http://havanajournal.com/culture/entry/cuban-bloggers-gather-in-cuba-to-discuss-their-restrictions-on-freedom/

HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Culture

Cuban bloggers “gather” in Cuba to discuss their restrictions on freedom

Posted December 07, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Culture.
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Latin American Herald Tribune

Cuban bloggers began a workshop to exchange information despite warnings by the island’s authorities not to do so, according to a press release issued Saturday in Havana.

In the communique that was also published on the Generacion Y blog by the Cuban Yoani Sanchez, the cybernauts said that “faithful to their choice of dialogue and the search for viable alternatives, they have found other ways to start their journey without having to travel physically from one place to another.”

They said that exchanges have taken place on Friday and Saturday among “people who post blogs on the Internet from the island and others who are interested in visiting this medium.”

The document recalled that the workshop “lost its inaugural session because agents of the Interior Ministry summoned certain participants to tell them officially that they were barred from attending the inauguration,” scheduled for the city of Pinar del Rio on the western part of the island.

“We can’t show documented proof of this prohibition because the agents refused to put it in writing,” the workshop participants said, adding that “freedom finds ways that repression can’t.”

The Cuban bloggers said that the exchanges of experiences “took place in an informal atmosphere, respecting differences of opinion and with a debate of proposals.” A Cuban blog contest was suggested for next year.

For her part, Sanchez said Saturday on her blog that “the shouting at police station, the constant operation against us since last Thursday and the prohibition to travel to Pinar del Rio didn’t do them much good.”

“We eventually found cracks between the censors’ fingers that the fine sand of information and knowledge has managed to slip through,” she said.

Sanchez, a graduate in Hispanic philology, was honored in April with the Ortega and Gasset Prize, but was unable to travel to Spain to receive the award because Cuban authorities would not allow her to leave the country.

She was recently honored by The Bobs 2008, awarded by German television channel Deutsche Welle, taking the prize for the best international Weblog, an award also granted her by Reporters Without Borders.

—————————————- Havana Journal Comments—————————————-
Havana Journal Inc. owns CubaBlog.com and is always looking for development partners. We support Yoani Sanchez’s efforts to speak her mind freely about the repression of free speech and freedom of assembly in Cuba.

Member Comments

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On December 08, 2008, gframe wrote:

Untruthful and viscous comments place on her blog

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On December 09, 2008, Lee wrote:

‘gtrame’ what does that mean? are you saying she is lying or people are accessing her blog?

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On December 10, 2008, Cubana wrote:

Link to Yoani’s website where she describes the police “interview” together with comments:

http://desdecuba.com/generationy/?p=353

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On December 11, 2008, pipefitter wrote:

She seems to be very superficial in her analysis of the problems in Cuba.

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On December 22, 2008, Marek wrote:

FWIW, I am more than a little suspicious of Sanchez’ motives. In particular, her frequent mentions (and mentions about her in mainly US media) of the “restrictions” placed on her access to the internet, or the oppression she “suffers’, the “subterfuge” she must use to go online, etc. 

I saw her sitting in the WiFI lobby of the Melia Cohiba hotel in September during my most recent research visit (the Cohiba was one of the few places with working internet in the weeks after the hurricane).  She once wrote that she “dressed like a tourist” and “smiled at the guards” to appear as though she were a tourist. Sorry - but if *I* can spot her as a native cubana, no-one should be under any illusions that she is mistaken for a foreigner, or a non-resident Cuban.

Neither is she “restricted” in any way from connecting to the internet - indeed, to purchase the CUC$6-per-hour (sold only in CUC$12 blocks of 2-hrs), one needs to show identification. For me, my Canadian passport. For her, her Cuban credencial. So any hint that she is pulling a fast one on the authorities to secretly post her messages of “truth” to the world is beyond fallacious.

