From Havana, Year 1

The old computer in Lucerne

The idea of having a blog where I could post about life in my country and to have the power to write in the first person about the small things in this scene that surround me, that was an idea that was cooked a long time over a slow flame.

It was in 2004, while reading Time and Newsweek, that I learned about the phenomenon of blogs.  With evident delay, some past postings by a very special guy, Andrew Sullivan, landed in my hands.

It was like this that I learned about a North American solider in Iraq, a picketer in Buenos Aires, a nun in Calcutta, and a doctor without borders in Almeria.  I also learned about the legions of Iranian and Chinese bloggers who, in spite being besieged by their governments, continued to write and forcefully denounce through their personal stories.

Let’s get to work, I thought.  But it had limits.  Not having a laptop nor money, I could not easily justify spending the money that my mother, from the mountainous city of Lucerne, would sacrifice for and send me.  Internet access cards in Cuba cost about 6 to 9 dollars an hour.

My family in Switzerland chose to continue using an old computer, pictured here, and sent me a Dell laptop which had been a gift to them.  The keyboard was in English, or maybe German, I am not sure.  But it made me suffer long hours trying to place an accent or compose the letter ñ.  One does not look a gift horse in the mouth, better this than nothing.

At first, I thought of opening a blog just for me where I could write small chronicles and articles.  But then later I thought it would be better to create a collective blog.

Between educating my daughter and managing the daily Cuban vortex of securing a hot meal, the blog was delayed.  Finally in December, 2008, I put two and two together.  You know, the last month of the year is the month of resolutions where one tries to balance what has been with what is yet to come in the next 365 days.

I decided that in 2009 I would take off, full speed ahead.  Luis Cino, one of the best independent Cuban journalists, told me to count him in.  My mother, a political refugee, retired journalist, and blogger since March 2007 was also in. The team would be complete with the chronicles of poet and reporter Raul Rivero who compiled for the daily El Mundo.  (For eight years, Rivero lead the Cuban Press agency where I began as an independent journalist in 1995.)

The platform was ready, but something was missing.  We needed a person that would write about the bizarre Cuban laws and the high rate of judicial illiteracy that exists among our citizens. Our last card would be the attorney and independent journalist Laritza Diversent, of Haitian roots, hyperkinetic, and just as poor as her ancestors from Port Au Prince.

So the network was composed.  And it was just at this moment that the star of the Cuban blogosphere, Yoani Sanchez and her husband, the journalist of wide curriculum Reinaldo Escobar, put the icing on the cake and gave a happy ending to the idea.  They linked me to the portal Cuban Voices born January 28th, 2009.  Thanks to Yoani’s patience, I learned to use Word Press 2.7 and was able to upload photos and post.

It wasn’t easy.  But on that same January 28th, the From Havana blog was also started.  It’s been a year.  Luis Cino, due to conflicts with the independent periodical for which he works was not able to write.  Several other journalists and young Cuban writers, residents of other provinces, have shown interest in publishing their works on our blog.

It is Laritza’s and my dream that we not be limited to only the capital, that we are able to cover all of Cuba.  But we need resources to help organize those volunteers that wish to collaborate. Those who know best can describe what occurs around them. In spite the limitations, the idea still stands. We want the From Havana blog to be open to Cubans and also to foreigners.  Quality chronicles about daily life that will move people.  Or comments about successes, national or international ones.

The good news started towards the end of 2009. Thanks to Carlos Moreira, a friend from Portugal, since October we have a webpage named Cuban Points of View.  And starting in January, 2010, this same friend began to help us administrate the blog.  Moreira, among many other things he’s done in his free time and free of charge, has given the blog a new look and also placed us on Twitter and Facebook.

The blog has also been enriched by videos and news footage prepared in Lucerne by my mother.  This is an initiative we would like to continue with her because finding videos and photos on the internet is not only costly but exasperating as the internet and network connections to the island are very slow.

Foreign friends of Laritza and mine ask in what way they can help and we always say the same.  Technology is expensive and for that reason, we always prefer that they purchase internet cards for us.

A few days ago Laritza and I went to the Marianao neighborhood to plan a profile of Sonia Garro, a woman of the black race who against winds and tides has maintained an independent community project for the poor children of the neighborhood.  You will soon read what we wrote.  But among this work, Laritza and I gave ourselves the satisfaction of gathering 20 CUC to be able buy a few toys to take to the little ones.

In this first year, many things have impressed us.  The history of Sonia Garro is one of them.  The other was the case of Yunia Palacio, a young mother of three with very few means.  She’s 27 years old and looks as if she were 50.   She has a husband who beats her and has kicked her out of their home — if that’s what a cardboard roof, some palm fronds and three dirty mattresses on the floor could be called.

When we spoke with this mixed woman from Santiago, Laritza cried.  My eyes watered too.  Yunia Palacio is the closest face that we have met that has the potential to be suicidal.  As modestly as we can, we’ve helped her pay a fine of 500 pesos (20 dollars).  We also give her clothes that no longer fit my daughter or Laritza’s son.

They are symbolic gestures.  For this reason we believe that the From Havana blog as well as the Cuba Points of View website and the daily El Mundo/America, published since October 2009, serve to amplify these small stories and expose the tarnish that our government and its spokespeople ignore.

And that is the point.  It’s not that these things don’t occur in other countries, they do and possibly even worse.  But journalists there have the liberty to reflect.  In Cuba they don’t.   For the official Cuban media, the revolution is a tropical paradise.

If our text moves you and provides awareness of the reality of our country, then we have met our objective.

In the meantime, from Havana we will continue to report.

Iván García y Laritza Diversent

Photo: Work area of Tania Quintero, in the living room of her apartment in Lucerne, Switzerland, where she has lived as a political refugee since November 26, 2003.

Translated by: AV