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Cuba: Cables Reveal Government Sees Bloggers as “Most Serious Challenge”

Like Venezuela, Mexico, and Brazil, Cuba was one of the Latin American countries most frequently referenced in the trove of diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks. Cables confirmed much of what is already known about the diplomatic impasse that has stifled relations between Cuba and the USA for over fifty years. But they also revealed the Cuban government’s deep concern about the political impact of independent bloggers on the island.

Cables sent from the US Interest Section [1] (USINT) in Havana in 2009 (the most explicit of which can be found at El País) indicate that, in the eyes of USINT, the Cuban government does not see the traditional dissident community as a serious threat to political stability on the island, and that the movement has limited resonance within the general population.

An April 15 cable described the dissident movement in Cuba as, “as old and as out of touch with the lives of ordinary Cubans as the regime itself.” The dissidents mentioned here include leaders and groups such as Oswaldo Payá and Agenda para la Transición, who represent part of the island’s small, decades-old dissident community that receives considerable support from USINT and struggles to evade repression by the Cuban government.

On April 15, 2009, Jonathan Farrar of USINT wrote:

…we see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans. Informal polls we have carried out among visa and refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of dissident personalities or agendas.

Given that USINT surveyed visa and refugee applicants, a group that opposes the Raúl Castro government in greater proportions than the general population, this information should be particularly disconcerting to dissident leaders. Ironically, Farrar also wrote that “…dissidents have, and will continue to perform, a key role in acting as the conscience of Cuba and deserve our support in that role.” He did not elaborate on how these groups could represent the “conscience of Cuba” if they were, as mentioned earlier, “out of touch with the lives of ordinary Cubans.”

A cable sent on December 20, 2009 indicated that the Cuban government sees bloggers as “its most serious challenge” within the realm of civil society.

Another cable also described “[y]ounger individuals, including bloggers, musicians, and performing and plastic artists” as being “much better [than traditional dissidents] at taking “rebellious” stands with greater popular appeal.”

The December 2009 cable read:

The bloggers’ mushrooming international popularity and their ability to stay one tech-step ahead of the authorities are causing serious headaches in the regime. The attention that the United States bestowed on XXXXXXXXXXXX, first by publicly complaining when she was detained and roughed up and later by having the President respond to her questions, further fanned the fears that the blogger problem had gotten out of control.

The name redacted here unquestionably belongs to renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, who was abducted and beaten in November of 2009 and conducted an email interview with US President Barack Obama shortly thereafter. In September of 2009, a USINT cable described a meeting between Sánchez and US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bisa Williams in Havana, in which Sánchez told Williams that “[a]n improvement in relations with the United States is absolutely necessary for democracy to emerge [in Cuba.]”

Collectively, these and other cables suggest that for USINT, certain bloggers may come to represent a “next generation” of government critics and activists that the US government will likely seek to support, if it is not doing so already.

Rogelio M. Díaz at Bubusopía [es] wrote that he was glad that the US had recognized that Cuba’s future lies in the hands of Cuban youth, and not that of the “old guard” dissident community.

[Es] cierto que no nos sentimos para nada identificados con los fósiles de la contrarrevolución, los que venden al país por treinta monedas… [mientras] siguen apoyando el bloqueo…

[It’s] true that we do not at all identify with the fossils of the counterrevolution, those that are willing to sell their country for thirty coins… [who at the same time] continue to support the blockade…

But he was wary of the cables’ inference that bloggers could somehow replace, or serve the same purpose (however futile) as, traditional dissidents.

Jóvenes como yo, entonces, preferimos como ídolos…aquellos que…repelieron la vileza mercenaria con las armas en la mano…[y] continuaron trabajando y luchando con sus manos, su intelecto y su amor por construir un futuro mejor…

Young people like myself, then, prefer as idols…those who…fought off mercenary turpitude [2] with arms in hand…[and] continued working and fighting with their hands, their intellect, and their love to construct a better future…

It is important to understand that these cables refer only to bloggers who are critical of the Castro government; the island’s very small independent blogging community represents a wide range of political positions, many of which support Cuban socialism and hope for positive change that will face challenges and strengthen the system as it stands. Blogs like Bubusopía represent an important part of this community. If they are truly interested in understanding the “conscience of Cuba,” it would behoove USINT officials to read all of these blogs in earnest, and to incorporate the significant diversity of opinions that they represent into their diplomatic discussions.


[1]: A historically controversial institution, USINT is seen by most as a center for information gathering, and as a source of (unauthorized) support for dissidents, and of pro-US propaganda dissemination.

[2]: Díaz's mention of “mercenary turpitude” refers to forces of capitalism.

  • Pingback: On Global Voices: Cuba, USINT, and Wikileaks | half-wired

  • Ted Christmas

    Dear Ellery,
    How can you say that a blog with only 5994 visits, like Bubusopía, “represent an important part of this community [Cuban blogosphere]?
    Dis you know the blogs hosted in Desdecuba independent platform? Did you know Penúltimos Días, undoubtely the most important Cuban blog in exile, with a lot of contributors inside he island? Why you don’t mention it?
    A mon avis, you’re simply repeating the accusations of Cuban officials against Yoani Sanchez and the (real) influential Cuban blogs…

  • http://halfwired.wordpress.com/ Ellery Biddle

    Mr. Christmas: I cite Bubusopía (a blog that is part of another important Cuban blogging community, Bloggers Cuba) because there is a diverse range of opinion within the Cuban blogosphere, and Bubusopía helps to illustrate this range. I regularly cite Desdecuba blogs and Penúltimos Días in my work here, and on my own blog, and I consider these to be important participants in the larger online conversation about Cuba. But they are not the only participants.

    I would also encourage you to recognize the unique ineffectiveness of using page views as a measure of a blog’s importance in the Cuban context. As any Cuban blogger (regardless of their political position) will tell you, Internet access is very difficult to obtain on the island. So, in addition to posting their work online, Cuban bloggers typically circulate their work using email, CDs, pen drives, and other methods of “second hand” distribution. This makes it nearly impossible to count on-island readers.

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