(also FYI, my research in Cuba since the early 1990s has focused on matters of computing, community, internet, capacitation and related topics. I am a fan of the excellent work Cuba has done to extend technologies to the people as fairly as possible. I also have little time for those who equate the internet with a human right, and who lambast Cuba for “restrictions” without giving equal weight to the context - the U.S. economic embargo, which results in a telecoms embargo, and the very real costs faced by a Third World country to simply connect to the internet via satellite).

At any rate - I arrived in this forum by following up a story about foreign investment in cuban tourism, and from my poking around the website tonight, I can’t say I’m impressed with the tone taken by Rob. In my near-20 years of working in Cuba / dealing with Cubans at all levels (in and out of gov’t), I am convinced that, despite the many problems they face, the Revolution is not the evil, dictatorial, tropical gulag that her critics like to paint. This is a country that has achieved great things in the face of incredible external attacks. Cuba deserves more respect, and a sincere effort by those who oppose the Revolution to at least try to understand motivation and context.

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On December 22, 2008, publisher wrote:

Boo hoo. That damned Embargo.

What does the Embargo have to do with Telecom Italia and Etecsa? There is no cell phone service in Cuba because Fidel and Raul don’t want cellphones in Cuba.

Watch what Fidel and Raul do when Obama tries to lift the Embargo, they will have another Brothers to the Rescue incident or boatlift or round up more “enemies of the state” for speaking their mind making them dangerous to the Cuban government.

Right. It’s all the Embargo’s fault.

Marek, it appears that you have spent too much time in Cuba since you are brainwashed or flat our lying about your background.

I have very little tolerance for Cuban propaganda bullshit these days and you know what I mean.

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On December 22, 2008, Marek wrote:

???  No cell phone service?  Cuba just reduced the rates by half on its cellular service for Cuban residents (which was introduced in April 2008) [http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5g8NhcKvXuI_28YwgZP-m7uY1QZQwD950JGS85]

And… wow.  Rob, if you truly believe that the embargo is ineffectual, then… there really is no point to my attempting to engage you.  Truly sad.

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On December 22, 2008, publisher wrote:

China, Venezulea, Canada, Spain? They can’t give Cuba everything it needs?

So, Fidel could have done so much more if it wasn’t for that darn Embargo?

Right.

Fidel would have been gone in the 1960s if we lifted the Embargo.

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On December 22, 2008, Marek wrote:

Rob, I have no desire to enter into an animosity-filled discussion. The facts are the facts. The embargo has been extensively studied, by people who actually do that sort of thing for a living, you know, *research*. There is no question that the embargo adds billions of dollars in additional costs to Cuba for transportation, secondary and tertiary market purchases and the like. The internet connection alone is one in which Cuba’s additional costs for satellite connections via Italy incur massive costs that would otherwise not be borne, were the embargo not present, as Cuba could join the global network via its link across the Florida Strait.

That you are unwilling to accept that Cuba has significant development challenges as a direct result of the embargo points to an ideological inability to accept the facts.

Good luck with your endeavours.

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On December 23, 2008, publisher wrote:

“Cuba could join the global network via its link across the Florida Strait”

and then there would be tens of thousands of Yoani Sanchez type blogs.

You know that the Castros don’t like freedom of communication so of course they want to complain that they don’t have good internet but they don’t want good internet.

Cuba’s terrible economy is not the fault of the Embargo. It is Fidel Castro mandate.

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On December 23, 2008, pipefitter wrote:

So the obvious thing to do would be to give Cuba easy, cheap internet access and see what happens,But it may just give a different result, with left wing Cubans broadcasting all their “bad” ideas all over the western world don’t you think?

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On December 23, 2008, Marek wrote:

“You know that the Castros don’t like freedom of communication so of course they want to complain that they don’t have good internet but they don’t want good internet.”

..and yet Cuba has introduced nation-wide cell service for its citizens, and recently halved the cost of that service. I find it curious that you glossed over your erroneous post above (though kudos to you for not doing the obvious thing and edit your post).

