Hollywood actors can do almost anything—unless they are short on cash. A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal featured an essay by the actress Julia Stiles, on her 2009 trip to Cuba. She traveled to the island with a humanitarian aid group, then spent some time doing touristy things in Havana, and suddenly found herself broke and (gasp) unable to use her credit card.
Here’s the lede: “With three days left to go in my trip, I was walking around Havana flat broke.” This could be the beginning of a good story. But what follows is a generic, unremarkable account of a visit to Cuba by a person who clearly didn’t know much about the place before she arrived. The experience of being (briefly) broke in Havana caused her to think hard about poverty, communism, Cuba’s shabby telecommunications infrastructure, and the goodness of humanity. In the end, she borrowed some money from her sister and got herself back to the US without any trouble. Oh, and while she was there, she got nominated for a Golden Globe.
President Obama signed an executive order on January 14 that will ease embargo restrictions on travel to Cuba for academic, religious, journalistic, and cultural purposes. Policies on charter flights from the US to Cuba will also be loosened, as will regulations on remittances. The new policy will allow all US residents (not just those with family on in Cuba) to send remittances to Cubans on the island, provided that they are not senior government officials, or senior members of Cuba’s communist party.
After Google took down Cubadebate’s YouTube channel on Wednesday, the web was alive with protest. By Friday afternoon, nearly 2,000 people had joined the Facebook group “No mas censura en Youtube, restablezcan a Cubadebate,” [No more censorship by YouTube, reactivate Cubadebate] and by this morning, Facebook had shut down the group. This afternoon a new group, “Apoyo al grupo ‘No mas censura en Youtube, restablezcan a Cubadebate‘” [Support for the group 'No more censorship by YouTube, reactivate Cubadebate] was up and accumulating members rapidly.* Twitter was bustling with cries of “libertad de prensa” and “viva la revolución”–two expressions that don’t often appear side by side. Of course, I am against the decision to take down the entire channel. But I can’t ignore the blunt irony of a Cuban, state-run news site accusing anyone, even Google, of censorship.
On Wednesday of this week, Google (operator of YouTube) took down the channel of Cubadebate, one of the larger state-run news sites on the island. The take-down took place because of a copyright infraction on a video of suspected terrorist and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles in Miami, taken shortly before he went on trial this week in a federal court in El Paso, Texas. What’s not clear is why Google decided to take down the entire channel, rather than just the video in question. To my eye, it looks like the video’s owner (likely very anti-Castro) saw this as an opportunity to swipe at the state’s already meager online presence. To the best of my knowledge (please correct me if I’m wrong!), this is the first time that YT has taken down any video or channel posted by Cubans on the island. Read my piece on the takedown at Global Voices.
In reviewing cables sent from USINT in Havana to Washington, I was surprised to see that that WikiLeaks redacted Yoani Sánchez’s name from all of the cables in which she was mentioned. I was surprised because, in spite of this effort, her identity was quite apparent. The obvious giveaway was the mention of Sánchez being included on TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2008. But even the smaller things seemed problematic. For all those who follow Cuba closely, but are not physically on the island, the terms “Cuban blogger” and “Yoani Sánchez” are nearly synonymous. It would be almost impossible to truly anonymize a person like Sánchez in this context.