The Revolution Hasn’t Been Well Done But It’s Been Excellently Edited / Eliecer Avila

HAVANA, Cuba, November www.cubanet.org- Today no one doubts that much of the knowledge (still rare) that people in Cuba have about the people and projects of civil society, opposed to the political system, has been possible thanks to the dissemination of alternative materials in all formats, but especially in video. Thousands of discs, flash memories and other digital media have circulated from hand to hand in recent years, spontaneously creating the largest truly citizen network covering every corner of the island.

That’s why today we proudly present to Claudio, someone who has long been in the shadows, working tirelessly in the editing of the majority of the programs such as Estado de SATS, Citizens’ Reasons and many other initiatives.

Until yesterday Claudio had to be divided into little pieces, often using the wee hours of the morning to dedicate to us some time for each one us who lined up looking for his help to conceive, film and edit some material. This noble and intelligent young man deserves a gold medal for patiently enduring the demands of ao many friends who tried to be “Directors” of videos.

But he does not want to be irreplaceable, on the contrary, he is promoting a project that will give voice to more people and raise the quality of what is generated within the heart of a society that takes on, from the independent side, the tasks that State media should be developing to sustain us and instead deceive us.

His project is to provide digital editing workshops in several provinces. So far 11 students have passed the course in Havana and Santa Clara; in a few days four more will be ready.

“I’m doing nothing more than making a small contribution to democratize access to audiovisual media, technologically empowering citizens to develop their civic activism or sometimes, simply, so they can make a living without depending on the State, which always asks for something in return …  says the Prof.

In my experience, I can say that in learning to edit I have learned to observe, to decipher and therefore to understand the intentionality of what we Cubans are shown daily and what I see now on Telesur, the Venezuelan TV station that is now broadcast in Cuba.

In the case of Cuba, I can now affirm that the Revolution has not been well done, but it has been excellently edited.

Eliecer Avila, Leocuba001@gmail.com

Cubanet, 13 November 2013

Eliezer Avila Commits to a Green Party / Lilianne Ruiz

3-300x212Cubanet interviewed Eliezer Avila, the computer scientist who once faced Ricardo Alarcon, former president of the National Assembly. He moved to the capital in order to participate more directly in the changes in civil society.

What have you been doing in your public life lately?

Since I arrived in Europe I have focused on my personal life. One of my biggest frustrations was that I’ve always lived nearly 500 miles from the capital (in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas). I had to take a bus or a train and travel sometimes for days in order to participate in public life, which is not only all that is written which overseas readers may read, but what happens in debates within of Cuba, within the intelligentsia who, with or without criticism, is what touches us.

We must mention the debates of the journals Temas [Themes], Espacio Laical [Lay Space], a series of good debates, in which I want to participate. Then, making an effort to be able to insert myself in a more coherent and consistent way in public life, I have had to spend the last two months to stabilize my life in the city of Havana.

From your previous social work we perceived you as a human rights activist and then a freelance journalist. But you have defined yourself as a politician.  So: What political leaning do you identify with? Socialism, Social Democracy, Liberalism?

Bayley interviews Eliecer
Bayley interviews Eliecer

I said in an interview with Bayly (in Miami) recently, that I define myself as a rational politician, perhaps a mix of “liberal center.” The truth is that I have infinite belief in individual freedom as the sole driving force of initiative, progress, the maximum effort to get ahead, and freedom. Now, I also believe in social responsibility, and I believe in a government that offers opportunities.

In European politics,  as far as I could see, especially in the Nordic countries, there is a strong tendency for political rationality. That is, the issue we are talking about is the specific issue of what we should do. We don’t have to look through black or white glasses. We are going to study the issue in its totality and make a decision that at times could be a little to the left and at times a little to the right. The truth is it’s looking for the better good. I lean that way.

There are a ton of projects there that don’t consider economics, but the tendency of the left says that we have to do them because they sustain a group of services, of subsidies, because this is a social policy of interest to the left. But, well, it’s an economic disaster, that ends up undoing the policy itself because of the lack of resources to sustain what remains on the large screening, that can’t even sustain itself, and then, which way do I lean? For a balance between what is efficient and what is necessary.

Although you have defined yourself as a politician, Somos + [We Are More] is not a party but a movement. Has it been founded yet?

We are at the stage of conceptualization. I’m trying to gather a nucleus of people, especially young people; university students, workers. I’m looking for young people who aspire to have a future in Cuba. We can design a proposal addressing different subjects, in accordance with our dreams for a future for everyone in the country, including those who today make up a part of any  political tendency.

The new acquisition of Somos + is a specialist in biology, who is designing the policy proposals in the environmental field, which in Cuban is disarmed. We want to have economists, sociologists, workers. That is, we want to have a directing nucleus of the Movement as diverse and comprehensive as possible. And we are engaged in this effort. We have not yet officially launched the Movement.

You also said that the Movement could accept some communists as members. What, then, is is precisely the purpose of Somos +?

P8230031-300x225The point of departure of our Movement should be, above all, the most common demands of the largest possible number of Cubans. I know Communists who are Democrats. So, we are associating with tendency to the left, a hegemonic opinion, dictatorial, that doesn’t have to be that way. In Spain there are communists, in France, in Canada, the United States is full of communists who are democrats. Because they respects the rights of everyone else who are not communists to compete politically, fair and square, and to create a social balance, based on what we all think. Then, you can have whatever political position you have and at the same time be a democrat. What I will always defend is that our Movement is democracy. There’s no room for doubt about that. We will not accept people who are not democrats, that’s it. But for me, I don’t think it’s necessary to label people and ask them what color they are for them to be, in one way or another, a part of the Movement…

Have you been inspired by any movement within or outside Cuba to conceive the idea of the Somos+ Movement?

I would say I’ve had very broad influences. I have had excellent conversations with leaders of movements in Cuba. For example, José Daniel Ferrer, a person I admire and respect very much. Other people who are not actually a political movement, but they do have some very interesting ideas for the future of Cuba , such as Antonio Rodiles, Yoani Sanchez, Dagoberto Valdés and well, a long list… They have nurtured me in all this, but also the trip to Europe, especially to northern Europe, where I think they are the most balanced politics in the world… The German Green Party really left me very inspired… I like doing politics that way. A relaxed politics, no angry grand passions that try to move the world, a conversational politics. I saw in the German Parliament the most heated political discussions, and then everyone has a glass of wine, hugs each other, shakes hands.