Why not table this discussion until a year from now, when the fibre-optic link via Venezuela is scheduled to come on-line, and then we’ll see how the Cuban government implements policy.

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On December 23, 2008, publisher wrote:

I’m happy to revisit the issue.

With regards to cell phone service for citizens in Cuba? Please. Don’t be ignorant.

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On December 23, 2008, Marek wrote:

How is it that I am demonstrating ignorance?  On my September visit to the island, the widespread use of cellphones was quite obvious, and not among the tourist crowd (I’m talking residential Marianao, Centro Habana, Vedado). Due to the hurricanes I was unable to reach the rural areas, where naturally the penetration would be lower, but the fact remains: Cubans (albeit those with rich relatives in Miami or other sources of income) are making use of the cell phone network.

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On December 23, 2008, paul wrote:

Hey Marek, how much is your MININT salary nowadays?

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On December 23, 2008, publisher wrote:

If you say you saw people using cellphones, I will believe you but you know the pricing is very restrictive and, I would assume, limited to purchase and phone plans by communists in good standing.

I would guess that maybe you saw 1 in 1000 people using a cellphone? Then I would assume that 9 of those people were tourists so 1 in 10,000 Cubans using a cellphone sounds about right.

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On December 23, 2008, Marek wrote:

Pretty sad remark, Paul. I present facts, and receive slander in response. If that’s the best counter-argument Cuba’s critics can offer, then it’s no wonder the Revolution has survived this long.

For the record, I’m a Canadian (therefore *my* government doesn’t forbid me from travelling to Cuba, unlike the USA). I’m an academic with a core focus on Cuba. I am on the island, for extended working visits, at least once per year since 1994. I’ve travelled the breadth and width of the island. I have friends from all walks of life, from fellow academics to community outreach workers to construction workers to barbers.

Are *your* first-hand, personal and professional connections to Cuba at this level? How then can you accuse me of being a tool of the government?  When was the last time you sat down for frijoles negros in a small village in Villa Clara?

It is obvious to me that this is not a forum for intelligent, informed debate or discussion. What a shame.

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On December 23, 2008, publisher wrote:

We welcome all visitors and opinions here but we rarely get actual “facts” from anyone who is pro-Cuban. Then NEVER have anything bad to say about Cuba and when the discussion gets a little heated they always bring up the Embargo and the Cubans in Miami.

It’s never Fidel’s fault… ever.

So, when we see the next Varsi making a pass through here, they are pretty easy to spot.

Marek, tell me something negative about Fidel and I will give your opinions more weight.

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On December 23, 2008, Marek wrote:

Rob, you do yourself no favours by presenting Cubans’ cell phone access as available only to “communists in good standing” when even the mainstream US media coverage of the April availability of the service made it clear that those Cubans who were purchasing the service were most likely being (a) supported by relatives off-island who want a more reliable method of communication or (b) Cubans with access to funds beyond the typical salary, either legally or illegally, via tourism or other foreign-linked venture.  One person I know who has a cellphone pays for it out of the proceeds from their casa particular (tourist room rentals).  I also have a number of contacts in government - members of the party - who do not have cell phone access. Indeed, those who work in government, unlike the US propaganda, are often those who are in it for the cause - for the Revolution - and are decidedly less well-off than those who work as cab drivers or waiters in the tourist sector.

So long as the community of Cuba critics continues to paint things so broadly with their brush, no real understanding of the complexity of Cuba will ever come into being.  I respectfully suggest that you attempt to tone down the histrionics and engage in more informed criticisms, of which there are many to make.

This thread has gone ‘waaay off-topic by now. But Rob, if you want to engage in some interesting speculation, I suggest a topic on the potential social / economic / other impacts of an explosion in US-Cuba tourism should Obama go beyond simply lifting the travel restrictions (every 3 years) on Cuban-Americans, and instead open the doors for all US citizens to see Cuba for themselves (I, for one, am very concerned, for a variety of reasons).

