Talking about Cuba with Ellery Biddle and Elaine Díaz

At the last Global Voices Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, a number of video interviews were conducted with some of the bloggers that attended. One of the greatest hopes was to chat with the authors in charge of writing about Cuba, given the issues of connectivity and free flow of information that exist on the island.

Ellery Biddle, now also editor of Global Voices Advocacy, was, at the time, a volunteer author and worked for the Center for Democracy and Technology. With an interest in Cuba that came about quite some time ago, she has developed her own perspective towards the relationship between technology and activism in Cuba. We can appreciate some of this in the following excerpt from a post on her personal blog half-wired:

Ellery Biddle en el RightsCon Rio 2012. Foto de Jim Killock en Flickr.

Ellery Biddle at RightsCon Rio 2012. Photo from Jim Killock on Flickr.

If digital rights advocates want to be supportive of on-island efforts to increase access to technology and information, they must listen carefully to Cubans in Cuba, and they must listen to a diverse range of individuals. The members of the fragmented dissident community, or those of the most combative corner of the nation’s diverse blogosphere, have important perspectives. But they are not the only Cubans bringing their ideas to the table, nor are they the only Cubans who are active online.

I do not defend the human rights record of the Cuban government, nor do I defend its abuses of Cubans’ civil and political rights. But I know enough about Cuba to say that I think it’s counterproductive and actually harmful to perpetuate such overly simplistic narratives. If advocates want to take a stand against government practices, they must understand how they work, where they come from, and what effects they really have on people. And they must think strategically about what kinds of pressure could bring change, and what kinds of pressure will do nothing but exacerbate the status quo.

But let's move on to hearing her speak out loud. In the following video she tells us about her relationship with Cuba, Cuban bloggers, the Cuban diaspora, and other related topics. [The video was subtitled by Qianqian and edited by Catalina Restrepo]

Elaine Díaz en el Global Voices Summit 2012, Nairobi, Kenia. Foto de @Rezwan.

Elaine Díaz at the Global Voices Summit 2012, Nairobi, Kenia. Photo from @Rezwan.

Elaine Díaz is a journalist and professor at the University of Havana's School of Communication, who is a Global Voices volunteer contributor. Although she has currently sidelined blogging in order to pursue her own professional development, her blog La Polémica Digital remains online and we can still read her posts. In one of the last posts, she recounts how frustrating it is to read theories that are often woven outside of Cuba about what happens in her country, like the ones charging the Cuban state of replacing the world wide web Internet with the national Cuban network. When asked about it, she says [es]:

No considero que el gobierno cubano utilice la Intranet como alternativa de acceso a la Internet global. La Red Cuba, al ser un servicio que se provee desde servidores cubanos y con tecnología nacional es más fácil de generalizar que el acceso a la red global, que depende de la conexión mediante satélite o cable de fibra óptica. La implementación de servicios como el correo electrónico y los sitios web con información útil para los ciudadanos desde extensiones .cu pretenden aumentar las posibilidades de acceso a la información de los ciudadanos a la información en medio de una difícil coyuntura tecnológica. A mi juicio, Cuba no está intentando ni ha intentado nunca crear una Internet paralela y renunciar al acceso a los servicios globales; prueba de ello es que la mayor parte de los servicios mundiales más usados son accesibles desde el país, como Google, los servidores internacionales de correo electrónico, las redes sociales (Facebook, Twitter), los servidores internacionales de blogs, etc.; aunque están puntualmente bloqueados algunos de estos en varias instituciones.

I don't consider that the Cuban government uses the Internet as an alternative to access to global Internet. The Cuban Network, by being a service that is provided by Cuban servers and national technology, makes it is easier than to access the global network, which depends on a connection via satellite or fiber optic cable. The implementation of services like email and websites with useful information for citizens with .cu extensions aim to increase opportunities of information access for citizens amidst a difficult technological situation. From my point of view, Cuba is not trying, nor has ever tried, to create a parallel Internet and renounce access to global services; proof of this being that the majority of the global services most used are accessible from within the country, such as Google, the international email servers, social networks (Facebook, Twitter) international blog servers, etc.; but some are promptly blocked in various institutions.

In the following video, Elaine speaks about the problems she faces in covering events that happen in Cuba and the characteristics of the Cuban media and blogosphere, as well as the relationship between the two, in addition to some of the reactions she receives in response to the articles she writes. [For English subtitles, please watch video on YouTube and press translation caption button]

Global Voices’ coverage of Cuba can be found here. You will find posts from the bloggers interviewed above as well as from other sources, given that we cover what is written about Cuba not only in Spanish but in English as well. You can also follow the recently created Cuban Blogosphere Observatory [es].

Other related posts: 

Matisse Bustos Hawkes, WITNESS and the power of video

Chris Moya, SpainRevolt and cyberactivism

Afef Abrougui, blogging from Tunisia

Talking to Rebecca MacKinnon about “Consent of the Networked”

A visit to Kibera [es]

The first day of the Global Voices Summit 2012 [es]


The first photo is from JimKillock on Flickr used under the CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License (CC BY-SA 2.0).
The second photo is from Rezwan for Global Voices on Flickr used under the CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).


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