This to me seems to be the best example I’ve seen of what we have on a small island. We don’t have to have these great conflicts that some people want to encourage until they’re unsalvageable. We have the same language, the same idiosyncrasies, we have the same aspirations. What do we want? A state of decent comfort, of dignity, a freedom of information that allows us to be believe we have entered the world, and we are not in a small cave in the Caribbean and that we are not part of the development.

We want to be respected for our work, we want to be paid, and according to this we can have the life we deserve.

Why are you leading Somos + instead of joining one of the already established movements within the opposition?

It has always seemed necessary to me for a new seed to be born, a new flower, that is not conditioned, permeated by a group of things that can be positive or negative but that have been longstanding.

It is good to assume responsibility for success if we achieve it, but also bear the weight of failure if it comes to that. It is very interesting to travel this whole road, we have the right, as a new generation, to make mistakes, to forge our way, to be neither better nor worse than those who started earlier and whose work I respect.

Now I want to ask questions to get an idea of your profile: What books do you read, what music do you like, what movies do you remember?

eliecerprimerplano_651.jpg-300x152I like old music, from the ‘70s and ‘80s, in English and in Spanish. As I am a computer scientist I’m passionate about programming sometimes whole nights, whole weeks, without going to bed, listening to a lot of hard rock, “System of a Down,” “Nightwish.” Movies: I very much like historic films, and adventures. I like all the movies about World War II, including the reflections of those who make you questions yourself, to think about the essence of humanity itself, above all, this capacity to create hatred. I really like “Life is Beautiful.” At the same time I very much like movies that exalt human valor. In books, as in movies, and in music, I like true stories. I was reading “The Rage and the Pride” by Oriana Fallaci. I finished reading the novels of Padura. I like Cuban writers who defined an era, with a writing that was very brave for its time, because it was ahead of many things that happened then.

How do you intend to add more people to Somos +, taking into account the fear that people have of reprisals from the government with its repressive apparatus?

First, I don’t think I should feel badly that no one has beaten me, I haven’t been in jail. Then, I think it is normal that it happens, that many people tell me, “I don’t want to sign up, I don’t want anything to happen to me.” You have to show these people that they are standing on safe ground. A ground in which I have confidence and which anyone can also rely on because there is nothing hidden. Political transparency can, in every sense, be a weapon that will help us to add many people.

The underground Cuban opposition has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the greatest fears that I have is that once we engage in politics in a democracy, too many people were accustomed to hiding.

This recent event with the musician Roberto Carcasses asking for changes at the concert of September 12, do you think it’s a sign of new times ?

I think so, recently I was talking to my wife. There are many people who are willing to assume some measure of responsibility for what touches them, according to their place in society, and I mean artists, intellectuals, many people who have responsibilities within the media …

People who travel, and Robertico Carcassés is one of them, they realize that in the whole world today a new wave is happening, they sometimes say, “Well good, the Arab countries are being shaken up.” I think the whole world is being shaken up…. These people who travel, who leave, they are seeing everything that is happening, when they get to Cuba it’s like traveling back in time 54 years… Sometimes there are situations like that of Robertico Carcasses, which I think it was mostly an awakening of consciousness that marks a before and after. It marks a precedent, as did what happened at the University of Information Sciences (UCI) as well.

With that speech I had the opportunity to make … It raised the bar a little of what would be done and what could be criticized, and after there was a trend in the newspaper Granma, in the News, of creating spaces where people began to discuss a set of issues . Well, I think it is very healthy and very necessary for a country to have things happen like with Robertico Carcassés … Far from being the exception, it should be the rule.

It’s said that the reforms within Raul Castro’s government are a fraudulent change, and that one of their tactics is the replace the real opposition, organic within the society, with what the spokespeople themselves have called a “loyal opposition.” If you agree with this opinion, what do you think of this phenomenon?

Today what we have in this second stage, to give it a name, in the government of Raul Castro, is a setback, including a discourse that already seems to come from the past. We have seen once again the pioneers reciting with their neck veins bulging, almost in the style of the “open platform.” We have reading in the newspaper again these discourses that label things “Revolutionary” and “truly Revolutionary,”or that abuse the word Revolutionary.

Yes, but when I gave the example of what they call loyal opposition, I was thinking of places like the official blogosphere, where there is a certain amount of criticism, but it is fabricated by the government to create an impression of openness…

I also include that in what I was saying. In any of those spaces even La Joven Cuba could enter, but the result is that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can not fool All of the people forever. These spaces were opened and people began to feel a catharsis there. It turns out that criticism is only the first link in a chain of a process that should end with political decisions. Then, something very interesting has happened in Cuba, it is that we have already talked too much. We bring too many years of criticizing.

Lilianne Ruiz, From Cubanet

4 October 2013

Eliecer Avila Defends His Right To Be Politically Active / Lilianne Ruiz

Moderator Gustavo Pérez (left), Eliecer Ávila (center). Photo by Lilianne Ruiz.

HAVANA, Cuba, September 6, 2013, Lilianne Ruiz / www.cubanet.org. – Recently, the Patmos Forum held its third conference. This time the topic of discussion was The Quality of Life, in connection with politics.

The meeting was attended by about 30 people, gathered in the courtyard at the home of independent journalist Yoel Espinosa Medrano, located in the center of a Santa Clara favela (squatter settlement), a few meters from the most important political plaza of the province.

The moderator was Gustavo Pérez Silverio, the historian and researcher on racial matters, who maintains a working connection with the regime.

The special guest was Eliezer Ávila, who is slowly ceasing to be identified only as the young University of Information Science student who got into trouble with the former President of the National Assembly, and is becoming known as a political leader who could have some role in the future of the island.

Ávila began his talk by defining himself as “a Cuban citizen who wants to exercise his right to engage in politics in Cuba.”

