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The Bloggers’ Challenge

January 25, 2010 Leave a comment

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Three years ago, the alternative cuban bloggers defied the collectivist monotony designed state information media, whose writers interweave the gag by means of omission, manipulation and campaigns to discredit those who question the illusion of socialist utopia.

In spite of the cost that limits access to the Internet in the hotels and cybercafes of Havana and other cities, bloggers offer on the net a more authentic vision of what occurs behind Castroism’s smoke curtain.  To gain credibility they receive support of readers and friends that admire the irreverence and the freshness of their posts; that which is distorted by the propagandists of the regime.

To confront them, the government helps almost 200 bloggers that reproduce their slogans, as if the official newspaper, Granma, and other forms of communication that encode the minds of the people are not enough.  The cybernauts of power to have been cloned by the censors, they simply reiterate the scripts of the official campaigns, lacking any naturalness, which makes them appear weak compared to the independent bloggers, who are spontaneous, anti-dogmatic, and use humor and irony to comment on absurd situations and express indignation at the daily abuses.

The horizontal structure and the system of links from the alternative bloggers help the spread of text and images in the networks, although the information soldiers of the government block the more interactive platforms and the most prestigious blogs.  Their major challenge of the alternative bloggers is in the cost of the connection, paid for at times by supportive friends.  Voices Behind the Bars, a blog by Pablo Pacheco and other incarcerated journalists, exemplifies the support of those who express themselves through such a hostile media.

Although various bloggers come from independent journalism and others were afiliated with pacifist groups opposing the regime, most are young professionals without political militancy, which forces their detractors to invent slanderous things about the source of their income and the origin of memory and laptops.  Associating them with “external enemies” is their favorite argument.

The blogger exercises citizen journalism and a certain leadership from the point of view of support for a future civil society in Cuba, where artists, communicators, librarians, lawyers and unrecognized entities prepare the road for a peaceful opening on the island.

More than a cyber-utopia discussion about social democratization and confronting power, bloggers confirm that new technology breaks the information monopoly and stimulates freedom of expression.  Cuba isn’t the exception in the interconnected world.  The use of the Internet, like Gutenberg’s printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, photography, movies, and television revolutionizes culture and helps the spiritual liberalization of the human being.

Alternative bloggers confront the social and technological determinism and challenge the journalistic filter imposed by the government to act with impunity and discredit those who denounce censorship and yearning for liberty of a society ever more anti-establishment.

Enrique Ubieta, Vladia Rubio, Rosa M. Elizalde and Rosa Báez are the most visible faces of the virtual superintendent.  The center of the anger is Yoani Sanchez, author of Generation Y and sponsor of the platform: Voces Cubanas (Cuban Voices).  But more than a “media war against the bloggers”, the regime attacks whomever; the entrenched can prophesize about the danger as justification for the internal blockade, censorship and repression.

Behind the offences and the defamations against those who air their country’s problems in cyberspace are the masks of totalitarianism.  The challenge consists of continuing to write and evading the provocations.  To blog in Cuba is a type of Glasnost from below.

Translated by BW

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Omens and Technical Innovations

January 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Days before, the Santeros of African descent, organizers of the Commission Letter of the Year “Miguel Febles Padron” and the Yoruba Association of Cuba, announced to the press corps in Havana their predictions for 2010, marked by deaths, catastrophes, and other apocalyptic predictions that coincide with or contradict the discourse of the Island government.

The prophecies were outlined by Lazaro Cuesta and Victor Betancourt representing the Babalawos of the Commission of the Annual Letter, held on December 31, based on the ritual of the Yoruba divination system, whose gurus envision and guide their practitioners on the future, lead in 2010 by Baba Eylobe (Double Salvation) and the deities (orishas) Obatala (creator and patron of humans) and Oya (in charge of storms and the ancestors).

Although the prognostications for Cuba and the world are as unpredictable as the tides, the Babalawos spoke of disasters, civil disturbances, and changes through the supposed interpretation of the deities who govern the year.  Not to be outdone, the official of the Yoruba Association took it as a sign of 2010 for Obesa (good health) and like orishas Yemaya (patronof the seas) and Chango (heirarch of thunder and war).

In response to some foreign reporters the Babalawos were cautious.  None specified the names of the celebrities who will die, nor touched on topics prohibited in Cuba like political repression and the violation of human rights.

