Five Years of the Blog “From Havana” / Ivan Garcia

Ivan Garcia, 8 March 2015 — When I decided to write a blog, at the end of December 2008, my pretensions were minimal.

I had decided to take a break in order to dedicate my time to my daughter, Melany, who was then two years old. Although I wasn’t writing, mentally I continued to be focused on journalism. Those were difficult times. Repression from the hard liners of State Security was at its highest point.

In March 2003, a choleric Fidel Castro had ordered the imprisonment of 75 peaceful dissidents. Among them, 27 free journalists. Independent journalism was going through its worst phase.

The best writers — Raúl Rivero, Ricardo González and Jorge Olivera —  were sleeping in uncomfortable and dirty cells. Others had gone into exile, like my mother, Tania Quintero. The rest of us journalists who were writing without State authorization and those who decided to remain in Cuba were afraid.

A fear that didn’t prevent me from continuing to report for Cubaencuentro, Cubanet and the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (Inter-American Press Society), among other online sites. In the middle of 2007, Juan Gonzalez Febles and Luis Cino decided to start a weekly. They formed Primavera Digital (Digital Spring) in a house in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton.

My intention was to join Primavera. But upon rereading an article that appeared in 2014 in Newsweek in Spanish, about the reach of blogs, I decided to change my plans. I liked the idea of writing and publishing, without a censor or an editor, those daily stories that many times are not news in the main media and that go into the recycling bin.

My technical deficiencies (I didn’t have a computer, digital camera or cell phone) delayed the project. At the beginning of 2007, a foreign journalist gave me an old Dell laptop. It’s been one of the best gifts I’ve received in my life.

Since 1996, when I began to write regularly for Cuba Press, until 2003, I wrote in a lined notebook. Later, Tania, also an independent journalist, would transcribe my work on a Olivetti Lettera 25 typewriter.

Some months after Tania went into exile in Switzerland, the Olivetti broke. A mechanic told me: “Throw it in the trash and buy another one.” The laptop revived my dream of creating a personal blog. However, problems followed.

One hour of Internet cost between 5 and 10 CUCs per hour in a hotel. In the U.S. Interests Section they offered free turns, but the paperwork was expanded and the telephones were always occupied.

I decided to open the blog with a part of the money that my mother sent me. In January 2009, I contacted Laritza Diversent, lawyer and independent journalist, and I proposed that she write about judicial matters. Luis Cino authorized me to publish her texts on Cubanet.

On January 28, 2009, on the portal Voces Cubanas (Cuban Voices), appeared the first post of the blog Desde La Habana (From Havana). It was entitled, “My Young Country” (see note at the end). The first administrator was Ernesto Hernandez Busto, an exiled Cuban who lived in Barcelona.

Beginning in January 2010, Carlos Moreira, a Portuguese friend, impresario and webmaster, altruist and in solidarity like few are, would be in charge of its administration and design. Until today.

The blog From Havana is a space dedicated to the marginal neighborhoods and to sports commentary, among other subjects. Also, it’s the site where I or other colleagues pour out our assessments about that Island that the government wants to ignore.

In a short time we had a million visitors. Not even in my wildest dreams did I think that some day the blog From Havana would reach that figure. There are so many blogs and web sites about Cuba that I sometimes think the subject of democracy and lack of freedom on the Island can become banal.

I try to tell stories in a pleasant way. It’s difficult to get figures and information. Doing investigative journalism in Cuba is foolish. I post by writing about what surrounds me, people of the barrio with whom I speak daily. Journalism and the blog have brought me many friends. And some enemies.

Believe me, I hope some day we can get to know one another in Havana. And if some post hurts your feelings or doesn’t agree with your point of view, understand that it’s nothing personal.

The blog has allowed me to grow as a journalist, even without the advice of my mother and my teacher, Raul Rivero, whose stories and articles are masterful. Now I learn from a distance.

No one graduates from journalism. While there are people like Moises Naim, Vargas Llosa or Gay Talese, to make art of this profession, we must still climb a few steps.

To you, readers and friends, my greetings and respects for using part of your time to read these stories from a guy who lives in La Vibora and signs From Havana.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: View of La Vibora, with the church of Los Pasionistas, one of the most beautiful in Havana and which I see every day from my house. It remains very close. From ojitoaqua, Panoramio.

See: My Neighborhood, My Little Country

Translated by Regina Anavy