The lack of civic culture was addressed as the key to the whole question, recognizing that in the lack of civic responsibility lies the problem of freedom for Cubans. “A citizen is a person who has power, not someone who has to sacrifice themselves for a project in which they are not involved in the decision-making process, “said Avila.

After his speech of over an hour, the floor was opened to audience questions. Librado Linares, the former political prisoner from the Cause of 75 (from the Black Spring of 2003), began by recognizing the invited guest as a man with political talent, motivation, and strength. But he said he was unable to discern in Avila’s “We Are More” movement a concrete strategy for enlisting citizens, overcome by terror and apathy, or for dealing with the pattern of repression by the political police against the Movement.

The We Are More Political Movement would bring together people of different political persuasions, united by the common interest of presenting concrete demands to the Castro government. It would not be limited to Cubans living on the island, but would also welcome Cubans from the diaspora.

“This is a project that I want to build with the views of as many people as possible, because I do not want the people to serve one point of view, but for the point of view to serve the people,” he said.

The bloggers from La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba), labeled by the regime as the “loyal opposition,” had been invited to the Patmos meeting.

Regarding the absence of La Joven Cuba bloggers, Ávila told Cubanet:

“I don’t believe that any political distance is healthy. I had hoped this dialogue would occur, but at the last minute I was told that they had no interest in participating and invited me to dialogue on their blog. It is ridiculous for one Cuban to invite another to a discussion on the Internet, knowing that we don’t have that possibility.”

The Patmos Forum, created in February 2013 by a group of activists led by Baptist pastor Mario Félix Lleonart, was conceived as a space for the discussion of various topics in which different schools of thought are represented.

Previous events were devoted to the Origin of Life and the Right to Life, consecutively.

On this occasion, Lleonart announced the adoption and adaptation by “Patmos” of the Manual of Political Advocacy of the organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, with the intention of providing workshops that equip Cuban believers with the power to influence the country’s politics, and end the myth that Christians are alienated from partisan politics that affect their quality of life and respect for human rights.

By Lilianne Ruiz, From Cubanet

Translated by Tomás A.

6 September 2013

Response to Ricardo Alarcon / Eliecer Avila

Eliécer Ávila (third from left) with friends during his stay in Sweden.

This morning I was awakened by a call from a friend to tell me that finally señor Ricardo Alarcón had uttered words referring to our encounter*. I immediately started to make arrangements to see where I could download this post, but nothing worked. It was already around 11:00 and curiosity made me make a sad decision: to spend the equivalent of several yards of plaster for my house on an Internet card at the Hotel Nacional.

Señor Alarcón:

I want to thank you, first, for directing yourself to me respectfully. It is time for someone to reciprocate this conduct.

I am compelled, however, to clarify some questions.

First: At the end of that encounter, I left by another door, almost in the arms of many of my compañeros, who invited me to eat pizza to celebrate, and to thank me for having represented them. You did not converse with me, I never saw you again.

Later, they tried to destroy me in many ways and if it weren’t for the vote and opinions of my compañeros, I never would have graduated. Among the reprisals they also denied me the possibility of living and working in Havana. Angry and upset about that, I went to talk to you at the National Assembly of People’s Power. Your staff did not allow me to see you.

Prof: I am amazed and surprised to hear you say that you were censored and that I had the advantage in the argument. I spent more than two years without any chance to talk, the Cuban media has never allowed me to express myself, with the exception of the material on Cubadebate when I thought it would be alright, and they needed me to deny what later clearly would be true.

You were the president of the Parliament. Anyone in the world holding a job like that could call the national or international press and make whatever declarations they wanted. In a second, your words would have traveled the globe. Who would not allow it? I’m glad to know that it wasn’t me.

On the other hand, I must say that I owe my travels to myself and, in any case, to the decent working Cubans who invited me, one after another, to visit with their families in different latitudes.

One of them, who offered me the main invitation, and with whose wife and children I spent the majority of my time, was expelled like a dog from here, his own country, and even his little one-year-old girl, just for visiting me in my little native village and spending time with my family. Nobody told you about that?

On another note, everyone who wants to, inside and outside of Cuba, has already seen the complete video of the event. Not only your words and mine, but also those of the other kids who participated. By the way, one of them, another guajiro from Baracoa, has experienced almost the same as me, including jail cells, and now he has created an organization to also oppose the management of this Government.

Returning to the video, according to what thousands of people have told me from those days, seeing a fragment or seeing the whole thing leaves the same impression…

I take advantage of these lines to give you a message from several Cubans with black skin who live in New York. They took me for a walk along Fifth Avenue to show me**; not only were they not expelled, but many of the owners of those stores are black or immigrants of the most dissimilar ethnicities and colors… The message of these Cubans was, “Please tell this gentleman not to offend us and to stop confusing Cuban youth.” (I have it in writing.)

The issue of my traveling to Sweden and not to Bolivia*** is really annoying and demonstrates the low level of whomever raises it. It’s obvious that I can’t go to an airport and travel wherever I want. I wish! When someone in Bolivia invites me and pays my fare, I’ll go with pleasure.

Look, I am going to be honest, I don’t like it very much when every step I take someone on the street says: “Kid, are you the boy with Alarcón?”

Outside of Cuba, every time a journalist would let me I said, “Could you do me the favor and not ask me the same questions about Alarcón?” I always feel more comfortable talking about what I think we need to do to have the country we desire. I have been the Cuban who has least offered an opinion about you, because believe it or not, I don’t like to take advantage of the mistakes of others, but to advance on my own merits.

I also see that you like souvenirs. If I’d had your home address, or your phone number, or your email or something… I surely would have sent as a gift one of the excellent books they gave me during my journey. Oh wait, sorry, I remember now: they took them from me at the airport… I don’t know who ordered them to take them from me. Would it have been the same if he’d talked to you? If you like, we can go together to claim them, who knows if they’ll listen to us…

But hey, here’s my telephone number so you can call me whenever you like and without any press interest we could have coffee and converse at length in an atmosphere of decency, culture and respect…

Eliécer Ávila Cicilia

52362995

leocuba001@gmail.com

Translator’s notes:
*The video of Eliecer Avila’s encounter with Ricardo Alarcon, which came to light in 2008, is available with English subtitles here.
**In the videotaped exchange with Eliecer Avila, Ricardo Alarcon says [starts at minute 30] that when he and his family lived in NYC, where he was serving as Cuba’s representative to the United Nations: “How many times [on 5th Avenue] did they throw us out of a store? Because we had a Latin accent or by our hair color they knew we weren’t Anglos, they didn’t want us in that store. Watching, ’get out’, how many times?”
*** In the exchange with Alarcon, Eliecer asks why Cubans can’t travel freely and says he would like to go to Bolivia to see where Che Guevara died.  In his current post about the exchange, Alarcon points out that when Eliecer got the chance to travel he went to Sweden, not to Bolivia.