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On December 23, 2008, Marek wrote:

Heh - is that how my value is judged - by how critical I am of a nearly-90-year-old man who hasn’t been seen in public in two years? Those who continue to believe that Fidel Castro still has (or ever had) the ability to instantaneously know the innermost thoughts and actions of every Cuban everywhere on the island and dispatches government thugs accordingly to beat them into submission, well, time for a road trip to Roswell for a little quality time with the silvery big-headed dudes with large eyes.

Cuba is far more than the “Castro brothers.” To suggest otherwise is an insult to those Cubans who go to work every day, keeping their country growing and independent in the face of constant US pressure.

The reason so many people bring up the Embargo as a reason for Cuba’s many ills is, as I have previously noted, because the Embargo is not a mythical boogeyman - it’s a real, implemented collection of laws and policies that isolate Cuba economically. If Canada were subjected to the same economic policies, we would have fallen to pieces (please don’t get any ideas). The continuing denial of the Embargo as a very real developmental challenge faced by Cuba points more to your inability to accept reality than to mine.

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On December 23, 2008, publisher wrote:

I rest my case my friend. You cannot say anything negative against Fidel because you are not allowed to post negative things about Fidel on the Internet.

Having an informed discussion with a Cuban government propagandists like you and Varsi (maybe even the same person) is meaningless. I’ve been through those “factual” discussions.

I know the protocol Marek:

1. Claim that you are from Canada
2. Claim that I am ignorant.
3. Never say anything bad about Fidel.
4. Blame the Embargo
5. Blame the Cuban mafia
6. Never use the same IP address or user name
7. Never admit that there are any problems in Cuba. Oops, my bad. There isn’t anything wrong with Cuba.

I believe and support Yoani Sanchez and Oswaldo Paya, the two future leaders of Cuba.

Of course you will say they are tools of the CIA and Cuban mafia and that’s okay. Just keep reading HavanaTimes.org and believing everything Fidel tells you. 

8. Feign being upset and vow to never return.
9. Report to your superiors and have them schedule another agent for “discussion” at HavanaJournal.com.

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On December 23, 2008, Marek wrote:

Holy freakin’ paranoid mister! 

1/ Born in Nova Scotia. Not putting anything more public out there, because those who attack Cuba tend to attack (really, attack) anyone who disagrees with ‘em. Those bombings in Miami a few years ago perhaps the most obvious evidence of that.

2/ “Ignorant” - I said uninformed. Or perhaps better, misinformed. Or unable to inform yourself of an alternative point of view or see the situation from more than one side.

3/ Something bad about Fidel. Well, gee. Let me see… I think he should have retired a few years earlier to the countryside, wrote his memoirs, and let the next generation prove to Cuba’s critics that Cuba is not one man.  I think some of the decisions he’s made over the past 50 years were in error, but I’m not a judge of history.  I’m sure he has character flaws, but I don’t know the man personally. What would be “bad” enough in your view to give me credibility in here? 

4/ The Embargo is fact. Until you can present counter-evidence that the Embargo instead brings butterflies and ice cream to all Cubans only to have it snatched away by the hands of the evil state security, I’ll have to go with my own opinion.

5/ Cuban mafia:  well, come on now…  that should go without saying, giving the historical and contemporary actions of those elements.

6/ My IP address is dynamic, like most people on the planet who have high-speed internet at home - I don’t pay for a business-level, fixed-IP. But the broad IP range is consistent with the place where I live - in Mexico, finishing my PhD.  My user name is my family name. Where’s the problem with that?  Again I say: Paranoid!

7/ There are a gazillion problems with Cuba. But there are sufficient of you critics to cover that side of the situation - I know from personal experience that Cuba is not the tropical gulag that you are attempting to portray.  But I’m willing to let Cuba fix itself, rather than have the US do it’s infamous “fix” on Cuba.

