Increasing Connection Between the Online and the Offline in Cuba

Grupo de tuiteros en el primer "Twitthab", La Habana, Cubana. Foto cortesía de Elaine Díaz.

A group of Twitters during the first “Twitthab,” Havana, Cuba. Photo: Cortesy of Elaine Díaz.

In Cuba, even with pervasive Internet “disconnection,” more and more imaginary bridges are being built between digital networks and everyday life. 

In 2012, a panel organized by the Cuban magazine Temas, discussed the impact that new technologies and social network sites have on the Cuban contemporary everyday life. Tensions arised between people who thought “real life,” which takes place face-to-face, should be the priority, and those who believe that although the Island is technically disconnected, what takes place on the web, becomes more and more relevant everyday.

In this article, we mention various emblematic events that emerged through “digital technology” that have made a commendable and intrepid connection between virtuality and reality. These activities took place in public space, they generated spontaneously, and were organized by bloggers, facebookers, twitters, and activists who make use of information and communication technologies.

#Twitthab: Its inception

The first of the events that emerged from the network of networks was called Twitthab (a combination of Twitter and Habana), which according to Elaine Díaz (@elainediaz2003), one of the organizers and authors of Global Voices:

#Twitthab es conversación, no reclamación. #Twitthab es encuentro, no parada. #Twitthab es amor y paz, no trifulca. #Twitthab es tolerancia y respeto, no imposición. En #Twitthab “quiero conocerte”, no “tengo que conocerte”. #Twitthab es nuestra, no de quien exhiba mayor número de seguidores. En #Twitthab no hay líderes, todos somos usuarios. #Twitthab no es noticia de portada, es crónica hermosa para diarios personales. #Twitthab brindará por los amigos pero no perdonará a los enemigos.

#Twitthab is conversation, not a demand. #Twitthab is a place to meet, not a place to stand still. #Twitthab is love and peace, not an uproar. #Twitthab is tolerance and respect, not enforcement. In #Twitthab “I want to get to know you,” not “I have to know you.” #Twitthab belongs to us, not to the one who has most followers. #Twitthab doesn't have one leader, we are all equal users. #Twitthab is not a cover story, it is beautiful chronicle of personal diaries. #Twitthab will cheer for friends, but won't look the other way from foes.

In addition to Díaz, Leunam Rodríguez(@leunamrguez) also helped coordinate the event. The netiquette #Twitthab was proposed:

#TwittHab, a place to get together, between 23rd and 12th, in Vedado on July 1st… the small group of twitters gather at last …

Certain misunderstandings led to a last minute change of the event venue to the government building, Pabellón Cuba, resulting in a division. Nonetheless, Elaine Díaz reaffirmed on her blog La polémica digital that:

Viernes 1ro de Julio, 2011 a las 4:00 pm y sin hora de retirada en el Cinecitá…

Friday, July 1st, 2011 at 4:00 pm-no departure time, at the Cinecitá…

Leuman posted on Twitter:

#TwittHab is on! Everyone show up at #pabelloncuba July 1st at 4pm, Thanks to all who have supported this from the start and to those who are still.. sending you hugs..

At last, a group of people met at the central corner of 23 and 12 and headed down to the restaurant El Carmelo, and there they met the others who had met at the Pabellón Cuba. Everyone ended up, getting down and taking a seat, at the parque Villalón. The blogger RogerTM, describes it like this:

Así se celebró en La Habana el primer encuentro de tuiteros #TwittHab, que más que eso, fue un encuentro de un grupo de amigos que se dedicaron durante la tarde y parte de la noche del pasado 1ro de julio a conversar de cualquier cosa, a reír, cantar, tomar cervezas y comer pizzas, además de conocernos en persona.

This is how Twitterers celebrated their first #twittHab in Havana, which was much more than just that, it was a group of friends who got together that afternoon and a good part of the night on July 1st of last year, to talk about just anything, to laugh, sing, drink some beers and have some pizza, on top of getting to know each other in person.

The gathering and the actual happenings during Twitthab, in both venues, only sparked the interest of foreign media.

#Twittsaneo: A plan of action for the environment

Twitsaneo. Foto tomada de

#Twittsaneo. (Photograph taken from

The second of the events promoted on the web was #Twittsaneo, a clean-up that took place at the Havana coastline and was devised by the blog, El taburete. This facebook page described it as:

    … a citizen ecological and cultural initiative, generated by Twitter, which follows the cleaning and beautification of our Havana coastline, accomplished by the work of all the  volunteers who want to join. So, if you would like to promote environmental consciousness by doing something positive for your city, join this project, of which our children will also be part of as they participate in an educational and artistic workshop “niños y niñas por un medio ambiente sano (boys and girls for a healthy environment) this will be an opportunity for them to learn and also have fun.