17 July 2013

Universal / Yoani Sanchez

sif2013Someone sitting at the table behind spoke in French, while in chairs at the side two Brazilians exchanged ideas. Two steps further on some activists from Belarus were talking with some Spaniards who had also come to the Stockholm Internet Forum. An event that began on May 21 in the Swedish capital bringing together people interested in digital tools, social networks and cyberspace. A real Tower of Babel where we communicate in the lengua franca of technology. The global and virtual village is now contained in an old factory on the edge of the sea. And in the midst of this back and forth of analysis and anecdotes, are six Cubans, also willing to contribute their labor as cyber activists.

This is without a doubt the most enjoyable stage of my long journey and not because other places haven’t been filled with beautiful impressions and lots of hugs, but because here I have met up with several colleagues from the Island. Some of the people who, in our country have grabbed hold of new technologies to narrate and to try to change our reality, today are gathered here. The young attorney Laritza Diversent, the director of Estado de SATS, Antonio Rodiles, the keen blogger Miriam Celaya, the information engineer Eliecer Avila, and joining us for one day as well, the independent reporter Roberto Guerra. Here in Stockholm it has felt rather like Cuba, though certainly not because of the weather.

The Internet Forum has allowed us to feel like citizens of the world, to share experiences with those who live in different situations but, in essence, surprisingly similar ones. It’s enough to chat with another attendee for a little while, or to listen to a talk, to realize that in every word spoken here is the eternal human quest for knowledge, information… freedom. Expressed on this occasion through circuits, screens and kilobytes. This meeting has left us with the sensation that we are universal and that technologies have made us into people capable of transcending our geography and our time.

like_webb23 May 2013

Operation Truth – Video / Eliecer Avila and Yoani Sanchez

Operation Truth Video & Transcript

Site manager: We decided not to subtitle the video itself, given its length and poor sound quality, so a transcript is provided below and can be downloaded here.  The video of Eliecer’s encounter with Ricardo Alarcon is available subtitled in English here.

Yoani Sánchez: It’s a pleasure to be with you and share an interview with Eliécer Ávila. Eliécer is an Information Scientist, but in recent years has been best known for his political and social action in Cuba. He is also the producer of the alternative television program “One More Cuban” and in the year 2008, for those who remember it, in the Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas (UCI) (Information Sciences University).  Eliécer had a question and answer session with Ricardo Alarcón, President of the National Assembly.

(Excerpt of video between Eliecer and Ricardo Alarcon)

Eliécer Ávila: OK, let me introduce myself, I am Eliécer Ávila, Faculty No. 2, leader of the “Technological and Political Surveillance” Project, which is one of the specialties of Operation Truth). What we are looking at here is the constant monitoring of the internet and our mission of reporting and fighting in this area.

Yoani Sánchez: What is and what has been Operation Truth?

Eliécer Ávila: Operation Truth is a project that stems from an “activity” of the UJC (Young Communist League). An “activity” (for non-Cubans here) is a meeting of the key militants and UJC teams of all the UCI brigades, which they hold periodically, about once or twice a year as I recall, in the Palace of Conventions.

The Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, was invited to one of these activities and, among other things, he explained that currently they were pursuing another campaign of defamation and that kind of thing, and then a student … (after the announcement Prieto played the university card, to use the students to express the Revolution’s opinion on the theme they were discussing. … a student proposed creating a project organized in the UCI,  which was the university most technically able to do it, to send out to the world the truth about Cuba, the truth put forward by the government about Cuba. Also the context of the Five Heroes. The second important objective of the Operation Truth Project was to tell the world about the Cuban vision regarding the Five Heroes.

Roughly in what year was the Operation Truth started?

I think it was 2007-2008

It was exactly in that period, in early 2008, if I’m not mistaken, when the conversation occurred between Ricardo Alarcón and a group of students of the UCI, and you in particular, pretty much in the same time period.

I think the Project had been going some months because it was then fairly well developed and they had gained a lot of experience. There was already a signed document of the Project at that time. It had been in operation for some time. continue reading

And you were running the Project?

No, I was the principal in charge of the Project. I was responsible for a part of the Project, which was very well structured. The Project had about 7 or 9, you could probably call them divisions or sections each of which had to carry out certain functions; mine was technological surveillance, which consisted of, as I explained to you at that Alarcon meeting, knowing at every moment all the information to do with Cuba, with the government, with Fidel, or the main leaders, about what they were up to instantly anywhere. It was practically a 24-hour monitoring.

Only monitoring or also acting on that information?

The Project functioned as an integrated whole. We detected the information and there was another group who were the analysts, which in effect formed part of the whole, but everybody had their functions. There was a group of analysts. They were students who were orally articulate. They provided a bunch of ideas and they came up with the answer that should be given, each time, to everything written in blogs, in websites, in whatever discussions arose, in order that everything should hang together coherently.

That’s very interesting because we are also talking about a period of time when several critical blogs started to emerge in Cuba with known names or rather, without pseudonyms. People began to put in their name, their face, their ID number in virtual space offering criticism so that at the time when you were participating in Operation Truth I imagine that one of the people that you were supposed to monitor was the one who is interviewing you today – correct?

I have already admitted it was you, you were one of the principal people we always had to keep up-to-date on what you were up to, but there was an interesting detail; it was not about reading, interpreting and analyzing what you wrote. It was to do with you as a person, who had all the names given to you (a caricature image typing on a computer, with the sign “cybermercenary”, and with a dollar sign on your head) and so we had to fight you as an entity. It’s important to understand, as I told you, that our role centered on always squeezing the person and in doing this I then understood how it is you operate.

