Hunger strikers? What hunger strikers?

Just hours after the demonstrations took place, images of the Damas de Blanco being hauled away by the Cuban police appeared on the digital pages of The Miami Herald, Spain’s El País, and countless blogs of the international Cuban community. But most Cubans on the island still know nothing of these events.

After hunger striker Orlando Zapata’s death, an article entitled, “¿Zapata? ¿Qué Zapata?” [“Zapata? Zapata who?”] appeared in El País, where reporter Mauricio Vicent described the limits of new technologies in Cuba.

Here is my translation of an excerpt from the piece:

It is known that the media in Cuba is controlled by the state, and that Internet access is limited. Whether for lack of information, or general distrust, or the fact that people have other priorities and their lives are very hard, the majority of Cubans know very little or nothing about the dissident movement.

[…]

Whatever the reason, when you ask on the street about Oswaldo Payá, Elizardo Sánchez, Héctor Palacios or any of the dissidents of the old guard, almost no one knows who they are. The same thing happens with blogger Yoani Sánchez, the Damas de Blanco, and the 200 political prisoners who are completing their jail sentences, according to the opposition.[i]

On Generación Y, Yoani Sánchez trumpets the arrival of new technologies and the end of the “half-news” that state news agencies provide. Her accounts of Cubans fervently sending SMS messages and trading flash drives containing the latest blog posts have painted an intriguing portrait of the small, tech-savvy community to which she belongs. But most Cubans do not participate in these underground economies of information and technology, fascinating though they may be. Vicent is probably right to suggest that Cubans may also be too cynical or too busy working to meet their basic needs to pursue other kinds of information—I’m sure this is true. But he fails to note that this is not just any news—it’s dissident news.

Many people have explained to me that Cubans often do not pursue information about dissidents unless they are interested in joining the movement (lest they be mistaken for supporting dissident activity.) I think I can call this a form of self-censorship—it may not be an act of censoring one’s own thoughts, but it is an act of censoring one’s interest in the thoughts of others. And by some accounts, this is a deeply internalized, almost natural process. It is easy to imagine that all Cubans are chomping at the bit for news and information about their own government (and the “outside” world)—after all, this is a problem that could one day be solved. But this form of self-censorship exemplifies a psychological barrier that may keep Cubans from pursuing information, and it is much more difficult to understand than the problem of wanting information and not be able to obtain it. Of course there’s no simple solution to here. But it is something I want to continue thinking about on the blog.

In an upcoming post, I will describe a conversation about self-censorship that I had with blogger Elaine Díaz, a self-described revolutionary and another of Cuba’s most popular independent bloggers.


[i] Original excerpt:

Ya se sabe que los medios de prensa en Cuba están controlados por el Estado y que el acceso a Internet es limitado. Bien por falta de información o por desconfianza, o porque hay otras prioridades y la vida es ya bastante dura, la mayoría de los cubanos sabe poco o nada de disidencia.

[…]

Por la razón que sea, cuando uno pregunta en la calle por Oswaldo Payá, Elizardo Sánchez, Héctor Palacios o cualquiera de los opositores de la vieja guardia, casi nadie los conoce. Igual ocurre con la bloguera Yoani Sánchez, y con las Damas de Blanco y con los 200 presos políticos que cumplen condenas en las cárceles, según datos de la oposición.

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