Emerging Community of Bloggers?

By Dalia Acosta

HAVANA, Oct 6 (IPS) – Blogging has finally hit Cuba, despite the challenge of gaining access to the Internet and the limited number of home computers on the island, and the emergence of a Cuban community of bloggers may soon be more than just wishful thinking.

“I think blogging from Cuba is an important way of making our reality and opinions known and of communicating with the rest of the world,” Roger Trabas, a self-taught computer programmer and author of a site called “Kilómetro Cero”, told IPS.

“The biggest challenge is getting an Internet connection,” admitted Trabas, who has to access the Internet from work and also deal with problems such as low speed.

Due to the nearly half-decade U.S. embargo, Cuba can only connect to the Internet via satellite, which limits bandwidth dramatically and makes data transfer more expensive. This could change with the laying of an underwater fibre optic cable from Venezuela, which is scheduled to be completed in 2010.

Only 5.2 percent of the respondents to the 2007 Survey on Access to Selected Information and Communication Services, conducted by the National Statistics Bureau (ONE), used a computer at home, while 88.8 percent used computers at their place of work or study.

Government policy has prioritised access to the new information and communication technologies in scientific and educational centres, cultural institutions and state bodies, over individual use.

“It’s not easy, but it all depends on how determined you are,” observed Trabas, who writes about a variety of subjects on his website, from computer programming to aspects of life in Cuba.

“Most blogs are not profit-oriented, as there are no economic benefits to be gained from hosting a blog; but you do profit in knowledge, in being able to share with others, and in self-discovery,” he added.

Trabas teamed up with David Chapet, a French entrepreneur and blogger who has been living in Havana for the past 12 years, to create the Bloggers Cuba website and organise the first “Blogging on Our Own” Meeting, which was held on Sept. 27 at the governmental Computer and Electronic Engineering Palace in the Cuban capital.

The first gathering of what could well develop into the island’s blogging community brought together a small group of bloggers, people involved in online journalism, and fans of this experience, from both Cuba and France.

Blogs are websites typically set up by individuals to express their interests and opinions on all sorts of issues. Many blogs allow readers to post comments, giving way to the establishment of the transnational social networks that are increasingly popular today.

Nobody knows exactly how many blogs are produced in this Caribbean island nation. The Bloggers Cuba directory lists a mere 14 personal web pages, while the site “Blogs sobre Cuba,” which includes blogs hosted from other countries, attests to some 650. For its part, the directory of the non-governmental Cuban Journalist Union (UPEC) indexes a total of 174 blogs.

In its State of the Blogosphere 2008 report, the blog search engine Technorati reveals that as of Sept. 20 there were 133 million blogs worldwide. Of that total, only 7.4 million had posted new information in the last four months, and approximately 1.5 million had updated their information during the week prior to the study’s completion.

The boom in blogs has raised new questions in the world of communications, and in particular in journalism, which to some extent feels threatened by the appearance of millions of potential reporters of reality.

“It’s very interesting to see the emergence of grassroots journalism in Cuba, because it is a trend that has been growing globally for a long time now,” Anidelys Rodríguez, a professor at the University of Havana School of Communications, told IPS.

Rodríguez, who teaches a digital journalism course, views this “citizen journalism” boom as a form of pressuring the local media into improving the quality of their news coverage and expanding the issues they cover.

“It’s important for people in Cuba to reflect on and talk about their country from the perspective of their own experiences, from what they feel, and not from the ultra specialised view that the Cuban media has, with its own agenda and specific interests that don’t always coincide with those of the people,” she said.

One of these experiences in citizen journalism, the blog “Generación Y” posted by 33-year old graduate in philology Yoani Sánchez, was awarded the 2008 Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism by the Spanish newspaper El País.

While the first “Blogging on Our Own” meeting ended without any formal agreements, the participants concurred on the need to create a community, whose platform could be the Bloggers Cuba site.

“The first step is the most important, and we’ve taken it,” said Trabas. “I hope to see the community grow, to see those who have Internet access using it to write things that matter, to generate information.”

“From here it can only grow, and I think there’s no stopping it,” said the 34-year-old blogger.