Twittsaneo creates a link between ecology, work, art and entertainment,and for that reason when we finish cleaning we don't leave, we stick around, have snacks and spend some time listening to Trova songs.

Join us during this beautiful initiative and spread the word, reach out and invite everyone you know via social media, and in real time.

This event was also promoted on a Facebook page generated by Paola Rodríguez (@cubamar) according to the following tweet:

#Twittsaneo's facebook page can be found here check it out, join and leave a comment.. :)

Twitsaneo. Foto tomada de

#Twittsaneo (Photograph taken from

The arrangements for the action also transpired on Twitter and were basically in charge of @eltaburete @laotrapata @cubamar @salvatore300 and @elainediaz2003.

Lastly, the event took place on December 26th, 2011, on the shores of the Río Almendares, Miramar, Havana. According to the blog, La Chiringa de Cuba:

Es así como el pasado 26 de diciembre pasó su primera gran prueba, y en honor a la verdad, los resultados no pudieron ser mejores. A mi criterio personal la convocatoria y organización rebasaron las expectativas, el trabajo medioambiental se cumplió a cabalidad…

That is how on last December 26th, the first big test was passed, and if truth be told, the results could not have been better. In my personal opinion the convening and organization surpassed all expectations, the environmental work was completely fulfilled…

Kissing for diversity

Organized by the Proyecto Arcoiris, the objective for the Besada por la Diversidad was to commemorate Gay Pride Day on the Island, a celebration that, until that moment, had not yet taken place in Cuba.

La Besada was planned primarily on blogs, and the meeting point was posted by blogger Yasmín Silvia Portales Machado: 

El Proyecto Arcoiris, colectivo LGBT anticapitalista e independiente, invita a todas las personas de buena fe a una “Besada por la Diversidad y la Igualdad” este jueves 28 de junio, a las 5 p.m., junto a la Sala Polivalente “Ramón Fonst” de La Habana. La cita conmemora el aniversario de los disturbios de Stonewall Inn (New York, 1969), conocido mundialmente como Día del Orgullo LGBT. Ven con algo rojo y besa a alguien, porque ¡todas las formas de amor importan!

Con esta acción pública y cariñosa, les invitamos para hacer visible a la comunidad LGBT de Cuba. Al besarnos, celebramos lo hermoso y legítimo de nuestros sentimientos de amistad, aprecio, atracción, compromiso, respeto, admiración, agradecimiento, alegría, amor. Besarse es sano y simple.

The Proyecto Arcoiris, a LGBT anti-capitalist and independent collective, invite everyone of good faith to come “Kiss for Diversity and Equality” or “Besada por la Diversidad y la Igualdad” this Thursday June 28, at 5 p.m., next to Sala Polivalente “Ramón Fonst” Havana. This date marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots (New York, 1969), known worldwide as LGBT Pride Day. Come dressed in red and kiss someone, because all Love Matters!

 With this public affectionate display, we invite you to come make the Cuban LGBT community visible. As we kiss, we celebrate the beauty and legitimacy of our sentiments for friendships, appreciation, attraction, commitment, respect, admiration, gratitude, happiness, love. Kissing is safe and simple.

This event was also published on Negra cubana tenia que ser (the author's blog) and the Red Observatorio Crítico, amongst other blogs from Cuba. The organizers lack of internet access led to emailing of the announcement of the event, as well as using SMS via the internet.

Besada por la diversidad y la igualdad en La Habana, Cuba. (Foto cortesía de Jorge Luis Baños)

Besada por la diversidad in Havana, Cuba (Photograph: Courtesy of Jorge Luis Baños)

With reference to preamble articles 42, 53 and 54 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, the statement that Portales read right before the Besada stated:

Por eso estamos aquí, ocupando el espacio público que la Revolución de 1959 conquistó para todas las personas de la nación sin distinciones, porque la Revolución será feminista, o no será, será antirracista, o no será, será abierta a las críticas de toda la ciudadanía, o no será, será antihomofóbica, o no será. Será, en fin, una lucha absoluta contra todas las discriminaciones, o no será verdaderamente socialista y las vidas de quienes murieron por implantar la dignidad plena del hombre y la mujer en esta tierra carecerán de sentido.

That is the reason we are here, standing in a public space that was conquered during the 1959 Revolution, for all the people of the nation with no distinction, because the revolution will be feminist, or it will not be, it will be anti-racist, or it will not be, it will be open to all the criticism of it's citizens, or it will not be, it will be anti-homophobic, or it will not be. It will, in the end be an absolute battle against all discrimination, or it won't truly be socialist, and the lives which were lost for the dignity of men and women on this earth will have no meaning.

On June 28, 2012, almost 50 people and various international members of the media covered the event, amongst them  MartinoticiasCubanetIPSEFE and Global Voices. Nonetheless, not one national media published a single word about La Besada.

