Category Archives: Blogs out of Cuba

In Cuba, art is a public good (but the Internet will have to wait)

In addition to triggering the greatest civic hell-raising in Internet history and inspiring numerous nonsensical quips about Latin cuisine and Kate Middleton’s younger sister, the SOPA/PIPA laws have touched a nerve in Cuba’s digital community. Bloggers from a diverse range of political perspectives are interpreting the proposed legislation not merely as a law on piracy, but as a powerful statement about how the US values culture and creativity as part of society.

Voces Cubanas blogger Regina Coyula’s post on SOPA was particularly moving. She wrote of the FBI’s partial shutdown of file locker site MegaUpload, which took place shortly after Wednesday’s Internet blackout, describing the event as follows:

“‘The bad guys,’ those who wield freedom as a paradigm, with allegations of piracy, encroached [upon] the also alleged right of millions of citizens of the global village to download content that they know they should not — or cannot — pay for.”

Note: the freedom-wielding “bad guys” are U.S. officials who plead for reforms in Cuba by offering the (perhaps empty-seeming) promise of the inherent good that democratic values could bring to the island. She continued:

“The issue is extremely complicated for me, a semi-surfer from a semi-connected country. I assume that the technologies have developed faster than the copyright laws and I assume that these illegal downloads don’t affect the artists themselves so much, as it geometrically multiplies the distribution of their work (provided there is no plagiarism and credit is given) as a form of advertising.

It’s true that there is a symbiotic relationship between art and the marketing that puts it in the hands of the consumers. But to see art as a commodity has resulted in the promotion of products of dubious quality at the expense of other values. I don’t consider myself an elitist or an expert; the simple perception of success and popularity reveals very aggressive publicity campaigns. […] At some point, a balance must be achieved between both interests.”

Coyula makes two very important points: first, file-sharing sites provide something akin to a public good—they benefit people who otherwise cannot access or afford their contents in other ways. Second, these are laws that ostensibly favor commercial interests over the cultural commons and the “gift economy” in which art is created, re-created, and circulated. Most Cubans writing on the issue agreed on this point, and reason for this seems clear: in Cuba, culture has been legally enshrined as a public good since the triumph of the revolution.

In 1961, the revolutionary government made a bold, robust commitment to supporting artists and writers and making art accessible for all Cubans. While this wrought bitter controversies over what it meant for artists to join their fellow citizens in the trenches of an ideological war, it also led to the creation of a strong system of support for artists and cultural institutions that remains highly active today. In Cuba, one can attend the national ballet for just a few pesos more than it costs to buy a movie ticket. Access to culture is not a privilege of the upper classes—it’s a right that all Cubans share.

Yet most Cubans are far worse off than any American when it comes to accessing information and media online. There, the Internet remains a battlefield, a contested space where government authorities and the official press denounce the United States’ cyberwar on Cuba, and the boundless universe of culture and knowledge online is scarcely mentioned. Cuban authorities have elected to limit Internet use presumably in order to dampen the effects of political speech and economic activity online—they feel they must control such activity in order to preserve the socialist project.

If things had played out differently last week, and SOPA/PIPA were looking inevitable for us, we would have to get used to the idea of our government that limiting Internet use in order to placate content (music and film) industries. SOPA or not, we are far better off than Cubans when it comes to Internet use. But the question of what motivates our government to limit the Internet is still worth earnest consideration: are we a society that is okay with commercial interests trumping those of public goods? Congress may be, but last week’s uproar suggested that millions of us are not. I hope people are willing to keep sending this message to Congress, because it may take more than an Internet blackout to truly win this one.

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Filed under Art community, Blogs out of Cuba, Intellectual community, Technology in Cuba

It’s hard to bite the hand that feeds you

In my last post, I argued that Cuba’s lack of a real civil society creates a poor groundwork from which social movements could develop on the island. But behind this, and every potential outlet for change to occur, lies the state.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel satisfied by my understanding of how the Cuban state operates and how it shapes Cuban society. Since I began studying Cuba, I’ve had a break through every few months, in which I feel like I’ve made progress, like another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. But I doubt that it will ever be complete. I don’t think I’m alone in this. The people and the state share more common ground in Cuba than they do in almost any other country on earth. Continue reading

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Filed under Blogs out of Cuba, Cuba in Miami, Cuba in Spain

Cuba is not Egypt (and Miami is not Cuba)

In the last few weeks, reports of Egypt’s revolution, ranging from NYT articles to the ecstatic messages of MENA region bloggers on the Global Voices author listserv, have left me amazed and heartened by what has happened in Egypt. But as far as Cuba goes, I (oddly) find myself in agreement with the Miami Herald‘s editorial page: Cuba is no Egypt.

Last week, a number of voices in the blogosphere suggested that if Cubans had access to cell phones and social media platforms, they could follow the example of Egypt and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The Facebook group, “Por un levantamiento popular en Cuba” (In support of a popular uprising in Cuba) appeared with this wave. The group has well over four thousand “likes,” but reading the comments on their wall, you feel a Floridian breeze. Of the fourteen events they have listed, only one is meant to take place in Cuba. Several are in honor of the one-year anniversary of Orlando Zapata Tamayo’s death, which is today.* My sense is that most of the members are in Cuban communities outside of Cuba. They remain hopeful for change—but they seem somewhat out of touch with Cubans on the island, those for whom they supposedly advocate.

This may sound clunky, but I think they are putting the technological cart before the horse of civil society.

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Filed under Blogs out of Cuba, Cuba in Miami, Cuba in Spain, Technology in Cuba

Of cables, computer fairs, and cyber thugs

As I noted briefly last week, Generación Y has been unblocked in Cuba. Voces Cubanas and DesdeCuba, both platform sites where feeds for Gen Y, Octavo Cerco, and many other Cuba-based blogs appear, are also back. Yoani’s description of the moment when she connected to her blog, for the first time in three years, was poignant.

“With just a click I manage to enter the site that, since March of 2008, has not been visible from a public place. I’m so surprised I shout and the camera watching from the ceiling records the fillings in my teeth as I laugh uncontrollably.”

You can almost see the state security official watching her from the other side. Sites may be unblocked, and cable may be laid, but the presence of the people and machines of the state hold steady in the lives of citizens like Yoani. She is probably right to assume that this may not last for long, and not to mistake this for an innocent act of benevolence by the Cuban government. But still we should ask: why were these sites unblocked?

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Gen Y is back

Yoani Sanchez tweeted yesterday that Generación Y, her internationally infamous blog on life in Cuba, is now accessible on the island. Today, she wrote on Generación Y:  “Después de tres años, mi espacio virtual vuelve a ser avistado dentro de Cuba.” [After three years, my virtual space can be seen inside of Cuba.] Reuters reported that Cuban officials who were questioned about this change declined comment. Yoani thinks that it may be related to an upcoming IT conference in Havana. Regardless of the reason, she writes that she considers it a “citizens’ victory over the demons of control.”

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Is Google really the latest threat to freedom of expression in Cuba?

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.

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A quick thought on redaction

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.

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Filed under Blogs out of Cuba, Cuba in Washington