Internet Censorship in Cuba Backfires

Fernando Ravsberg*

According to Roberto Peralo, they were deprived of Internet access because of their opinions and now they are being asked to continue doing what they were doing before. Photo: Raquel Perez.
According to Roberto Peralo, they were deprived of Internet access because of their opinions and now they are being asked to continue doing what they were doing before. Photo: Raquel Perez.

HAVANA TIMES — Young Cuba (La Joven Cuba, LJC) has returned to the blogosphere after tearing down the barriers that denied it access to the Internet.

We had a feeling this would happen when we saw the authors of this blog from the province of Matanzas in a photograph, standing next to Cuba’s First Vice-President Miguel Diaz Canel.

The picture was taken following a meeting where a debate on the topics of cyberspace, social networks and connectivity was held. “We had a meeting with him, we debated about the blogosphere, he asked us for our opinion and he explained his,” LJC blogger Roberto Peralo told me.

They had been off-line for months (the tactic had been to simply cut off the outspoken bloggers’ access to the Internet). There was no need for an official ban. A discrete phone call to the University of Matanzas and the mention of “ideological problems” sufficed to immediately deprive them of their Internet connection.

This was how the authorities sought to get rid of a blog whose irreverence, critical edge, youthful spirit and communist leanings made it quite hard to swallow. It was also a way of sending a warning to all other cybernauts: “we own the pipeline; whoever disobeys us gets their water and electricity cut off.”

Of course, there’s always the possibility of getting Internet access at the diplomatic headquarters of the United States, which houses a cybercafé that dissidents can use for free. In fact, an American diplomat, disguised as a naïve tourist, attended the last public meeting of Cuban Twitter users to offer participants his friendship and help.

The offer is tempting: when a blogger becomes a dissident, they immediately obtain a travel visa, get a better laptop, Internet connection problems disappear under the powerful embassy antennas or with the broadband available at hotels and censors stop bothering them, whatever they choose to write.

The “Protectors of the Faith” would have loved for the young people responsible for LJC to have gone down this road. It would have been exactly what they needed to justify their measure, to “prove” that, behind their public façade of committed revolutionaries, LJC bloggers were concealing the enemy and its cyber-war against the Revolution.

A high-ranking U.S. diplomat, disguised as an innocent tourist, approached participants at a gathering of Cuban Twitter users to offer his “friendship”. Photo: Raquel Perez
A high-ranking U.S. diplomat, disguised as an innocent tourist, approached participants at a gathering of Cuban Twitter users to offer his “friendship”. Photo: Raquel Perez

But, this time, the censors shot themselves in the foot, because the young bloggers decided to fight for their rights without foreign aid, using their own resources and securing the help of a number of Cuban bloggers, among whom they found a space to continue divulging their opinions.

Some Cuban Internet users applauded the censors, writing that “the people of LJC had Internet access thanks to the University of Matanzas, a State connection. They were making use of that connection to address irrelevant issues, they flirted with the opposition, they crossed the line.” (1)

These cybernauts concluded that “they didn’t heed the advice of people who tried to warn them whenever they overdid things.” And they are surprised for, years before, such “warnings” would have constituted strong enough reins to bring even the wildest of steeds to a halt.

The world, however, has changed, even if the censors don’t appear to notice this. Some days ago, Vice-President Miguel Diaz Canel tried to explain to them that, with the state of development of information technologies, social networks, computer science and the Internet, “trying to prohibit something is next to impossible.”

He added that “today news from everywhere, be them good or bad, manipulated or truthful, even half-truths are divulged online, they reach people, people read them, and the worst thing, therefore, is silence.”

But, since no one is as deaf as someone who does not want to hear, the response was to “silence” the opinion of Cuba’s Vice-President also. His statements were not aired on television and, despite the importance of his message, no official newspaper chose to print them.

Harold (l) was happily welcomed by the participants of Twitthab. The battle for reclaiming LJC’s Internet connection is part of the war fought by the entire blogosphere. Photo: Raquel Perez
Harold (l) was happily welcomed by the participants of Twitthab. The battle for reclaiming LJC’s Internet connection is part of the war fought by the entire blogosphere. Photo: Raquel Perez

In any event, LJC’s return helps weaken the wall of silence. According to Roberto, the bloggers were deprived of their Internet connection because “of our opinions about Cuban reality”. Ironically, now they are being asked to “continue doing what you were doing before.”

I ran into him at a gathering of Twitter users (2) and he assured me that “we’re back, pitching in ideas to the debate about Cuban society (…) saying what we really think (…) the day we are not able to say what we think will be the day we stop blogging.”

Roberto and Harold were given a warm welcome by the cybernauts who had convened for Twitthab. In a way, many of them feel that the battle to get LJC back on line was part of their own war, that it helped ward off the day when the bells could also toll for them.
—–

(1)    http://capitulocubano.blogspot.it/2013/05/bloqueo-la-joven-cuba-peligrosos.html

(2)    http://www.cubano1erplano.com/2013/05/los-acordes-del-twitthab-20.html

(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original published by BBC Mundo.


3 thoughts on “Internet Censorship in Cuba Backfires

  • May 21, 2013 at 12:34 pm
    Permalink

    Ted Henken, the writer of the excellent blog, La Yuma, interviewed several Cuban bloggers representing the full range of political views, from harshly critical bloggers, firmly supportive revolutionaries (which includes La Joven Cuba) and even the editor of Havana Times, which strives to produce an independent yet supportive editorial tone.

    One of many interesting observations Henken shares,

    “Internet in Cuba today takes place in a context of extreme polarization and suspicion, where incipient Cuban “internauts” find themselves doubly blockaded: by the turbid and anachronistic U.S. em- bargo on the one hand and by the internal state em- bargo over the Internet on the other. Due in part to this more than 50–year-old political stalemate, Cuban political culture is rife with distrust, personal attacks, and defamation of those who think differently. Moreover, … the Cuban government attempts to isolate and alienate different groups of bloggers from one another, mining the emergent field of new infor- mation and communication technologies (NICTs) with the same polarizing propaganda that it employs in the traditional media: “In a state of siege, dissi- dence is betrayal”; “Within the revolution, every- thing; against it, nothing”; “If you are independent, you must be a dissident”; and “If you are not a revo- lutionary, you must be a mercenary”.”

    Following Henken’s last visit to Cuba during which he interviewed these bloggers, he has detained and interrogated by agents of Cuban state security. The ultimate reason for this harassment was, as Henken suspects:

    “(my) effort at “building bridges” and speak respectfully with bloggers on all sides is what most provoked the Cuban authorities, who derive much of their power from keeping people frightened, uninformed, and thus isolated from one another.”

    http://www.ascecuba.org/publications/proceedings/volume21/pdfs/henken.pdf

    It is in that context that the harassment of La Joven Cuba is to be seen. Was it a message to these “proudly revolutionary” bloggers, who by their own admission are deeply supportive of the Cuban revolution and their government officials, that they need to be careful who they talk to? Loyal criticism is one thing, and might even be tolerated, but building bridges to those who present alternative points of view is a red line.

  • May 17, 2013 at 4:17 pm
    Permalink

    both

  • May 17, 2013 at 1:57 pm
    Permalink

    Don’t know what ticks me off more. The Castro government’s denial of the rights of Cubans to freely impart information and opinions across the globe, or the US government’s ham-fisted and counter-productive efforts to undermine those Cubans who are trying to do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *