The audience maintains a restless silence: it’s after six in the evening, night will fall in a few minutes. They’ve been waiting since five o’clock, waiting for the meeting’s hosts with discipline.
The audience is hungry, they have headaches, they have family worries they can’t get out of their minds, even though the place is air-conditioned — as is proper for those of their rank with the State — and the spacious lounge evokes comfort and relaxation.
When the door opens and the delegation makes its grand entrance, everyone stands up, as is proper before uniformed military. Also proper, is the fact that the highest political authorities in the province have come to speak to them.
When the door opens and the delegation made its grand entrance, all stand, as it should be against uniformed military. As should be, too, face the highest political authorities in the province.
Their hosts are smiling, coming in. Taking their time. The one assigned to show the PowerPoint takes some CDs from his bag and some documents to distribute. The audience — journalists from every media of the press and every generation — don’t dare to show their impatience, so they pretend to be interested.
This time, the meeting at the Provincial Party headquarters has a unique goal. It is not the usual screening of sterile programs, nor information about campaigns about to start. The only agenda item is called “Operation Cyber-Mambi*,” and its focus is notably innovative: How to become a blogger. An institutional blogger.
One of the participants would tell me later:
“You should have seen their faces, Ernesto. You could have filmed it like a circus. They summon us after work, and we were all desperate for the little computer class to end so we could get out of there.”
The meeting was scheduled with military precision: “Operation Cyber-Mambí” should begin simultaneously in selected provinces nationwide.
What did this Operation consist of?
“It’s a strategy designed by the Central Committee to combat the blogs of the counterrevolutionaries who are being paid by the enemy to destroy the foundation of our process,” as the Major charged with tactical planning answered the first person who asked him what it was all about.
Read: With this grandiloquent and kitsch definition the Cuban government has opened its desperate struggle against the Alternative Platform blogs. With an elaborate program implemented with military precision — is there any other way? — the establishment of the Island begins its farcical crawl to attack the phenomenon that, without a doubt, was driving them crazy.
The training officials started by asking if everyone knew what a blog was. Heads nodded, quickly. Then, the officials asked, does everyone know what a counterrevolutionary blog is. And now we have the first obstacle in the program: to convince the audience that they can, and what’s more must, be honest and admit they’ve read one. “This would facilitate this work,” they say. But no one seems to want to sacrifice themselves.
Disgusted, the official proceeds to provide the definition from his manual: a whole lot of hot air delivered in well-known slang that culminates with an example that could have saved him the trouble: “Generation Y is a counterrevolutionary blog. Another one is Octavo Cerco. To cite only two.” He asked them to remember those titles, which he would return to later.
“Starting from scratch, he explained everything explainable,” my confidential journalist friend who was there told me. “They brought multimedia and slides of recognized blogs. They distributed documents with a kind of revolutionary blogger ABCs, all printed in color. But the faces were the same. Which no one seemed to care about.”
The Interior Ministry officials, the officials from the Central Committee, the smiling party leaders, all visibly struggled to inject the germ of the electronic battle… not realizing that their army had no blood in its veins. Without seeing the anxious looks (“who’s going to pick my daughter up from school?”… “how long will it take to get home”… “where am I going to get the money to pay off my debt?”), without suspecting, perhaps, the illusionist spectacle dragging at that ideological meeting.
Everyone summoned had received the information unofficially days earlier, but now they were hearing it from the horse’s mouth:
“Every journalist should create a blog. Starting now, keeping up your blog will be a part of your job.”
Now, no one so much as murmurs, but before, when the news leaked out among the offices and laboratories, reaching the ears of the journalists in their institutions, an expression of annoyance was the whole answer.
Because that was the general sense of it: annoyance and a secret discontent before this new “task” which implied more hours of writing with no benefits in return. No benefits of any kind: no more pay, much less any spiritual benefits.
What should they post on these personal websites? The same fluff as the rest of what they produced: panegyrics to the Revolution, furious demands to free the Cuban Five, occasional tear-jerkers about the benefits of free Health and Education. Back to real life, once a text was published, they would return to the same disgust, the same despair, suffered by every other Cuban, not employed in the media.
“One of the central objectives of “Operation Mambi” is to counteract the impact on cyberspace of some of the blogs written within and outside the island,” my friend told me after the training session.
He said the Central Committee official showed three slides with figures referring to three specific blogs: two inside Cuba and one outside.