It’s a strategy?

Exactly. I came to read you in depth, to analyze what you said when I left the UCI. Nevertheless, your writings passed through my hands.

There was also a fear of contagion …

No one got into contradicting the facts you presented, because if you say “that structure is falling down”, I could say “that construction is being maintained”. It all turned on discrediting you as a person or intellectual expressing opinions.

There were people there who ran out of ideas and when you read (unintelligible) it was always the basic stuff.

How did they form these Operation Truth groups? On what basis were they selected to be a part of the operation? Was there some academic requirement to be a part of the Union of Young Communists?

The Operation Truth project was one more project of the UCI. It ended up as a productive project, and they measured performance against targets, monthly and weekly. It was a production line. What was the output? A political product: how many report they produced, how many blogs they put comments into, how many debates of forums they participated in and opposed opinions being expressed there. That was in essence a kind of production.

I should also explain that the function wasn’t just political. This is closely related to the technical question; because at the same time another part of the same project was focused on creating technologies which could position our own government web pages much better in the international search engines so that, when someone enters a particular combination of words in a search, the government web pages come up and not other sites.

There is a kind of tool which allows you to arrive at this kind of question on the computer.

OK, let’s see if I understand this properly. Operation Truth was a multifaceted group of people who took turns being so-called trolls in the sites, attacking, insulting, diverting the conversation. Others who wrote up more complex replies to the alternative blogs, independent journalists, people who criticized the Cuban government. And, on the other hand, a group which dedicated itself to promoting and positioning the official sites more effectively in the search engines. That’s roughly what I am understanding.

Exactly. It was a technological-ideological combination, serving the same objective. It also proceeded in steps. If somebody entered a blog or a forum and didn’t feel able to oppose, which is what they were trying to do, the opinions there, or the analysis, then they had to go and consult a group of specialists which was closely linked to the project in order that they could put together much more complex and finished responses.

Was there a confidentiality clause in relation to these people? That’s to say, did they have to promise not to reveal …?

This was built in. Those people who formed part of the project, we can assume, were the most prepared and committed ideologically of all the FEU brigades. The analysis was very political in that sense. And in terms of the project’s technology there were very talented students who were the best the University had (unintelligible).

Did you also have to accept at a given moment that confidentiality clause?

Yes, I was strictly forbidden to circulate messages containing the information we were dealing with. There were only accounts authorized by the professors who, in this case were the managers of the project and I could only send my group’s information to the Party professor who dealt with me in this connection, because the professors were also forbidden to share the information.

They functioned as cells, correct?

Exactly.

Levels of confidence?

It was compartmentalized in that sense.

In total, roughly how many people would there be in Operation Truth?

In total the project ended up with about 300 students involved.

Quite a lot! Out of a total enrollment in the UCI of …?

10,000 students. There were students from all over, plus the professors and the attached specialists.

24 hours a day, or on a rota?

Well, I would say that it wasn’t 24 hours every day, but close enough.

I have noticed as someone who has suffered from this avalanche of “soldiers in the web“ as I call it, that, for example, during vacation months, their aggressiveness is considerably lower, as is the intensity of the trolls, of those who attack the forums, of the individuals who write comments to denigrate the blogger or the writer of the website. I have also noticed that at certain hours during the day, after 4 pm, there is a marked decline in the virulence of these computer soldiers.

Indeed, there were different work shifts, which could take on an intense nature if demanded by the situation, from late at night through early morning. We called these shifts “special periods” (unintelligible). It was an important situation in which the entire operation had to be active; for example say: elections in an ALBA country, any political event, like that call by Raúl to all workers, exhorting them to speak their minds. At the moment those events were taking place, it was essential that we expressed ourselves in a detailed way in public comment threads or that we started a comment thread ourselves and created trends (unintelligible).  And so, we were there the entire time.

Did you have unlimited access to all sites or was your access also controlled?

For my group specifically, which was in charge of monitoring, we had a fairly broad and efficient accessibility and did not have the kind of restrictions that the rest of the students did have. Supposedly, we were ideologically armored.

But I imagine that the attacks were not only against sites that had a different ideological stand to that of the government, critics. There are other sites that have suffered a lot, such as “Revolico,” which simply is a classified ads website. Were these kinds of sites on the spectrum of reaction?

Well, on the spectrum of reactions we had sites that somehow were beyond the mental understanding of our shift supervisor who would be in charge of the project. The project was even followed by someone from the Council of State.

Directly?

Directly. We would get visits from the Council of State from time to time. It was also under the direct supervision of someone in the university dean; supervision came from the highest levels. Therefore, if anyone anywhere, including official sites, gave an opinion that was inconsistent with the discourse of the Revolution, well…  of course, always in very elaborated responses, according to who was saying it and what they were saying, each would get their dose and would be given an “answer.”

Did you have any cases where you remember seeing anyone contradicted or somehow “infected” with a critical opinion that they had read somewhere? Anyone who began to have doubts?

All the time. I think we all went through that at a certain point. It particularly happened to me a lot, but the thing is that I was always very rebellious, and I was seen as “a rebel within the system.” We even took the arguments to the classroom many times, but they were seen through the following language: “that could be fine, or more or less fine, or more or less bad, but this is not the context to talk about this issue. It has to be said in the Congress of the Communist Youth Union, in the Congress of the University Students’ Federation, in the Communist Party. There are people who already talk about that stuff therefore, there should not be any ridiculing Cuba on the Internet.”

And do you think that the Eliécer Ávila of January 2008 who stood up before Ricardo Alarcón and asked him that very difficult to answer question had already been influenced in some way by what he had read in the internet in those prohibited rebellious sites?

Yes definitely I was influenced in some way because at the end of the day the internet has a life of its own. The internet is something which when you get to know it it changes you. Without doubt, even though you try to maintain a defined profile, because I should tell you that this project was a most important guarantee for almost everything, could be a mission in Venezuela, or what you need to be successful as a student. I believe many people asked themselves questions but they kept on at their work.

And the resources, I imagine everything you needed.

