A blogosphere for dissidents – and for Fidel Castro

December 18th, 2010   Theme: Internet Freedom

According to Freedom House, a think tank monitoring human rights and freedom all over the world, only 2 percent of the Cubans are able to access internet, a network which is highly censored. In addition, internet connection is expensive – an hour cost nearly a week’s salary. In spite of this, there is blogosphere where dissidents are able to voice their opinions.

For those able to access the net, the blogosphere constitutes the platform where dissidents can be active without the immediate threat of government action. Nevertheless, in November 2009, Cuba’s most famous blogger, Yoani Sánchez, founder of the blog Generation Y, was arrested and heavily beaten by the civil services outside her home in Havana. Through her blog in English, Ms. Sánchez has revealed oppression and misgovernment to a global audience. Each posting in average inspires a thousand comments – a number unheard of for most bloggers, even in the west. She is also the winner of the international Ortega y Gasset Award in Digital Journalism.
Unfortunately, few Cubans are able to read Generation Y as, according to Freedom House, only 2 percent of the Cubans can access internet.

At a UN conference a few years ago, a Cuban representative blamed the US for the country’s technological standing: “The American trade sanctions are responsible for so few people’s being able to access the internet”. Keeping that in mind, the Cuban government’s efforts to prevent spreading internet access might seem a quite odd. According to a directive from the ministries of Tourism and Telecom, internet access at the hotel business centers is nowadays restricted to foreigners exclusively. According to the Venezuelan newspaper TalCualDigital, the scarce internet access has already created a black market where employees working for state owned IT companies sell passwords to the accounts of government officials enjoying free access. The conditions for the transaction are simple: Use outside of working hours and never access political sites.

A report issued by the Committee to protect Journalists estimate there are at least 25 independent Cuban journalistic blogs which update regularly and are produced by Cuban writers. In addition, there are some 75 smaller blogs focusing on news and around 200 blogs by journalists supported by the regime. Also the elderly revolutionary leader Fidel Castro runs his own blog, the Cuba debate. For those willing to debate, the name soon proved misguiding since there is, unsurprisingly no possibility to comment.

There are no other possibilities to be published in Cuba, since the state has a monopoly on information. All media are state controlled and according to the constitution, it is a crime to spread information differing from the state’s official version. Thus, book printing and film making is monitored and censored. Journalists publishing news which are not confirmed by the Ministry of Information are considered traitors and risk arrest an imprisonment.

According to a report, issued in 2009 by Reporters without borders, Cuba belongs to the five countries in the world with the least Media Freedom. The others are Burma, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. While the news broadcast adapted messages and propaganda for the regime, satellite television remains illegal. Radio and TV broadcasts from Cuban diaspora in the US are regularly disturbed. However, the regulation forbidding Cubans to subscribe to a mobile phone has been removed, although it is not yet legal to actually buy a cell phone.

According to Amnesty International, there were more than 60 political prisoners in the beginning of 2008. The Cuban Committee for Human Rights National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) raised the number to more than 200. Both the UN and the EU have frequently criticized Cuba hunting down dissidents and the country has yet refused to let in any inspectors to monitor the situation.
Cuba remains a centrally planned and centrally governed communistic one party state where no other parties are allowed. When Castro turned ill and transferred the power to his brother Raul Castro in 2008, there were some hopes for reforms as Raul Castro had previously said this was the time for such. The decisions that actually followed, such as changing the policy of same salary for all regardless of employment, the removal of the upper income level, the removal of the rationing of basic commodities and the closing of company diners in exchange for higher salaries have been regarded, by most Cubans, as symbolic action without any actual value. Meanwhile, the power is still in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard and Fidel Castro still, to a large extent, run the country from the hospital.
Text: Alrik Williams
Translation: Evelina Lorentzon

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