HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 10 — Harold Cardenas and Roberto Gonzalez are two young university professors from Matanzas Province. Together they created La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba), one of the most interesting blogs in Cuba based on the number of visits, the youth who read it and its independent perspective.
A few days ago, taking advantage of their visiting Havana, they asked me for an interview. I decided to offer them something of a swap: I would respond to their questions in exchange for them answering mine. They accepted immediately.
Over coffee in the back of my house, Roberto told me that they started the blog “to show people online a more realistic Cuba, which is identified by what we see daily, beyond the black and white extremes. We wanted to participate in the debate and give our opinions as youth.”
Harold noted, both inside and outside Cuba, that there were “lots of problems, but overcoming them is what gives meaning to what we do. It’s what has reaffirmed us and also what has taught us the most.”
I ask for examples and they told me about “a journalist from a major Latin American media outlet who interviewed us for an article contrasting Yoani Sanchez’s vision with ours, but he was censured by his agency, eliminating everything we said.”
Roberto also pointed out that in Cuba itself “there was much resistance, but with every obstacle that was put in our way, we persevered and succeeded. We didn’t let ourselves get shaken up by the pressure or the questioning. We knew we were doing something correct and good.”
At the end of 2010, an article appeared in La Joven Cuba demanding an explanation from the government for the criminal deaths of dozens of patients at Havana’s psychiatric hospital and an account of the events that led to the dismissal of General Rogelio Acevedo, the head of civil aviation on the island.
“We wrote the piece and no one has responded to tell us that we shouldn’t have written it. Nor are we too worried about it, we don’t have to make concessions to anyone for telling the truth,” said Harold as he finished his second cup of coffee.
He added, “Blogs are now an alternative to the official press,” and he explained that the range of topics that these touch on is much broader (which made me think that these could also be an alternative for my Cuban colleagues trying to evade the censorship of their editors).
Roberto explained that it’s not an easy road. As well as incomprehension, they face very specific problems such as lack of time (everyone helping with La Joven Cuba is working or study) and they have to deal with a very sluggish network and antiquated computers.
To make matters worse, they only have Internet access through the university. “As bloggers we can’t get online. We might be able to as professors and researchers, but we would each have to have a computer and a telephone at home and our accounts would have to be approved by the Governing Board of the university.”
I was going to change the subject but Roberto interrupted me to say, “”Previously Cuba was connected to the Internet only by satellite, so I could understand why it was so slow, but now — for the last six months — we’ve been connected by an underwater cable but the connection is just as bad.”
When I asked them why most of the blogs in Cuba are political, Harold replied, “This demonstrates the need for people here to talk about politics, which is also seen in the large participation by Cubans on these blogs.”
Roberto immediately interjected to explain that if used correctly, “Technology would facilitate the circulation of information, intermediate structures would disappear and the government would receive information directly from people.”
He gave the example of Hugo Chavez, who “has done a good job at managing technology and succeeded at direct communication with the people.” Roberto dreams that one day everyone in Cuba will be connected so they can voice their opinions “in a public place and with total transparency.”
Harold believes the connectivity constraints are in large part due to the “US economic blockade, but there also problems of interpretation on what the Internet is about and how positive this connection is between Cubans.”
He commented, “It’s crazy to deny people the technology” because it will reach Cuba in any case. “What we should ask ourselves is whether we’re preparing for that moment and if we’ve educated the public on how to use it,” he added.
Finally, they explained that their blog is called La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba) because, “We are heirs to the tradition of Mella and Guiteras and their struggles for social rights within Cuban socialism, not the Sovietized model that we were connected to at one point.”
Although people may not agree with some of the articles in La Joven Cuba, we must recognize that it is an essential blog given its youthfulness, its irreverence, the authenticity, its independence of thought and the courage to express it. It’s a sprouting bud of what the country could be.
An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.