The “Privatization” of the Right to Dissent / Miriam Celaya

Thanks! You have opened... a blog... and can now begin... to post. (Cartoon from the internet)

Just four years have elapsed since the emergence of the blog Generación Y, which soon started a proliferation of the presence of independent citizens on the web, an effect that is known in the media as the blogger phenomenon, or the Cuban alternative blogosphere.

Much has been said among the dissident sectors and opposition groups in Cuba about the alternative blogosphere, however, few know the true nature of such a phenomenon, therefore, quite erratic, inexact or unfortunate opinions appear frequently about something that is obviously not well understood. I think that, first of all, we would have to start from a premise: the Internet exists, though it is not accessible to many, and it has well-recognized access limitations. Beginning a few years ago, before Cuban blogs were born, several members of the opposition already managed their respective web pages and some independent periodic publications in digital magazine format also existed.

Practically all members of the opposition and dissidents whom I know, or know of, already had their own e-mail accounts and had many friends and collaborators abroad, which is fine with me. That is, by having friends who are ready to give support –- let’s say, to lease an internet domain to launch a digital platform — using templates or free software, acquiring a minimum of computer knowledge, and applying themselves to work and offer proposals, almost any individual of average intelligence can have a blog. So, what is the problem some people have with the existence of the blogosphere? Why do some feel that the alternative bloggers are grabbing something from them or stripping them of some legacy?

I recently had access to some of Darsi Ferrer’s work, published by martinoticias last March 30th (Alternative Bloggers, a lesser evil for the Castros), which might well indirectly illustrate what some others, with a sense of proprietorship, may be gossiping about. I will address some points of the article only as partial reference and not as foundation, so this post absolutely should not be considered as an outline of his. I insist that the alternative bloggers are not the adversaries of the opponents and vice versa, as was demonstrated on the episodes of the TV series “Cuba’s Reasons”, an offensive against all individuals and groups criticizing the government, and not against one of their sectors.

The independent Cuban blogosphere is, as the name implies, a phenomenon unrelated to either government or the opposition. That is, it does not respond or belong to anyone, it lacks programs because we are not a political group — or a group of any nature — we don’t have leaders, but are, instead, about a totally free and individual phenomenon, which means that opposing bloggers may exist or that some blogs (like this one) may choose to publish opinions about matters related to politics.

But beyond all this, some common interests may lead bloggers to share views, knowledge of digital technology, information, and many other issues, so it’s not unusual that we meet informally, without compromise, without impositions and without mutual obligations. This has created an atmosphere of empathy and, in some of us, the feeling of belonging to a common phenomenon these days: the spirit that comes from the flow of information, the use of computer technology and the civic will to exercise freedom of expression.

We practice a particular and innovative way to address the lack of freedom imposed by the government in a venue that, until now, for whatever reasons, had been underutilized both by the government and by opposition groups: the virtual space. The Internet is neither our monopoly nor our feudal property.

Ferrer stated in his article that “the work of the alternative blogosphere has achieved significant external impact, but less of an internal impact in the country, given our particular conditions”. Certainly, the Internet access limitations and the technological lag slow down the blogosphere’s influence in Cuba. Nevertheless, real webs, not virtual, have been created spontaneously among our Cuban followers, who covertly divulge our blogs by means of CD’s or flash drives, having them circulate from one computer to another; readers outside Cuba have also volunteered to be activists in our spaces, conveying our work via e-mail to their relatives and friends.

And I must mention Radio Martí, many of whose programs spread the Cuban blogger activity. I can’t see how the limitation of bloggers to publish their work is any more difficult than that of opponents to spread their proposals or move their initiatives, nor can I understand how blogger activity on-line is less deserving of credit or does any more harm than what opposition groups do in the streets.

Also, the projection of the opposition has been more outwards than into the country — the reasons are obvious — therefore, to say that “a virtual dimension” in Cuba “has a popular limited and controllable impact in general terms” is relative, because, in that respect, the opposition has not demonstrated having a greater “impact” or being less “controllable”, in spite having been in existence longer than the blogosphere.

Another distinguishing feature of the blogosphere with respect to the so-called “traditional opposition” has to do with the supposed “objectives” that they attribute to us. The opposition parties respond to agendas, statutes and guidelines that correspond to the vertical structure of that type of organization, and in order to comply with them, adherence to certain objectives is expected. The blogosphere is just the opposite: each blogger determines what, when, and how she does it; there isn’t a “blogger structure”, blogger objectives, or, even less, a hierarchy.

The greater or lesser visibility of a blog depends more on the empathy achieved with the readers, the quality of its design or of its posts, and the personal status reached among those readers. Viewed from the proper perspective, I don’t know of any blogger who has been nominated to “overthrow the dictatorship” from the virtual space, although it would be childish to ignore that undermining the government’s monopoly on the media threatens its structure… and let’s not forget the power of information and circulation of ideas, hence the official attack on the blogosphere is actually not so “surprising” or so “unusual.”

Instead, what does seem truly bizarre is that some opponents feel that bloggers are taking away from them even the hatred that the government should direct only towards them; it’s one of the most pathetic things that I could have imagined three years ago, when I started this blog.

