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Cuba: Questioning Digital Expression within the Revolution

The recent Encuentro de Blogueros Cubanos en Revolución [Meeting of Cuban Bloggers in Revolution] [es] brought together a group of “official” bloggers—chiefly journalists and communications professionals who are employed by the state and maintain their blogs as part of their work. These bloggers acknowledge explicitly that they write “within,” or in support of, the Cuban revolution. In contrast, many better-known Cuban bloggers, such as Yoani Sánchez and Laritza Diversent, make no such claim, calling for free speech and broader Internet access but seeking to avoid being categorized as dissidents or counterrevolutionaries.

At the conclusion of the event, the group of bloggers drafted a set of principles [es] outlining their goals and commitments as Cuban bloggers. The third principle read:

Respetamos y promovemos el pensamiento crítico, necesario y útil para preservar nuestra condición de revolucionarios, con la premisa de que no es posible ser revolucionario fuera de la Revolución.

We respect and promote critical thinking, which is necessary and useful in preserving our revolutionary condition, based on the premise that it is not possible to be revolutionary outside of the Revolution. Here is a video from the Encuentro:

While the principles acknowledged a need to increase ICT access on the island, they chiefly emphasized the role of bloggers in supporting the Cuban revolutionary project: they pledged to improve collaboration among bloggers “in Revolution” and to blog in the spirit of Cuban leaders of the past, such as Che Guevara. Invoking Fidel Castro’s famous 1961 address “Words to the Intellectuals,” they asserted that innovative or critical thinking should not exist “outside” of the revolution. In other words, any critique that is not formed with the goal of strengthening the revolution falls on the outside and thus necessarily becomes “counterrevolutionary.”

This prompted Cuban blogger Yasmín Silvia Portales [es], who was not formally invited to the event, to ask:

¿y quién hace el examen de «revolucionario» para poder acceder a internet desde Cuba?

And who conducts the “revolutionary” exam in order to access the Internet in Cuba?

Since the meeting, bitter controversy has unfolded around this new iteration of a decades-old question: does the expression of criticism automatically put one “outside”  the revolution, especially when the criticism is  happening online?

Global Voices author and blogger Elaine Díaz [es], also a communications professor at the University of Havana, criticized the meeting, noting the limited value in convening a group of bloggers who “basically think the same way.” She pointed out that bloggers from Observatorio Crítico [es] and Havana Times, both sites whose authors favor the socialist model, were not invited at all.

El espacio plural, diverso, irreverente, altamente participativo, generoso y polémico…ha sido cruelmente caricaturizado [con este encuentro]. Queda, en su lugar, una blogosfera obediente y disciplinada.

The heterogenous, diverse, irreverent, highly participatory, generous and controversial space…has been cruelly caricatured [by this meeting]. In its place is now an obedient and disciplined blogosphere.

Diáz argued that, by excluding nearly all bloggers who are not “official” bloggers, the meeting had little value—the attendees did not represent the reality of the Cuban blogosphere. She also pointed to the unequal treatment of social media users on the island:

Parece que muchos de los presentes parecen haber olvidado que mientras 60 representantes de la blogosfera nacional son recibidos con bombos y platillos en Matanzas, muchos más, estudiantes de universidades [por ejemplo] son condenados a 6 meses sin acceso a Internet por osar asomarse a Facebook, Twitter o cualquier variante 2.0.

It seems that many of those present have forgotten that while 60 representatives of the national blogosphere are being received with drums and cymbals in Matanzas, many more, students at universities [for example] are condemned to 6 months without Internet access for using Facebook, Twitter, or any other iteration of 2.0.

In response to her post, [es] Harold Cárdenas, a co-author of the blog La Joven Cuba and organizer of the event, lamented the fact that Díaz declined to attend the meeting.

La habíamos invitado insistentemente…porque así podría defender sus posiciones y dar su opinión… Quizás si hubiera confiado un poco más en nosotros vería…que en el encuentro no todos pensaban “básicamente igual”
[…]
Si alguien me pregunta le diría que hemos ganado mucho…que cuando alguien quiso que se le exigiera al Estado una Internet solo para “defender la Revolución”…dejamos claro que Internet es para mucho más que eso, para hablar de cocina, deporte, sexo o lo que quiera el bloguero de turno.

We repeatedly invited her… because that way she could have defended her positions and given her opinion … Maybe if she trusted us more, she would have seen…that everyone at the meeting was not “basically the same.”
[...]
If someone were to ask me, I’d say that we gained a lot…when someone wanted the State to require that the Internet be used only to “defend the Revolution”…we made it clear that the Internet is for much more than that, it’s for talking about cooking, sports, sex or whatever the blogger wants to say in the moment.

Other responses were more aggressive. In a searing open letter [es], Eduardo, a University of Matanzas professor and blogger who helped organize the event, suggested that Díaz might be falling into the “counterrevolutionary” camp, espousing the idea that only “revolutionary” sentiment should be tolerated in the Cuban blogosphere and that nothing could exist in between this and counterrevolutionary ideas.

[Es cobardía] jugar a bloguear nadando en las aguas embravecidas de un río, que en Cuba aunque usted no lo quiera reconocer, solo tiene “dos orillas”; los que defendemos el proyecto político social que nos independizó…de España, pero también de los Estados Unidos, y los que desean que Cuba sea la neocolonia que dejó de ser el Primero de Enero de 1959.

It is cowardly to blog as if swimming in the raging waters of a river that in Cuba, even if you don’t want to recognize it, has only two sides; those who defend the socio-political project that brought us independence from Spain, but from the United States as well, and those who want Cuba to be the neocolony that it ceased to be on the First of January of 1959.

A diverse range of other bloggers at sites including La Joven Cuba, Blogazoxcuba (official blog of the meeting), and Observatorio Crítico have commented on the event. An apt concluding thought appeared in a post by an anonymous author at Observatorio Crítico [es]. While just pre-dating the meeting, the author offered a constructive viewpoint on the question of criticism in Cuba, envisioning a world “where public space is the patrimony of all people, not a minority in power, as is true today throughout the world, including in Cuba.”

No se teme la participación de una persona en un evento por el hecho de que piense distinto…Precisamente, la estimulación de la diversidad y las alternativas de enfoque y acción sobre los problemas es lo que conduce a posibilidades de enriquecimiento creativo de la realidad.
[…]
Bloquear el acceso de determinadas opiniones a escenarios que presuntamente exploran la noción de lo público –como ha sucedido recientemente en más de un foro–, no tiene otro resultado que el de fundamentar las imputaciones de totalitarismo que se acostumbra realizar contra el orden social imperante en Cuba…

One must not fear the participation of a person who thinks differently…Indeed, the stimulation of diversity and alternative approaches to the problems and action is what leads to opportunities for the creative enrichment of reality.
[…]
Blocking access to certain opinions that allegedly explore the notion of that which is public—as happened recently in more than one forum—has no result other than to substantiate the charges of totalitarianism that are usually wielded against the social order in Cuba…

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