Imagen que acompañó la convocatoria del Twitthab 2

Imagen que acompañó la convocatoria del #Twitthab 2

Again, Twitthab

On May 10, 2013 the second Twitthab, also known as Twitthab 2,  took place in Havana.

On the event's Facebook page, the emphasis was the connection between the “real” and the “digital”:

 Saliendo de la @ y de Facebook ;-)

Stepping out from behind @ and Facebook ;-)

Blogger Alejandro Cruz (a1e@CubrPlano), one of the main managers of the event, posted on Twitter:

#Cuba, I will be at the Second edition of #twitthab and you???

The announcements regarding the event were uploaded on various blogs such as La Joven Cuba, Negra cubana tenia que ser y Cubano en primer plano. On these sites, the details were:

Hoy un poco, luego de haber alcanzado cierta madurez, como personas y especialmente como bloggers, twiter@s, etc., nos proponemos esta segunda jornada de abrazos, saludos y nuevas amistades.

Today, after having reached certain maturity level, as people and especially as bloggers, twiter@s, etc., we are proposing a second round at embracing, greeting each other and developing new friendships.

In contrast to the first edition of Twitthab, the announcements regarding the second event appeared on official Cuban sites, although somewhat late, like Cubadebate. Additionally, a similar event was called for in other cities on the Island.

Twitthab 2. Foto: Amaya Alayo Terry (tomada de la pagina de Facebook del evento).

 #Twitthab 2 Attendees (Photograph: Roberto Suárez) (from the event's Facebook page).

This Twitthab will especially be remembered because of the attendance of the Deputy Chief of the US diplomatic representation in Havana (SINA), Conrad Tribble. His presence generated more articles then the event itself. Many members of the press, such as Cubaahora, and several bloggers wrote about the unexpected visit from the US government official.

On the blog La Chiringa de Cuba, Carlos Alberto Pérez wrote a post titled Aclaración necesaria a Míster Conrad Tribble sobre Twitthab (A needed clarification for Tribble on Twitthab), which the US diplomat responded to with one comment, which consequently obtained another response from the Cuban blogger.
Reactions regarding Tribble's visit to the event were also notable on Twitter:

So, what I am hearing is that the visit to #Twitthab by II from SINA was completely unplanned…

While valuing the meeting, reporter Alejandro Ulloa expressed in an article published in OnCuba Magazine Magazine:

Los trovadores Vicente Feliú, Fidel Díaz Castro y Eduardo Sosa, además de Kenia Serrano, presidenta del Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos (ICAP), asistieron como invitados especiales, denotando la importancia y alcance que tienen hoy quienes administran blogs y cuentas de Twitter en la isla.

Trovador Musicians Vicente Feliú, Fidel Díaz Castro and Eduardo Sosa, in addition to Kenia Serrano, president of the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos (ICAP), who were present as special guests, indicated the importance and reach and power that blog and Twitter account administrators have on the Island.

He continued:

Tras este segundo encuentro de twitteros y blogueros cubanos, y con la propuesta de crear de un blog, una cuenta de Twitter y una página en facebook donde confluir y “conectarse” cuantos lo deseen, Cuba da los primeros pasos en una reconfiguración de sus formas de socialización.

Following this second gathering of Cuban twitters and bloggers, and with the proposal of creating a log, a Twitter account and a facebook page for those who wish to join and stay “connected,” Cuba took its first steps toward reconfiguring its ways of socialization.

A sing-along for Teresita

The passing of the Cuban singer songwriter on November 11, 2013, Teresita Fernández, the most influential composer of children's music on the Island, shocked people of many generations who grew up listening to her songs. There were many reactions to her death, however, on official Cuban news, only a brief obituary was printed.

This is whenLiliam Marrero initiated a public event on her Facebook page.


Idea original de #CantaTeresita (Imagen tomada del grupo de Facebook)

That is how #CantaTeresita came to be. The final idea proposed a celebration, a sing-along, on Sunday November 17th, at 10:00 am, at the Plaza San Francisco de Asís, Havana. Other actions followed: on November 12 a Facebook group was created, words from her songs were shared…. pictures, music, videos, cartoons etc., were all published.

On Twitter, Rosana Vergara posted a verse from the song “Lo feo” by Teresita Fernández:

In just a few hours the group had grown to almost 300 members.
In comparison to the previous events,#CantaTeresita was largely followed by the national press. TrabajadoresLa JiribillaOnCuba MagazineCubadebate, Cubarte among other Cuban media, published articles, snapshots and obituaries of the singer-songwriter.

Cartel de #cantateresita

Cartel de #cantateresita. 