After meeting with the Santeros of the press, Yoani Sanchez, to resume classes at the Blogger Academy on January 5, presented in Havana the new technologies expected from Microsoft in 2010, as announced by its president (Bill Gates) from the United States,  These include entering the mobile phone market with hydrogen (automatic recharge), touch screen monitors, electronic paper, support for USB 3.0 (at 10 times the speed of previous versions), 3D televisions, Chrome 05 Internet Browser, and support for 4G (100 megabytes a second) and Ping to connect to cyberspace from mobile phones, with automatic access to Twitter and other sharing sites on the web.

Both types of news differ and converge in the Cuban spectrum, where the omens of animistic religions coincide in time with the most advanced technology, whose progress is hampered by the structural crisis that submerges the Island in poverty and immobility.

While Babalawos tread once again the path of their ancestors and aid their divinities in predicting the events of 2010, many young people opt for the changes the demand in the country through the introduction of new technologies.  Acquire knowledge and access to the Internet is, more than a dream or a prophecy, a necessity that delimits the future.

Ethics Lesson

January 9, 2010 Leave a comment

The storyteller Ángel Santiesteban, whose blog won the Best Literary Blog of Cuba prize in the Virtual Island Contest, reopened last December, “The Children Nobody Wanted” in Blogspot.com, after the closing of the portal Encuentro en la Red (Meeting on the Web).

One of his latest entries was considered the most complete chronicle about the protest that happened last October 22 in the Superior Institute of Art, located in Playa, Havana, where the young creators channeled their disgust with the bad conditions at the center in a video posted on the Internet.

Following the success of the I.S.A, Ángel Santiesteban published a post of great ethical and literary value in which he defended the right to blog against the fears of our intellectual censorship, so cautious and feigned.

As Ángel’s text has been ignored by the official press, the friends of the writer are spreading it through flash memory and other media. To contribute to that lesson of principles, I am commenting on some of the author’s points.

  • My writer friends tell me that to do a blog is to do politics, that I must confine myself to literature… to survive with the status of a writer. That walking around on the Internet is a way to lead myself into the swamp, evasive, illegal, free-willed, to turn into a wild animal.
  • My creator friends think that to publish what you think is to be involved in politics. They assure me that my books denounce more than an opposition political party…
  • My literary friends create conflicts in me: I do not want to do politics… But how to gag my mouth?… Silence the spontaneous scream?…

Ángel speaks of the reality hidden in secret; of his literary friends who recently published, re-editing their books, serving on juries for prizes they never won, applauding when the news cameras are near and traveling to the Book Fairs of distant countries.

He comments that his erudite friends counsel him to stay silent, let them marginalize him for his rebellious literature, show gratitude, ask for forgiveness and support the work of the officials, a kind of complicity and cynicism that protects the writer, as “they have done to protect their own existence.”

The storyteller who blogs as a spectator and critic admires his learned friends and accepts them as they are, but claims not to possess “their capacity to remain silent” nor “their resistance to withstand the silence.” He warns that, “At times I envy the, because only I know the perks I reject, and in exchange all the contempt I receive.”

The post placed on his blog by Ángel Santiesteban is a testimony of ethical reaffirmation in the face of the opportunism of the creators who applaud and feign. Thank you Ángel for shaking off the masks of those who counsel prudence in the dance of official culture.

Like the Moon

January 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Last New Year’s Eve, at the struck of midnight, I received a message on my mobile from a friend, “Have you seen the moon tonight? A full moon of such splendour is a magnificent omen for 2010…”

I looked at the Moon and thought about possible omens. My friend, like myself and many other Cubans, dreams about the democratic changes required in our island, which has been frozen in time by a bunch of aged guerrillas, who are now celebrating 51 years in power, as if half a century of arbitrariness was not enough to make millions of people feel fed up.

Mi friend is a philologist and is 34 years old. She has been awarded international prizes for her blog, but in Cuba she is derided by the official press and was beaten up in the streets under the orders of a recycled Comandante. Her husband was also beaten up in the busiest street in Havana. It is understandable that they see in the Moon an omen for change.

But these friends do not live on the Moon, nor do they turn into wolves with the cycles of the satellite. They write their posts without thinking of the beasts circling them. Like them, dozens of bloggers and independent journalists comment on the reality being ignored or distorted by the official media, who all started 2010 with “new campaigns against the enemy”, reports about the “wonderful health system in Cuba”, chronicles about the sporting successes in 2009 and reminiscences of the “battles” pre-dating the “luminous” January 1st 1959.