8/ Upset? No - I go between being amused at the alternate reality in which some of Cuba’s critics apparently live, and concern that so many people can buy into the anti-Cuba propaganda that has been flowing from Little Havana and the State Department for over half a century. 

9/ The only “superior” I report to these days is the guy who is supervising my Doctoral thesis.

Rob, as you well know, I came to this forum through that article on a new tourism development between Havana and Varadero, which is of interest to my research on Cuba and foreign investment policies.  Exploring the rest of the site, I found this article on Sanchez, and related my observations from her very easy internet access at the Melia Cohiba hotel in Varadero which to me was contradictory of her earlier statements describing “oppression” and needing to resort to “subterfuge” to go online.  That you have decided, in the space of less than a day, to paint me as an agent of Cuban security, well…  sorry to burst your bubble, pal.

Perhaps as one way to confirm my authenticity as a Canadian (unlike you Yanks who stick a Canadian flag on your luggage to keep from being kidnapped or worse while travelling internationally), let me give you a bit of local knowledge:  In Halifax, Nova Scotia, the absolutely most delicious donairs are found at Bash Toulany’s shop, 5553 Duffus St, in the North End. But be careful - they taste great, but can be deadly for their very sweet sauce and super-spicy meat.

Perhaps I should end with a candianism, eh?

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On December 23, 2008, publisher wrote:

Thanks for commenting on each of my points.

The nagging problem I have is why do you criticize Yoani Sanchez but not Fidel?

What does Yoani have to do with your thesis or interest in foreign investment?

Why do you feel so obligated to hash out this conversation and post such long replies as though you need to convince me and Havana Journal readers that we are all wrong about Cuba?

Why would a Canadian living in Mexico go through all this trouble?

These are the questions I have as to your motivation which brings me around to the only answer that you work directly or indirectly for the Cuban government and that they dictate or at least monitor your work.

Are you saying that you have no ties to the Cuban government?

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On December 23, 2008, Marek wrote:

I have no ties to the Cuban government.  Clear enough?

I’m a Canadian. I have a long history of studying Cuba’s development.

My comments regarding Sanchez simply point out the discrepancy in what she has said she needs to go through to post her material online, and what I saw with my own eyes.

The long replies are mutual - we are egging one another one, wouldn’t you agree?

Why would I go to the “trouble”?  Because I dislike the spreading of false information about Cuba. I think some of the comments made here have been either blatantly dishonest, or erroneous due to the authors being uninformed (and, apparently, unwilling to even consider alternate points of view).

Hah!  The Cuban government “dictates” my work?  God - were that so, I imagine my dissertation would have been finished long ago…

This is about as fun as banging one’s head against a wall…

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On December 23, 2008, publisher wrote:

Okay. Let’s see how things develop on the next story.

If you are a student of Cuban history you cannot ignore the fact that Fidel has the country locked down.

He knows how Batista had the country locked down and he knows how to beat Batista therefore Fidel knows what he has to do in order to prevent another Fidel from rising to the top.

If that is not in your thesis then it is not much of a thesis.

The fact that you can’t find any faults with Fidel and/or communism is kinda scary but I’ll give you some leeway because you are Canadian.

Why do you like in Mexico and why are you writing a thesis on Cuba if you don’t mind me asking.

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On December 23, 2008, paul wrote:

You don’t present facts Marek, just are like the countless other fellow travelers how try to give a human face to an inhuman, communist society. Western European countries and your “country” Canada give people a variety of second generation rights, and those societies are not subjected to a police state.

We can go back and forth, but it’s folks like you, who make goliath look like david. David didn’t care about the “evil” embargo when it was fully subsidized by the USSR, and when it was being used by the Soviets to wage in proxy conflicts throughout the world.

This thread makes me realize that Communist countries have always won global audience by having seemingly innocent pseudo intellectuals give them a facelift.

You’ll reply with a david type comment, probably call me a fascist miami cuban, and mask your appeasement of authoritarianism with fake politeness.