One of the most important things to understand about Cuban bloggers is that they are among a minority of Cubans who have consistent access to email and the Internet. The International Telecommunication Union puts Cuba’s Internet penetration rate at fourteen percent, but there’s a lot behind this number. Twenty percent of Cubans have an email account, but only three percent have computers in their homes, and most of those computers are not connected to the Internet. Some Cubans access the Internet from their places of work. A few spend a decent chunk of their weekly salaries logging on at hotel Internet cafés. Many check email at the post office. And bloggers estimate that almost none of these privileged few spend their time online reading blogs.
The telephone remains the dominant form of person-to-person communication. News travels by radio, television, and word-of-mouth. There is no Cuban Spanish equivalent for the term “snail mail.”
So whom are these bloggers writing for?
At present, they’re writing for the rest of the world. All of the bloggers I spoke with in Cuba hoped for a future where Cubans on the island could log on and read their posts like their followers in Mexico and the US can. But this may be a long way off yet.
Strange as it may sound, this paradox has probably worked to the benefit of most Cuban bloggers. While Yoani Sánchez has endured sixteen months of constant surveillance, numerous incidents of harassment by government officials, and physical assault, she is the exception. Most of the island’s roughly one hundred bloggers are able to work quietly, chronicling their joys and frustrations, and meticulously managing the political content of their work as they go. It would take a lot for the work of Cuba’s bloggers to go viral on the island, but if this were to happen, the government would have a much bigger problem on its hands than it does right now. And so would bloggers—if more Cubans could actually get online and read these blogs (along with other international media) the government’s force field of control could begin to spasm.
I may be wrong (predictions and assumptions about Cuba’s future have a long history of being proven wrong), but I think the government would react by adopting what has become the global norm for totalitarian governments that feel threatened by independent media: more blogs would be blocked, more bloggers would be under surveillance (or worse), and the bloggers who fall in the grey area between pro- and counterrevolutionary would probably close their sites, pack up their ideas, and fall silent. I don’t know what the future holds for this very small group of dedicated writers and techies on the island, but the events of the last few weeks have made me realize just how unique and perhaps fleeting the circumstances have been for Cuba’s blogosphere over its brief four-year history.