OK, one of the first projects of UCI in which they modernized their techniques was ours. We had very good technology and if we needed it we could use everything that UCI had to print or whatever we had to do. And, if we had to ask for something from the State Council, we did,

Apart from expressing opinions, and opposing by screaming and with not much argument, did you also hack and mount cyber attacks on sites and portals?

Sometimes, because you know geeks are always addicted to the hacking drug and stuff like that; and therefore it occurs to some of them that we should, in total secret “I suggested it and it was agreed subject to these conditions” create a little group of 3 or 4 persons who knew each other very well and at least begin to study and get deeper into that type of question: how to put a particular site out of action, how to interrupt a service.

Because the logic was that we could do it therefore we should have the capacity to be able to do it. More than anything because we were studying a document put out by the US State Department which talked about cyber warfare, of a special group they had created, and many of us started to believe that we were its opposite number and therefore we took more seriously the idea of carrying out a serious attack.

And what sort of sites were listed for possible attack?

I think sites which could have advance critical  information which they could put out at a given moment which could decide specific matters such as the state of opinion regarding Chavez in Venezuela.

We are not talking here about a personal blog nor a straightforward site, but important services?

We made a decision to try and do something with the News 24 site as a test.

I know it … very critical.

It was one of our principal targets because it always carried up-to-date news particularly about those who opposed Chavez’s policies.

Was there ever anyone who said something like “I’m not carrying on, I’m getting off this train, I can’t continue in this matter which seems more like “Operation Lie” than “Operation Truth”?

It happened often, I believe. I was in charge of the highs and lows. (unintelligible) It happened because people believed they weren’t advancing their education. It was a constant complaint; we are supposed to be achieving a certain level of computer knowledge and we are wasting our time in a project which is obviously political and our classmates are getting ahead of us technically; and I think that the majority of them left because they went to a productive project, or at least that was the excuse they gave. “I prefer to be programming stuff which will definitely be my work rather than being here arguing over these sorts of answers”.

All this stuff you have been telling me about has been in the past tense because it was your experience while you were in UCI, but have you any news about Operation Truth continuing?

What I understand is that the project has mutated. They have done name changes, altered the structure and extended it. I have also understood that they have called Youth Club members Operation Truth, and have created replicas in many parts of the country. We should also set out certain details:  UCI is a university with students from all over the country and the proxies which they trained for this type of defense or warfare did not appear on the internet as university students but rather as if we were ordinary people from different parts of the country: rom Las Tunas, from Guantanamo, in order to give the impression that the whole country was responding and it was only a specialized group from UCI to represent Cuba. Also it was able to go out as if from Latin American countries.

That I know because somehow I’ve experienced it with my blog. Do you think that Operation Truth has mutated beyond the point of countering opinions, of trying to hack websites, if not the creation of sites, blogs, portals that pretend to be independent, but are totally controlled by the government? 

At first I said there were about 6, or 7 to 9 groups. There was a group specifically called “Websites,” and there was another group called “Blog Sites;” the same individuals who were in this group (unintelligible) would create a blog and would update it and would have to maintain it (unintelligible).

But, it would be a blog of an apparently normal guy; it would even have some sort of hook to get people to read it; it could be art, music, soccer or anything else that would attract people’s attention, to then get “the message” transmitted. But that was what your job.  How many times have you updated the blog this week? How many visits do you have? They were very strict; they would carry out an analysis when the blog had few visitors. Why are not you getting more visits or better ranking? And that’s how the efficiency of the individuals who were in this group was measured. It was a job.

In recent years, we have seen that the Cuban government has tended to create national versions as substitutes of very well known sites like Wikipedia, and so we have seen the birth of EcuRed, even a Cuban Facebook though I do not know what has become of it. Do you think that this is also was also one of the lines of work of  Operation Truth?

I think it’s all part of the same strategy because after graduating from UCI, I was sent to a Youth Computer Club in Puerto Padre, as everyone knows. It was then when I had the second rough experience as an employee at this Youth Computer Club where I had to write from 8 to 10 articles per month for EcuRed, otherwise it would have an impact on my wage.

On different subjects? 

Almost of anything you wanted. The point was to create an encyclopedia loading it with thousands and thousands of articles on local history… of whatever you could find.

On botany, for example?

Anything.

And did you know anything about that?

No idea. Besides, what the instructors at the Computer Club complained the most about was: “I am here to do my job, teach computer skills, teach Photoshop. What do I have to do with creating articles for EcuRed?”

But that scares me because EcuRed is being distributed throughout many schools in Cuba. It’s given to our children and teens as a reference, as a database to search for information.

What would they normally do? An instructor who obviously does not have the education and perhaps not even the capacity or, specialty, nor the desire nor the vocation to write any of that, they go to a book that contains the biographies of the October Socialist Revolution and say: “How many do I have? How many do I need to write? 100 biographies? Problem solved with this book.” And they start copying the book.

And in the end, we even ended up copying from Wikipedia….

That’s the worst, and we laughed a lot about that. “What are you going to do? Look what I found here.” That’s how it was: to copy from Wikipedia changing the references.

That was something that did catch my attention since I was a teenager: the issue of why nothing spontaneous could happen in Cuba. Do you need people that defend the country? Then, give Internet to the people, and if the people believe they should defend the country, defend Communism, defend a one-party system, defend an electoral system where they do not get to vote for their president or defend whatever they believe in, then let them do so. I totally agree and will be satisfied with whatever they do, but they must do it under their own will.

And, don’t you think that this fear of letting Cuban citizens connect freely to the Internet, without ideological boundaries, is the reason why the long-anticipated fiber optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela is not working yet? 

I do not think so. I am absolutely sure because I participated in meetings and events where that was the issue that was talked about: “the country had to be prepared technologically,” in case of enemy aggression. Since they can control a so many things, they think they can even control an entire country with this cable, as if that would be possible.

First, they would have it in specialized centers where they could filter it to Cuba, so that it [the information] comes out already filtered; then they have to filter what comes out of Cuba to the world. I think they are going to do that. They won’t build roads, won’t care for our buildings; Havana will collapse, but that [the filtering of information] is definitely going to have all of the support in the world to get it done, and it is unbelievable that they do not realize that it is totally unnecessary.