As for “standing our ground”, I would like to know specifically what Darsi Ferrer was alluding to. I prefer to think that everyone stands their ground in his own territory. For example, the blogosphere took advantage of its “outward” visibility to support the marches of the Ladies in White, denouncing the abuses they were victims of, and demanding the release of political prisoners, among other campaigns.

Guillermo Fariñas’s hunger strike recently reached international dimensions due, in good measure, to the coverage the blogosphere gave to it, which Fariñas himself recognizes. I will take this opportunity to note that the Ladies are not a political or an opposition party, according to their own statements, and they have met with and maintain good ties with the alternative blogosphere.

I also don’t remember any independent blogger who has attacked, from his blog or from other means, an opponent or colleague, as – unfortunately — the reverse has indeed occurred; nor do I know of any blogger who requires unification around him or around one of his proposals, or one who considers whether he is not taken into account for some meeting, event, interview or program. To do so would constitute complete failure. More than one opposition member would be surprised at how many issues alternative bloggers have disagreed on without involving feuds, personal attacks, or hostility among us. We practice peaceful disagreement with healthy regularity, and we enjoy it.

There is a persistent habit of mentioning “the alternative blogosphere’s young people”, ignoring that it has a large group of the “not so young.” For example, of its first year founders, only Yoani is young, the rest — Reinaldo Escobar, Dimas, Eugene and I — span from 51 to 68 years of age. Subsequently, even some bloggers over 70 years old have joined in. As can be seen, we are young, but not so much so.

Today, just entering the platforms Desde Cuba and Voces Cubanas is evidence that the faces of most of the bloggers have left the freshness of their youth behind, though we have retained our freshness of spirit. It also is not true that notices of our meetings are posted regularly on Twitter, or that access to our virtual platforms (not only “the Generación Y blog”) has been “unlocked.”

In fact, the filter that blocks access to the administration of our blogs was only lifted during the days when the International Computer Science and the International Book Fair events were held in Cuba, evidently to indicate that our complaint of the blocking of said platforms is false. Sometimes they unblock those pages for a day or a few hours, intermittently and irregularly. Apparently, the government disinformation tricks also work for some gullible people here, who unwittingly join the chorus.

I fully agree with Darsi Ferrer in that “the vehicle for social mobilization in Cuba will not be the Internet or the social networks because of their limited presence”. In fact, I have published several articles in support of that view, not only in my blog, but also in the Voices magazine and the Diario de Cuba, which, of course, brought me quite a few detractors.

I would only add that I don’t think that the supposed “social mobilization” has the traditional opposition groups as its driving force or as its “trigger and coalescing force”. I can’t see, right now or soon, what the social factors and actors of a mobilization that I doubt will take place would be, for reasons that are irrelevant to repeat here because I have exposed them extensively in the mentioned publications.

As to the alternative blogosphere being an “elitist phenomenon”, the same, and with equal justness, could be said of the opposition. In totalitarian regimes, individuals or groups who dare to oppose and confront power in any way always constitute elites, minorities. So that the term “elitist” envelops a precise connotation, completely extraneous to the blogosphere, because that word implies “being in favor of the elites.” I guess the author’s bad use of the Spanish language in this case may be involuntary. If our vocation were “elitist,” how do you explain the explosive growth of the blogosphere with authors, subjects and interests of the most varied tendencies?

Once again, we are linked to the popular uprising that was actually summoned from abroad through Facebook, not the Cuban blogosphere on the Island. I must confess to Mr. Darsi that I am not aware if any of the thousands of internet users who joined the web of potential “insurgents” was an alternative blogger in Cuba. At least, the ones I know did not take part in the campaign, so that no one should be surprised that we were not present at the place and time of the appointed date.

We did not summon nor felt obligated to respond to summons without previous consultation, except if a blogger, on his own, wants to join in, for each is free to decide. Here is exactly what some do not understand: we are not a herd, let’s not put on cowbells, let’s not be charmed by slogans nor be obedient and complacent.

As for me, I congratulate myself for the release of the Black Spring political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience. Anyone who confronts the regime with his best willpower, talent, and bravery deserves admiration and respect, and I will always support him from my little virtual space. Their activities, like ours, embrace peaceful actions that challenge the dictatorship and aim to democratize the Island.

At the same time, though, in my capacity as citizen journalist, I feel I have the right to respectfully question any plan aimed at proposing the future of a nation that belongs to all and not to one or another group or leader. As several opposition members so brilliantly once enunciated, “The Motherland belongs to ALL”; except that, seemingly, some feel they carry within them their own, distinctive, personal Motherland.

Regardless of my sharing with many dissidents of the most diverse trends the hope of changes for Cuba, some bilious views within the opposition make me suspect that the official control patterns some claim to be against inexplicably repeat themselves in them.

The psychology of exclusions is thus maintained, according to which, a sort of dissident pedigree exists that establishes hierarchies according to what activity is carried out by whom, exactly the same as a system of meritocratic government.

Such a waste! It would truly be healthy indeed to overcome so much angst so that – each in his own way — everyone contributed to a pluralistic and inclusive Cuba. For now, it appears that the activity of alternative bloggers is, somehow, indeed affecting the regime’s slumber… and also, painfully, that of others.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

5 April 2011