10 Years: A Guy Named Ivan Writes from Havana

July 2009. Iván writing on the first laptop he had, in the room of his daughter, who was then six years old.

Iván García, January 20, 2020 — Three years ago I had a smart phone for the first time. It was a gift from Celeste Matos, a journalist in Miami, with whom I worked for a time. It was robbed, and she offered me another, which was blocked because I couldn’t remember my account ID.

In January 2009, when I began this adventure of opening the blog Desde La Habana (From Havana), I didn’t have a laptop. I used to type on a portable Olivetti Lettera that my mother left me before going into exile in Switzerland in the autumn of 2003.

The Black Spring, as you know, was a repressive wave ordered by Fidel Castro, that imprisoned 75 dissidents, among them 27 independent journalists. It was a tremendous blow to uncensored journalism, and there was a logical retreat.

My friend Luis Cino, an unsurpassed chronicler, started working as a custodian in a dairy. In order to support my daughter, born February 3, 2003, I had to sell pizzas, snacks and fruit juice from home.

A Swiss reporter used to visit Havana in the month of December and we would meet in the home of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sánchez. I heard Yoani talking about the blogosphere for the first time.

Later I read a very interesting article in Newsweek in Spanish about the importance of personal blogs in the media. This was in 2007. Cino and Juan González Febles had founded Primavera Digital (Digital Spring), an independent site considered illegal by the Regime, and they invited me to collaborate.

In April 2007, Yoani opened her blog, Generación Y (Generation Y*). Her posts were short, well-edited and irreverent. The Sánchez-Escobar couple are like a push-button box: you press a button and out comes an idea. And it occurred to them to open a Blogger Academy in their apartment, on the 14th floor of a Soviet-style building in the suburbs of Nuevo Vedado.

It was then that Yoani invited me to become part of her initiative to set up a platform of bloggers living in Cuba. You are your own publisher, censor and editor. You can write whatever you want. You’re on your own. One month before, I had done an interview with Yoani, which, because of its length, was divided into two parts.

I posted the first part, Conversation with Yoani, on the blog Penúltimas Días (Penultimate Days) on February 9; and the second, Yoani apunta con pistola (Yoani Aims a Gun) on El Blog de Tania Quintero (The Blog of Tania Quintero). It took me a lot of work to convert this long conversation into an interview, since the keyboard on my laptop was in German and didn’t have Spanish accent marks.

Finally, the blog Voces Cubanas (Cuban Voices) created a platform with the name of a musical group containing some 30 bloggers who were keen to win over the world. The idea appealed to me, but I preferred a blog that was more tilted toward journalism. So I invited the independent journalist, Luis Cini, and the lawyer, Laritza Diversent, to write a column.

Each one had their own plan, but I proposed to Laritza that she dissect the convoluted Cuban laws that not even the Government itself complied with. And I, like Cino, wrote posts about the Cuba that the Regime wanted to hide. Also, I tried to monetize the blog to earn some money for the three of us.

As for the Blogger Academy, there I learned everything I know about technology tools. Yoani had insisted that we open our own Twitter accounts. In one class she showed us an iPhone, the first I’d ever seen.

A little later, colleagues in the U.S. gave us modern laptops with Spanish keyboards and decent cell phones. In October 2009, Manuel Aguilera, a world-class journalist, discovered me from the blog Desde La Habana. He hired me for the American edition of El Mundo that Aguilera directed, where I wrote until 2012. In 2013 I began to publish in Diario Las Américas. This was something positive from the journalistic and monetary point of view. The pay for my collaborations allowed me to support my family without many hassles.

But the exclusivity of the blog was lost. The whirlwind of work prevented me and prevents me from writing original posts. Although my texts are reproduced and published on Diario Las Américas and other sites, I haven’t been able to return to writing specific texts for the Desde La Habana blog and El Blog de Iván García y sus amigos. Now I have more time. My daughter is about to enter university, and at present I’m writing only for Diario Las Américas.

For the 10th anniversary of the blog, I promise readers to return to exclusive stories. At least once a month. Up to now I’ve published in private, official, or commercial media. Desde La Habana has been like one of my children. It has opened doors and allowed me to know wonderful people, like Carlos Moreira from Portugal, who has been our administrator for 10 years, as well as innumerable readers who have contacted me through the blog and whom I later met in Cuba.

After a decade, the time to renew oneself has arrived. We will try to do things differently, to incorporate new writers, include videos. I will be telling you along the way what I have in mind.

*Translator’s note: The name refers to the generation born in Cuba during the Cold War whose parents were inspired by Russian names beginning with the letter “Y”.

Translated by Regina Anavy