I remember that one thing that greatly caught my attention was that during the elections in Venezuela we were flooded with almost all kinds of opinions, and people were speaking against Chavéz: “I do not agree with Chávez for this and that reason.” “He is giving things to the lazy, he does not encourage investment, he does not encourage entrepreneurs. The benefits that he gives us are in exchange for an ideological commitment, and so this is why I am not supporting him,” and so on.

However, we had to issue an opinion and turn it into news, starting from having many of us all posting our opinions, and then we had to say the exact opposite sometimes (changing the tone of voice to imitate a debate): “All of us here massively love and support Chávez.”

Sometimes, opinion surveys would also be carried out; for example when Chávez lost, it had been said he was not going to win. It was a operational issue, quickly: Put the surveys in there and sometimes even a name in English was made up, which was the sure winner of the survey referendum.

Distorting reality…

Constantly. That was becoming generalized.

But that is very serious because it is practically an interventionist work, changing information trends… 

But since you, Cuba, change the name of everything you do, it is not  considered interference in internal affairs like guerrillas are not either…

That is called proletarian internationalism… solidarity among peoples…

Like people who are unemployed are called “availables” and policies are called reforms, not social cuts, etc…

Private sector, self-employed… 

It’s the same, but they are called something different.

Looking at it today, how do you view all that stuff you took part in, that you got involved in with Operation Truth?

Well, the first thing I would like to say is that I don’t regret much because at that time I did what I needed to do in the circumstances of my knowledge and education, and I was very aware of what I was doing, and now, in the light of the facts, the information, the arguments, what I have read, what I have known, I am doing what I it seems to me to be rational to do.

Now, in my case, something simply happened; at that moment I was almost certain that the system was not the problem. The problem was all those people who were doing things wrong. Then experience taught me what a coincidence that my best friends, people I admired a lot, after a little while in whatever position of responsibility, weren’t any good as people or managers, or anything! Therefore there must be something which was corrupting them.

It is a cycle of loss of values which is the fault of the self-same system. The way things are, how policies, procedures and laws are designed; and, yes, this certainly has a first name and a last name, but it is at the highest level. And I asked myself, apart from the highest level, from there right down to the bottom, being in the Operation Truth project. But later — because I ended my participation in the project in the fourth year, in order to prepare myself in the fifth for my thesis — they themselves suggested it to me forcefully …

After the Alarcón incident …

After that incident they did not allow me to publish anything at all. And they said to me go off and do your thesis. But being in the UCI I came to question the government in the Youth. Why does Raúl have to be the president of the country? or, Why did Fidel have to be heading up the country for fifty or more years? I would have liked it to have been a someone from Guantanamo, or Pinar del Rio. Why had there not been other talented, morally adequate people in Cuba to participate in elections and to be chosen?

I think that in the UCI I had some things which were a bit ahead of their time.

I felt and I feel great respect for those professors and also the students who formed part of this project because they really were talented people, and there were kids who were dedicated, who lived the way they did in a given context in the university in which they felt they were doing something very useful and important. What I would also like is that those who are right now carrying out this kind of work ask themselves also if it really is worth it (unintelligible)…

A little while ago the Blogazox Cuba meeting occurred. There is a blog group which believes that they are independent and I get the impression that they don’t realize that they aren’t, and that to the extent that these blogs start to evolve, because a human being, no matter how indoctrinated he may be , always has the ability to understand, to learn and it seems to me that even those kids who do those blogs have evolved to some extent and have had to accept a bunch of things which simple reality confronts them with. They would have to cover their eyes to not see them.

I agree with that Eliecer because of the extent to which the government has to create small spaces, little bubbles of connection or of liberty in order to permit expression expression of certain opinions, so as to give the impression that in the Revolution you are allowed to disagree. To that extent, people gain the taste for criticism, speaking, signaling, having their own space in which to speak, and that is an irreversible process. I have known many blogs which started up with very fundamentalist positions, very attached to the official line, and which have changed and evolved into blogs which are truly critical up to the point where one of them has been closed down.

I think that happened recently. I have heard many opinions expressed by those kids from Santa Clara, whose activity has been much reduced, and they have also been suspended.

I think that what’s happening is this: to the extent that the guys sitting behind their desks have become aware that their soldiers are looking at other things and are learning, are listening, are making new friendships, they don’t like it. (unintelligible). that’s departing from the desired objective. And what those soldiers should understand is that in reality they have nothing in their hands; they don’t have connections, nor a personality, nor policy, nor any kind of internet and that they are simply instruments of others who can cut off their water or electricity whenever they think it necessary.

In that same event (unintelligible). I would not take part in any blogger event or whatever I might be banned from participating in where no official representative was invited.

One of the things I take part in are the activities they sometimes organize in the State of SATS where no-one tells you not to come in, not to listen, not to participate. I think there is a difference between the person who says “Let’s include people. Let’s talk” and the other who says “I have nothing to say. I think of the future and of death.” The second position doesn’t help (unintelligible) Doesn’t help those who truly want the best for the country and want to change and reinvent things.

With all my heart what I hope for is that in a future, hopefully not too far distant, I want to argue with free men, discuss with independent people. I want to argue with people who have opinions. People want to open up, no-one wants to shut up and be quiet. People want to share

I believe that in the end they will insist on that because that is truly Revolution.

Without any doubt, and you viewers too who are listening to us, one day, and it doesn’t matter if right now you are working in the lines of Operation Truth or are one of those who are being attacked by those soldiers. It doesn’t matter, one day you will be also be able to be seated on this chair. Thank you very much.

Translated by GH and Chabeli

11 February 2013

Contrasts / Ernesto Hernandez Busto

El cocinero, a private restaurant in Havana
El cocinero, a private restaurant in Havana

There are contrasts that make one think. While Eliecer Avila convokes an opposition movement “We are more,” from the island Wendy Guerra offers us this culinary chronicle about the restaurant “El cocinero” – The Cook. The story begins like this: “A few months ago Camila and Rafa, two young people, with the help of their parents and friends, rented a symbolic space in the Havana neighborhood of El Vedado, a former cooking oil factory”… As Yoani Sanchez does not appear here as part of the action, it doesn’t occur to anyone to ask where the money came from. But it would be a good question: Camila is the daughter of the painter Nelson Dominguez and of a professional urologist who for some time hasn’t practiced her profession. The place Wendy refers to, of course, is not just any house rented for a private restaurant, but in any event, viva capitalism and may good restaurants in Havana flourish… My point: it’s impossible not to see a certain disconnect between the discourse of the dissidents and this other reality of an elite with money and new businesses that thrive, little by little, on the island.


