Rob Sequin | Havana Journal (user name Publisher - See my comments in bold below. Too many comments to post at the end.)
Cuban bloggers are fighting a cyberwar with the government to give their own version of reality on the communist island, from hotels and using memory sticks and laptops obtained from abroad.
Bloggers with “alternative” agendas say it is becoming harder to evade official censorship, although they have managed to multiply in the past three years in a country where Internet access is limited.
Havana accuses them of being on the payroll of Washington and other governments in a bid to denigrate the 50-year-old Cuban revolution.
If they are breaking even the smallest law in Cuba they would be put in jail so the accusation that they are on the payroll of Washington is not accurate.
The government argues that it has the right to block sites which “encourage subversion.”
Talking about the daily hardships in Cuba is not “subversion”, it is the truth. The Castro government has never liked the truth so these bloggers are driving them crazy. Not only are the bloggers being read by the Cuban government and some people inside Cuba, the world is reading these bloggers and if the Castro government shuts them down, they will have to answer to international pressure.
Under names such as Generation Y, the internationally-renowned blog of Yoani Sanchez—or Retazos by “El Guajiro Azul” (The Blue Peasant), around 30 blogs touch sensitive themes such as Cuban travel permits, flaws in the health and education systems, political prisoners or daily hardships.
“Their entries are full of worn-out political theories that the US State Department used for years in order to include Cuba on all the black lists,” according to the official Cuban portal Cubadebate.cu, where communist leader and former president Fidel Castro publishes his column.
Some local journalists have also fought back against what they call “distorted information” about Cuba found in the blogs.
They recently set up a rival website, blogcip.cu, posting a photo of Yoani Sanchez using the Internet in what they said was a luxurious hotel, alongside the text the unhappy girl who sells herself as a victim of ruthless persecution.
Now that this has gone on for so long, the Castro government has even less options so they come up with this lame attempt to discredit them. Pretty sad that on one hand they say she is encouraging subversion which would be a criminal act yet the best they can do is call her an “unhappy girl”. Pretty lame. Seems like the bloggers might win this war of words. Then again, the truth is more powerful than lies.
“Welcome to the blogosphere!” the 33-year-old Sanchez said in an interview with AFP.
“I didn’t say I was in hiding. I prefer to save money to go online and recount the reality that isn’t reflected in the Cuban press, which repeats the official discourse,” the literature graduate said.
Cubans are not permitted Internet accounts, but can use email services in state cybercafes, without access to navigate the web.
Although several hotels sell Internet connection cards, their cost—eight dollars an hour—is prohibitive in a country where the average monthly salary is 17 dollars.
The government accuses the decades-old US embargo of preventing Cuba from accessing underwater cables and forcing it to use slower satellite connections instead. Work, research and study centers therefore have priority for Internet connections.
That darn Embargo again. What does this have to do with Yoani?
Bloggers are hosted by foreign servers, write their texts offline and save them on memory cards before updating their blogs from hotel connections or emailing friends to post their updates abroad.
But the limited options are diminishing.
A hotel from the Spanish Melia chain that was popular with bloggers has now banned Internet services for Cubans, and only permits foreigners or overseas residents to use them, a hotel worker confirmed to AFP.
Update: We wrote a thorough article about Sol Melia denying internet access to Cubans and even exchanged emails with the manager of the Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana Cuba. Yoani is saying that she does have internet access now. Read this article for more information on the whole situation.
Sanchez posted a video—using a hidden camera—in which a hotel employee explained that the change was due to a new directive from the Tourism Ministry and a communications company, which was also applied by other hotels that have now clamped down on bloggers.
“They want to push us into illegality, to ‘underground’ accounts. They accuse us buying domains outside of Cuba, but us Cubans cannot buy a ‘.cu’ domain. What do they want, silence?” said Sanchez, winner of the 2008 Spanish Ortega and Gasset prize for digital journalism.
Ivan Garcia, a 40-year-old blogger who received a laptop from his mother who is a resident in Switzerland, said the new measures aimed to drive bloggers into foreign embassies in order to “accuse us of being supported by foreign governments.”
Cubadebate.cu accuses the bloggers of using dubious foreign host services, enjoying privileged resources and advanced tools and taking salaries from the enemy.
Sanchez said she uses a free system and earns a wage—with which she pays her blog domain of “hardly 200 euros (280 dollars) per year”—by writing for foreign media and teaching Spanish to tourists.
In this “fierce war of the blogosphere,” as one Cuban newspaper called it, the “cyber-dissidents” and “cyber-communists”—as both sides call each other—promise not to cede an inch.
Interesting that the HavanaTimes.org was not mentioned in the Cuban government’s cyber war against bloggers, that’s because the Havana Times is run with the approval of the Cuban government.