The government chroniclers do not live on the Moon either, but they have learnt to look after the editorial interests of their bosses. If they were to shy away from propaganda and the impunity that protects them, they would also describe what happens behind the scenes. They would then stop embellishing trivial events and defaming people who simply express different viewpoints.

If they decided to explore newsworthy topics, they would simply need to go into the neighborhoods, interview hospital and polyclinic doctors, see how the secondary school supply teachers practice, or talk to the consumers at the state-owned markets, where prices go up while quality decreases.

People without an agenda can bear witness to the problems ignored by the media. They can report on the constant fight for survival of many people, pinpoint the rubbish skips attracting the vermin; mention the names of the corrupt officials and policemen who ill-treat homosexuals and Blacks. To see the other side of the moon, you just need to take a risk, doubt, question the truth shouted out by those in power.

Perhaps then will we be able to admire its splendor and think, like my friend, that the Moon’s beauty may be an omen for change in 2010. Meanwhile, let’s throw rhetoric away and strive to modify the destiny designed by the prophets of quietness.

Translated by: trelex

The Blackest Chapter of the Black Spring

January 5, 2010 Leave a comment

On Monday, December 14, I ran into Julia Estrella Aramburu Taboas, on the street in Vedado.  Julia is the mother of Harold Alcalá Aramburu the aunt of Maikel Delgado Aramburu, condemned to life in prison in April 2003 for participating in the hijacking of a ferry to emigrate to the United States.

Speaking of what happened, Julia showed me a copy of the Sentence of the Supreme Court which condemned to death three of the participants, life in prison for 4, 30 years for Wilmer Ledea Pére, and 5 and 2 year sentences for the rest of the hijackers; who did not arrive at the south of the United States, only at the Port of Mariel, where they were turned over to the authorities without having injured any of the crew-turned-hostages.

The event, described by some jurists as the blackest chapter of that Black Spring of 2003, which included the imprisonment of 75 peaceful opponents for crimes of opinion, occurred in the early morning of April 2.  The trial took place six days later in the Court of Crimes Against State Security of Havana City Provincial Court, which found the defendants guilty of an act of terrorism and only gave them 8 hours to establish their appropriate appeals to death sentences and life sentences and other and other sanctions.

The haste with which the Court acted, chaired by Tomas Fernandez Malvarez and composed of the judges Cesar Morales Acosta, Alicia Valle Diaz, Aramis White Castle and Pelagius Lescalles Cortina, shows that even though in our procedural system summary proceedings are expected, it is obvious that in a case as complex and questionable the limited window of time injured his right of defense, recognized as a constitutional guarantee, and made it impossible to thoroughly research the and multilateral causes and circumstances that led the event.

The defendants and their supporters were unable to provide evidence exonerating or attenuating responsibility.  The execution of the death penalty came in record time and the State Council ratified it promptly, which is surprising since other convicts have been awaiting execution for years, such as the Salvadoran Cruz Leon, author of the most reprehensible acts prosecuted in April 2003.

Despite the opposing views I think that these young people staged a heroic event, nor were they only prosecuted for attempting to leave the island. Nothing can justify an act of piracy that endangered the lives of innocent people, but the perpetrators must be punished appropriately and not excessively, which in turn effectively makes them martyrs.

The ruling illustrates that the process had a character lesson at the cost of the death of three of the eleven involved and lengthy sentences for five of the others. No one deserved such an absurdity as no hostages were killed or wounded nor did they shoot at the soldiers who followed them from the Bay of Havana. There were no economic losses, the boat was recovered.

Far from acting recklessly, the kidnappers decided to return to port for refueling, a naive and even noble action in the case of people aged 16 to 30 years sought by the military command.

In the Act of Sentencing No. 17 of 2003 it stated that except those sentenced to death the rest of the defendants had no criminal record. Of the 3 with a criminal history it did not reflect the year of termination of the previous sanctions, so we do not know if they were canceled. The document states that all social misfits were punished, but does not explain why.

The darkness of the Sentence is complemented by the award of four previous offenses under the law against acts of terrorism, which is optional, but demonstrates the repressive aim of so ruthless a penalty, that obviates the humanitarian sensibility and rehabilitation that must be met by criminal convictions.