meetings. Unfortunately, the first meeting in Pinar del Río could not take place because the police summoned us to warn us of the consequences. Reinaldo Escobar of Desde Aquí [es], Sanchez’ husband follows up with some questions about the meeting with the police, who said that the bloggers were “disqualified for any dialogue with the Cuban authorities.”

Since we are not interested in being jailed, but rather to keep posting, we changed the concept of “meeting” to “traveling gathering.” And as Miriam Celaya of Sin Evasión [es] explains about the get-together that will alternate locations:

Porque de eso se trata: de un itinerario que nos comunique y nos una, de una vía permanente de intercambio de experiencias, de defender un fragmento del ciberespacio que nos pertenece a todos por derecho propio y que la voracidad e impotencia de las autoridades pretende disputarnos, tal como se demostró en la prohibición expresa a reunirnos en Pinar del Río, donde se celebraría la inauguración de este encuentro. Si alguien pensó que con semejante gorilada iban a impedir nuestro encuentro, ya debe haberse convencido de lo contrario.

That is what it is all about: a gathering where we can communicate with one another and something that unites us, a permanent path of an exchange of experiences, where we defend a piece of cyberspace that rightfully belongs to all of us. The voracity and powerlessness of the authorities who try to contest us, as demonstrated when they prohibited us from gathering at Pinar del Río, which is where the gathering would take place. If someone thought that with such savageness that they would stop our gathering, they should have thought otherwise.

Photo by Claudia Cadelo

So far, the topics most discussed have been, naturally, the difficulty to post, access to technology, and blogger ethics. The most important aspect of these gatherings is the possibility of mutually helping one another, sharing information, getting to know one another, and learning from the diverse experiences that we have had trying to maintain our own blogs. In addition, a Cuban blogging contest was launched called “Una Isla Virtual” (A Virtual Island), as Yoani Sánchez explains about the meeting [es]:

Once participantes, entre ellos siete autores de bitácoras, nos reunimos en lo que –lúdicamente– llamamos un “café blogger”. Comenzamos con el texto de Andrew Sullivan ¿Por qué bloggeo? y las preguntas superaron a las certidumbres obtenidas de nuestra breve experiencia en Internet.

Discutimos la convocatoria al concurso Una Isla virtual, cuyo premio gordo será la laptop que me gané en el certamen Alguien sugirió la idea de invitar a todos los bloggers del mundo que quieran darse un saltico por el encuentro semanal que iremos realizando a lo largo de un año. A ellos les recomendamos también colaborar con manuales, libros y programas para este intercambio de conocimiento.

Eleven participants, including 7 authors of blogs, gathered at what we – brightly – are calling a “blogger coffee.” We started with the text by Andrew Sullivan, “Why Do I Blog?” and the questions surpassed the doubts collected over the course of our brief experience on the Internet.

We discussed the convocation for the contest A Virtual Island, whose grand prize will the laptop that I won at the competition. Someone suggested the idea to invite all the global bloggers that would like to visit our weekly gathering that will take place over the next year. We also recommended that they contribute with manuals, books and programs for this exchange of knowledge.

This is a list of the blogs and participant sites of the last gathering, as well as some of the resources collected and presentations [es] by some of the attendees:

- Generación Y [es]
Desde Aquí [es]
Habanemia [es]
Sin Evasión [es]
Pia mc habana [es]
La Colmena [es]
El Blog de Dimas [es]
Octavocerco [es]
Convivencia [es]
Retazos [es]


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