The nationals had already been referred to earlier.
“Generation Y, written by the reactionary Yoani Sanchez,” said the official, “and Octavo Cerco, the blog of another young woman in Havana named Claudia Cadelo, the star of what we have come to call ‘cybergossip.’ In the off-shore environment we have Penultimos Dias, a site administered by a shady character known as Ernesto Hernandez Busto.”
They discussed those blogs in great detail, they talked about working with social media and the possibilities of countering the enemy propaganda websites at the international level with “true information.”
The meeting lasted some three hours. The audience, about to collapse from starvation, watched the “data show” as if staring undisturbed into the infinite.
So when, finally, the person assigned to lead “Operation Cyber-Mambi” in this provincial collective said the glorious words, “Does anyone have any questions?”, blood started to once again circulate through veins. Some fifty professionals from the official press had just returned to life after three hours of cruel lethargy.
The truth can be summed up very simply:
Nobody cares about this project. Everyone will comply with the same bovine will with which they write fantasy headlines and sugar-coat the Cuban reality they themselves suffer. And, in passing, with this markedly apathetic attitude, they will doom to failure a dirty-tricks operation assigned the glorious name of “mambi,” a hollow, neglected word.
Why doomed to fail? Well, because once again the all-thinking government, the architects of our ideological frontiers, have forgotten what is required for any successful experiment. The complicated thing is that reality must provide the proof.
They have tried, this time, to set into motion an ideological struggle on the internet, ignorant of what have been the basics pillars of the unquestionable success of the alternative Cuban blogs: spontaneity, the heartrending need to express oneself, a labor that does not need superior orders or supervisors to be set in motion.
No one guides or directs the alternative bloggers. Because however much the enemies of individual freedom protest, they know full well that no one is financing these writers on the web, no one is imposing targets nor conducting periodic assessments.
No one dictates, save the conscience of each blogger: the unstoppable flow of free thought, oxygenated, with no plazas, no parks, expanding across the virtual terrain chosen because there, throats have not atrophied from so much silence.
This arose Cuban Voices. Thus was born — timidly, crawling at first, stumbling later — a platform that I am sure future analysts will put in its proper place when speaking of democratization and the national will to change.
Cuban bloggers, like the great percentage of traditional independent journalists, have been for the most part empiricists of the written word. Some bring training in economics, law, agriculture, or no any professional training at all. But the common factor that describes and defines them is discontent. They are dissatisfied with reality, and they have failed to remain silent before the lies and deception.
So then, how worthy and honorable can a movement be that is born — in keeping with the national traditions of the last half century — from imposition and compulsion? How necessary can it be for the readers of half the world to look at websites that lack all feeling, websites which, like digital zombies, wander around cyberspace without personalities, with no word from the author?
I have already visited them, in my escapades as a fugitive surfer of the prohibited web, and I felt a mixture of amusement and sadness. Amusing because they are mostly caricatures of blogs, with the same triumphalist packaging we find in the paper-based news media or hear on the radio, and that no one, save a few messianic leaders, cares about; sad because they show the extent to which journalists in my country, Cubans like me and like everyone, are still enslaved writers with no opportunities for honesty or truth.
Despite all that, I can’t but feel a satisfaction bordering on vanity when I think of this official attempt to “counteract” the blogger impulse. And I can’t help but feel, also, pride in the name of everyone who ever put a finger on a key with the suicidal intention of showing the truth.
“Operation Cyber-Mambi,” the opening of official blogs, the vigilance of our leaders over cyberspace, confirms in the most undeniable way the triumph of the few — but every day more — Cubans who have chosen the Internet as a means of personal expression.
As an epilogue to this Wonderland reality, and as evidence of the permanent sarcasm towards which a society lacking freedom of expression gravitates, I will return to the unusual request of that friend, another journalist, who from time to time must update a blog about which he feels nothing:
“Throw me a rope, Ernesto, and give me some ideas for what I can write about in my blog. And maybe you can review some of the articles I’m going to publish. Although of course implicit in them will be an attack on your blog… but you can’t refuse me, brother, I have to do it for work.”
And of course, seduced by the charm of the absurd, in solidarity with his fears, I will never say no.
Translator’s note: Mambi is a term used to refer to the soldiers who fought on the side of Cuba in 1895-1898 War of Independence against Spain.
November 12, 201o