Cuba: Clicking Towards the Future

The recently concluded Festival Clic [es], which took place in Havana from June 21-23, 2012, and was designed to discuss Internet and Society in Cuba, has got several bloggers talking about technology and the role it can play in the country's future.

Havana Times‘ Haroldo Dilla Alfonso found out about the event from an article by one of the blog's other contributors:

The festival, according to the writer, adopted an open and transparent approach to the event as ‘the best safeguard against government repression.’

The activity…was cosponsored by the ‘Academia Bloguer’ group, headed by Yoani Sanchez. The meeting also had the support of the ‘Evento Blog Español’ (EBE), an association of Spanish bloggers which itself is an entity with 3,000 members and 3,000 dreams.

According to the promoters, the festival had ‘as its aim the sharing of what we have learned and the revealing of our deficiencies, (and it) is intended as an approach to knowledge without ideological requirements or market trends.’

The event's program [es] included technical and educational sessions dealing with the impact of social networks in world politics.

The official reaction to the event, according to Havana Times, was “swiftly forthcoming”:

The first to begin the saber rattling were the poorly paid Cuban government bloggers who infect cyberspace and are always ready and willing to commit slander…

While the writer was quick to dismiss the former, he added:

What I did find very disturbing was an editorial that appeared in Cubadebate.

Cubadebate is an organ of political/ideological information control. Although it’s a product for export that hopes to look more sophisticated, it actually aspires to the same objective as Granma, which is why everything that it publishes directly serves the worst aims of the Cuban government under the direction of the party’s Ideological Department.

The article in Cubadebate about the Festival CLIC is an example of what they are thinking and what the Cuban political elite could do. This was a direct and very awkward attack, a crude hodgepodge of incomplete ideas, poorly written allegories, and vile attacks against people and institutions…

But here was its main point:

‘The intention of Festival CLIC,’ Cubadebate asserted, ‘is to advance the strategy of building networks before an attack, as they did in Libya, Syria and formerly in Yugoslavia, and to strengthen the idea of a counterrevolution allied with the United States as the promoter of Internet freedom.’

This was a statement that could serve to justify a new crackdown with the support of the official press, the poorly paid bloggers and the gang of big-mouthed commentators who fill the web with fascistic insults. This would include those who, by taking such a repressive step, would have to take responsibility for the consequences of such repression – as well as us, for demanding it.

They are lying and they know it.

Reinaldo Escobar (Yoani Sanchez’ husband), blogging at Translating Cuba, highlighted the success of the festival:

It met all expectations despite threats from the weather, official disqualifications and the natural shortcomings arising from the scarcity of resources. But perhaps the most significant achievement has been that the government was forced to stage a parallel event called the Knowledge Festival, or the Computer Festival attended — according to what they tell us — by more than one hundred thousand young people in the computer clubs across the country.

All of us who were in the space provided by the organizers of Estado de Sats had the impression that we were learning, not only about technological issues but about citizen behavior. We know that these events do not achieve the transition to democracy, but at least we are sure that the exercise of freedom is a step that leads in that direction.

Lilianne Ruíz, who also posted at Translating Cuba, agreed that the event “ended well” and talked about what it meant to her:

It must seem incredible to have a technology Festival without access to the Internet. This didn’t weaken the perception of breathing fresh air in Cuba.

It hurts me to say it: I am far from accessing the digital version of my life.

Nevertheless, attending the CLICK Festival put me ahead of analog Lili, and many steps ahead of the formerly terrified Lili… like the one who was too late to shake hands with Laura Pollán.

And the threats have rained down; the first day an editorial in demonstrated the criminal mentality that only a Communist Revolution and a caudillo with truncated ideology could produce in some people.

The festival has been a success, someday this little burst of light that can connect people around the world will inevitably connect, first of all, us Cubans who have a lot of mental work to do to cleanse our minds of so much hatred that our history has cultivated in Cubans, which has been primarily psychological.

To exercise our political, cultural, and economic rights scandalizes the dictators who must be afraid because they did not get power through the freely expressed will of the citizens whom they call ‘the people’ betraying this old and dangerous mentality prone to political crimes. But with a CLICK multiplied in every Cuban, in Cuba as well the Spring can come.

The festival also catered to youngsters with its Kid-Clic events and honoured bloggers and Twitter users with awards.

Havana Times tried to explain why the state seemed so threatened by the event:

The meeting of Festival CLIC is a great danger because it is trying to create separate networks and to win the public as never before. It is not a matter of more or less Internet, which remains the prerogative of the Cuban government (which will maintain it at a low level no matter how many fiber-optic cables appear connecting the island to the world).

This is because the lack of Internet access in Cuba isn’t a question that is essentially technical, but one that is absolutely political – and neither Yoani with all of her awards nor Rodiles with his patient courage can change that.

The problem is a matter of unauthorized social contacts, of people who have decided not to ask for permission, of several dozen people who are looking to the sides and not up.

Yoani Sanchez, as one of the event's organisers, got the last word:

With material simplicity, the CLICK Festival managed to exceed our expectations. The frank and open debate, uncensored, the great participation by the audience, and the success in pulling off a technological and futuristic event, were some of the major achievements. More than 200 people passed through the doors during the three days of the meeting, and on Thursday, in the afternoon, 102 of us, interested in social networks and Web 2.0, gathered.

We could not, however, achieve as diverse as representation of Internauts as we desired. And not because we imposed an ideological or group filter, but because many of those invited preferred not to come. Fear of exchanging opinions, fear of the embrace, continues to dominate the Island — including the virtual scene. An editorial in Cubadebate — threatening and extremist — must have scared off some who would have liked to join us. Thanks to us the Cuban government hastily organized a “Knowledge Festival” for the same days, to teach people how to create blogs and Twitter accounts. Which to me is one of the best outcomes of our little CLICK Festival. If pushing the wall forces them to move it a few inches… then… then we have achieved part of what we want.

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