About the impact of an event like this, journalist and scholar Milena Recio Reflects on Cubadebate:

Un flashmob criollo, no obstante, organizado como todos a través de medios de comunicación ciudadanos, por canales digitales, sin una organización central sino como una acción autorregulada desde un grupo que crece con una dinámica viral y se presenta en espacios públicos con diversos fines: eso fue la Ronda para Teresita, gestada online y vivida bajo el sol habanero casi al filo del mediodía dominical…

A Creole flashmob, nonetheless, organized like all of them, on citizens media, through digital channels, without a central organization but by a self-regulated action that goes viral dynamically and shows up in public spaces with different purposes: that was what the Circle for Teresita was, managed online, and lived under the Havana sun, at the cusp of a midday on Sunday.

A massive book give-away

The most recent event generated via the Internet has been “Un libro a cambio de nada” (A book in exchange for nothing), a type of event that is comparable to the already existing, Massive Book Give-away or Suelta Masiva de Libros. In Cuba, reporter and Global Voices author, Rafael González Escalona, organized the event. He explained on his blog, El Microwave:

Por mi parte ya tengo un plan. En la mañana del 6 de abril, habrán ocultos tres libros que quiero mucho pero que dejaré ir -con la pequeña e irracional esperanza de que vuelvan a mí- en el parque de H y 21, en El Vedado, La Habana. Días antes, daré algunas pistas acerca de los lugares en los que estarán escondidos y qué libros pudieran ser. Así que si a alguien le interesa conseguir un buen libro a cambio de nada, dese una vuelta por H y 21 la mañana del domingo 6 de abril.

I have a plan already. On the morning of April 6th, I will hide three books that I really enjoy,  but that I will let go of them- with the tiny and irrational hope that in the future they will come back to me- in the park at H and 21, El Vedado, Havana. Some days prior, I will give clues regarding the hiding spots and content. That means if someone is interested in getting a good book in exchange for-nothing, take a stroll down by H and 21 on Sunday morning, April 6th.

After “La Suelta,” the blogger commented on his blog:

Suelta masiva de libros La Habana

Realmente no tenía idea de cómo iba a reaccionar la gente a la convocatoria de la Suelta Masiva de Libros. Es muy fácil entusiasmarse con una idea en Facebook, y dar clic en “iré” y luego dormir a pierna suelta la resaca de la fiebre de sábado por la noche. Pero atravesar la barrera entre el acto digital y el físico requiere un extra de voluntad que muchos no parecen tener. …

Hubiera querido ver más caras desconocidas, pero fue esta una primera vez, y superó mis expectativas considerando el mínimo acceso a Internet de los cubanos. Deliberadamente eludí cualquier intento de institucionalización del evento, me intrigaba saber hasta dónde éramos capaces de movilizarnos un grupo de ciudadanos en función de una hermosa y que no requería más recursos que el infinito pero valioso deseo. 

Really, I had no idea how people would react to this Massive Give-away of Books. It is very easy to get excited about an idea on Facebook, then click on “going” and then sleep the day away form your Saturday night hangover. But, crossing over that digital barrier to something actually physical takes a will that many seem not to have…
I would have liked to have seen more unfamiliar faces, but that was the first, and it surpassed my expectations considering the minimal access which Cubans have to the Internet. I deliberately avoided institutionalizing the event, I was intrigued to find out how far we could get our citizens to make it to this beautiful event that didn't require more resources than just our boundless but valuable will.

A “Book in exchange for nothing” was also celebrated in the city of Camagüey, where the main promoter was María Antonia Colunga Olivera, author of the blog Nube de alivio.

The web and reality

The Cuban-American columnist Jorge de Armas, analysed in “Una ronda, un libro y ningún zunzún,”  about the the impact that the web generates on Cuba:

El uso de las redes sociales como plataforma de convocatoria evidentemente se limita a los grupos de acceso a la misma. Periodistas, profesionales de la ciencia o profesores parten con ventaja, pero es innegable que este tipo de experiencias, aun en su limitación, son significativas.

The use of social websites as a platform to create events is limited to those groups that access the web itself. Journalists, professionals of the science or professors have an advantage, but it is undeniable that this kind of experience, regardless of it's limitation, is noteworthy.

Later on he pointed out:

La suelta de libros fue reflejada por la prensa digital cubana lo cual no significa una difusión mayor. La cautividad de las plataformas digitales en Cuba es una serpiente que se muerde la cola, los miembros de las redes sociales son los mismos usuarios de los medios en red, y aunque se establezcan mecanismos alternativos de transmisión de la información éstos son insuficientes. La calidez de una convocatoria no se refleja en un texto alojado en una memoria USB.

The book give-away was covered by Cuban digital media, which does means it was not widely spread. The attractiveness of these digital platforms in Cuba is like a serpent that bites its own tail, the members of social networks are the same users of online media, and although they are alternative ways of sharing information, these are not enough. The warm welcome of an event is not reflected within a text found in a USB memory.

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