Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Press Freedom

Virtual Diversity in Cuban Blogosphere

Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Jun 8 2010 (IPS) - There are blogs made in Cuba, and many more Cubans living abroad who blog, both in favour of or against the Cuban government. Caught up in the sea of political passions, the hundreds of blogs about this socialist island nation reflect a growing variety of viewpoints and realities.

Although much less well-known than Generation Y, created by award-winning Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, there are many independent blogs that focus on Cuban society and day-to-day life on the island from all angles, based on the personal lives and experiences of their creators.

“The blogosphere in Cuba is divided in two, between the pro-government ones and the dissidents,” journalist Boris Leonardo Caro, who keeps three blogs — Los Rumores, El Rumor del Elefante and El Rumor Pixelado — told IPS. “They don’t only operate as such because of their political affinities, but also because they organise meetings and training activities.”

Although he believes “there are real bloggers in both groups,” Caro said the most interesting current development is “the gradual growth of a region in the blogosphere that is looking into other areas, more or less controversial in Cuban society, without remaining bogged down in the confrontational discourse between supporters of the system and dissidents.”

Elaine Díaz, a professor at the University of Havana communications department, said the richest area of the “home-grown” blogosphere is made up of web logs “that present authentic spontaneous writing which offers a close-up image of the country that ordinary Cubans know so well.”

Díaz’s blog, La Polémica Digital, coexists in cyberspace with blogs like Negra Cubana Tenía Que Ser, written by editor Sandra Álvarez, and Paquito el de Cuba, kept by Francisco Rodríguez, a journalist.

Film critic Juan Antonio García Borrero also contributes to the debate on cultural policy in Cuba, in La Pupila Insomne.

Who are the Cuban bloggers, and how do they blog?

Only one-third of Cuban blogs are written by women, according to the results of the first survey on the Cuban blogosphere, carried out in 2009 and published by the blog Desarraigos Provocados, kept by a Cuban woman who has lived in Germany since 1999.

Nevertheless, that is higher than the 20 percent reported by a study on the state of the Spanish language blogosphere by the largest social network for bloggers that exists in Spanish, Bitacoras.com 2009.

The Cuban women who blog are younger than the men, they write more, and they tend to leave more comments on other people’s web logs.

A total of 838 bloggers were invited to participate in the survey last year, but only 236 serious responses were received. Of that total, just 25 wrote from Cuba, and the rest from some other country, mainly the United States and Spain.

The survey also found that 82 percent of those who blog in Cuba have their own computer, 54 percent access the internet from their homes, 75 percent also do so from work, and 82 percent reveal their identity.

Behind the blog

“As a professional, as a blogger, I assume that ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ do not exist, as such, but that there are truths and realities that are selected and built by each individual, in the same way that a photographer selects a mountain to photograph, out of a broader landscape,” Reinaldo Cedeño, who blogs on La Isla y la Espina, told IPS by email.

Cedeño, a two-time winner of Cuba’s National Cultural Journalism Award, said it was “near-sighted and tendentious to set up a blog, whatever it may be, as ‘a reflection of Cuban reality’, because our reality is multiple and complex and resists being trapped by one single point of view or in a handful of articles.”

Accused of limiting people’s access to the internet, the Cuban government blames technical limitations that it says are the result of the U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba, and argues that because of them it has had to put a priority on enabling people to go on-line at their work and study places.

Many Cubans have their hopes pinned on 2011, when a 1,550-km undersea fiber-optic cable being laid between Cuba and Venezuela will be completed, providing high-speed internet access instead of the current slow and expensive satellite links.

According to Cuba’s National Statistics Office, only 1.4 million of this country’s 11.2 million people had telephones in their homes in 2008, just 630,000 had computers, and only 13 percent had an internet connection. An estimated 240,000 Cubans use the internet.

While some people always manage to find a way to connect, from their workplaces or by means of alternative routes such as sharing an account with a third person, there are those in the government who seem to have it in for independent bloggers, and sometimes try to block their activities.

“Someone who has never seen the internet and hears about the blogosphere for the first time can see it as a kind of epidemic,” Sandra Álvarez, who keeps the Negra Cubana Tenía Que Ser blog, told IPS. “But I hope that will change when we understand the importance of citizen journalism.”

Caro, meanwhile, said “the process of normalisation of the Cuban blogosphere reflects a parallel phenomenon in life outside the internet” and should help bring about the needed national reconciliation. “The route towards that country where there will be room for all Cubans has to be based on respect for the diversity of voices,” he told IPS.

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