Eliecer Avila introducing a new opposition movement: “Somos más” in a video from Poland

By Ernesto Hernandez Busto

From PenultimosDias.com

28 March 2013

To Root Out the Remnants / Miriam Celaya

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Yoani Sanchez, MJ Porter in New York City. Photo from Penultimos Dias

Many of my dear readers have written asking for a comment on the long tour of Yoani Sánchez through several countries, and the travel abroad of other figures of internal dissent such as Eliecer Avila, Rosa María Payá, Berta Soler and Orlando Luis Pardo, just to mention some of the best known, and the significance this could have for the opposition on the Island

The topic requires, perhaps, a long essay, but it’s enough to follow the statements of the dissidents mentioned as published in various media, the packed agenda Yoani is covering on her journey, and the links that have been strengthened between Cubans critical of the Castro government on all shores, to understand that there is a before and after with regards to these journeys. The issues raised by all of them range across all the problems of Cuban society today and the crisis of the Castro model.

Rosa María Payá (Another promising young person of the Cuban opposition)

Most significant in this case could be the variety of opinions expressed by them and the fact that, despite differences of nuance, there is a consensus on the need for democratic changes in Cuba and that these must be achieved through peaceful and concerted means. I dare to suggest that, save for some specific remnants of some opponents who feel disenfranchised or who refuse to make way for new ideas and figures which have emerged in the political spectrum of resistance, there are many more who identify with and feel represented in the statements of all these young Cubans who are traveling the world.

Just recently I received a bitter critique from a longstanding opponent who felt diminished in importance because I didn’t mention her in an interview I did with my colleague Pablo Pascuel Mendez which was published in Cubanet in January. She did not understand that the questions put to me by the journalist had nothing to do with her activity, much less did my answers encompass disrespect for any of my fellow travelers from before or now.

The are no pedigrees nor privileges in the Cuban opposition, only fighters for democracy; it doesn’t matter who came before or after, we all matter. At least as I understand it. For that reason I have no problem promoting debates, which I consider essential, because a lack of transparency is nothing more than repeating the patterns of the government we condemn.

I think, in the end, that the words of our compatriots abroad will not only strengthen us by offering a more dignified and truthful picture of what the Cuban opposition is in the light of these times, but will also serve to further understanding and support for us within Cuba, which perhaps would be one of their most important contributions. Yoani, Rosa María, Eliecer and Orlando Luis are offering a magnificent example of the true variety of citizen awareness on the Island. Rooting out the remnants among ourselves would be a chance to feel that in them, somehow, we are all represented.

18 March 2013

“The Internet Has its own Soul.” Eliecer Avila in a revealing interview / Miriam Celaya

Picture taken from the website Cabaiguán

The title of this post is a phrase by Eliecer Ávila, who, while still a student at the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) in 2008, ridiculed the President of the Cuban Parliament, Ricardo Alarcón, perhaps unintentionally. On that occasion, the young man unambiguously publicly questioned the emigration policy imposed on Cubans by their government.

The short video circulated in Cuba back then from one computer to another at the speed of gunpowder, marking the initiation of someone who was not aware he had crossed a forbidden line: just by posing the question to a senior official Eliecer had become a dissident.

A very short time after that the young man, who had already graduated as a computer engineer, got in touch with the independent blogosphere and with other civil society groups and created his own space for debate. Since then, he has been active in the field of civic and political public opinion in defense of democratic opportunities for all Cubans. Without a doubt, Eliecer has all the qualities of a born leader. continue reading

In the past few days, Eliecer once again has made news, not only because he is the first Cuban dissident to travel outside Cuba after the recent emigration reform went into effect January 14th , but by the extraordinary revelations he made in a video-taped interview by journalist and blogger Yoani Sánchez, which was recently published on the Internet.

Under the title of “Operation Truth”, which is the focus of the interview, an entire cyber-espionage conspiracy masked and orchestrated by the Cuban government from the UCI (Computer Sciences University) through its reliable and talented students. Eliecer discussed in detail the existence of a permanent operation, of which he himself was an important part, dedicated to fighting the activities of the independent blogosphere, to create an array of opinions over matters of government, to monitor all pages and networks in cyberspace making references about Cuba and the leaders of the revolution, to hack sites officially considered hostile, and even to establish the Ecu-network database, a cyber-monstrosity full of mistakes and blunders known popularly as “the Cuban Wikipedia” a fountain of dubious source of knowledge which — as part of the system’s indoctrination — is taken in by Cuban schoolchildren, particularly those in primary and middle schools.

Paradoxically, the contact these young people of the Castros’ cyber-command had with our blogs and with other places of free expression at numerous websites, as well as their intense relation with the internet, opened up their perspective to a different reality, contrary to the ideological objectives conceived by the government in this program, and inevitably exposed them to the contamination of attractive “enemy” ideas. Obviously, the falseness of the Castro regime is most evident as Cubans gain more information, which explains why the authorities prevent the spread of internet use in Cuba. Eliecer is a living example of how government intrigues and experiments can ultimately slice through its own floorboards.

“The Internet has its own soul,” is the synthesis Eliecer uses to interpret his natural conversion: from soldier of the official ideology to a citizen who battles against it. Any of us, the free bloggers from here and former captives of the system, know very well the meaning of his words. To some extent, we are all converts who arose from the darkness. The internet has made us freer, has allowed us to meet again, and, without a doubt, will continue to help us in attaining the Cuba we want.

But above all, we must thank the presentation of this revealing interview to the public, the colloquial fluency of the interviewer’s questions that keep us interested in the story being told, and the courage of a young man who knows very well the dangerous nature of the demons he is summoning. Let’s not leave him alone in this crusade.

Translated by Norma Whiting

February 15 2013