New Cuban journalism emerges on the internet, beyond official and opposition media
New Cuban journalism emerges on the internet, beyond official and
Digital journalism has arrived in Cuba, in the Cuban way.
BY DANIEL WIZENBERG
Rodolfo Romero is 27 years-old. He received money from the government to
finance a news site. It was going to be called Cuba accuses (Cuba acusa)
but he did not like the belligerent tone of the name, so he decided to
call it Cuba denounces (Cuba denuncia) only to discover that was the
name of a site created by exiled Cuban dissidents. Therefore, Romero
edits the site Pensar en Cuba (Thinking of Cuba) along with a team that
depends on the Ministry of Culture. Through it, the various policies of
the United States concerning Cuba in the last 50 years are denounced.
Working for official media, Rodolfo’s team has seven computers with ADSL
connection (a kind of broadband connection), unusual in a country where
connectivity is difficult to come by. With a cutting edge mobile, that
costs the equivalent of 20 minimum wages, it is possible to connect
through different public WiFi points available in 65 squares around the
country and at the door of international hotels, but for this you need
to buy a card from the state company Nauta that currently costs 2 CUC (a
little more than USD $2) and allows for just one hour of interrupted
connection, to be used as the consumer prefers.
In September 2015, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the
country was willing to invest in telecommunications. President Barack
Obama reiterated that sentiment during his visit to the island six
months later in March 2016.
The North Americans detected something increasingly evident: there is a
demand for change in the media in Cuba, in terms of infrastructure and
Only five percent of households have an internet connection and it is
estimated that only 27 percent of the population have access to the
internet by using public WiFi on their mobile phones. Information flows
through the transfer of material from hand to hand. DVDs, flash drives
and links through internal chat (WhatsApp is prohibited) circulate at
the speed of light.
“In Cuba, there is a sui generis reality, where the disconnection to the
network of networks is not synonymous with cultural and informational
isolation,” reported El Estornudo, a new media positioned as
independent, citing colleagues from site Cachivache.
“In any cafe or car rental, the successes from the Billboard charts
resound at all hours, and just five days after the release of the fourth
season of House of Cards, in high definition, the show is already
traveling from USB to USB throughout La Habana,” expanded Cachivache.
This capillary penetration of content despite difficulties made an
impression on the culture of new generations that, unlike their parents’
generations, could learn and indeed consume much more than what the
The map of Cuban media is comprised of three types of outlets: state –
hundreds of outlets controlled by the Communist Party; non-state –
alternative media on the internet that are divided between opponents of
the system (those that want the end of socialism) and non-opposition
(those that criticize the leadership but are relatively in favor of
socialism); and lastly, foreign media – the international “mainstream,”
on one side, and media financed by Cubans abroad, on the other.
State media are under the supervision of the Department of the Communist
Party of Revolutionary Orientation, which develops and coordinates
Freedom of speech and of the press must be exercised in accordance with
the aims of the socialist society and none of the freedoms granted to
citizens can be exercised against what is established in the
Constitution and the laws, “neither against the existence and objectives
of the socialist State, nor against the decision of the Cuban people to
build socialism and communism.” This is according to Article 53 of the
Constitution, that also establishes “the press, radio, television,
cinema and other mass media are state or social property, and cannot be,
in any case, private property.”
The daily newspaper Granma, the sites Cuba Debate and Juventud Rebelde,
the television signal Televisión Cubana and the radio stations Radio
Rebelde, Radio Reloj (which tells time by the minute while also reading
the news) and Radio Taíno, are the mass media.
Non-state, opposition media include 14ymedio, Martí Noticias and Damas
de Blanco, while “non-opposition” media are Periodismo de Barrio, El
Estornudo and Cachivache.
As for the foreign media, on the one hand are the correspondents of
Reuters, Russia Today, The Associated Press (AP), Agencia EFE, Agence
France-Presse (AFP) and dozens of other international mainstream media.
In 2007, the International Press Center (CPI), the body in charge of
relations with the foreign press, expelled correspondents from the
Mexican newspaper El Universal, César González-Calero; from the Chicago
Tribune, Gary Marx; and from the BBC, Stephen Gibbs, for their works
that were “negative for the Revolution.” Such measures periodically were
taken until 2014, the year in which they subsided.
On the other hand, are media financed by Cuban emigrants, of which
OnCuba is the most important, followed by CubaNet.
Crisis of monopoly
“Here they told us for a long time that if we conceded the Yankees would
eat us, but no, we have to be able to say whatever we want without that
meaning that the Yankees eat us, and I see that the Yankees eat us
equally and blame us reporters,” said a journalist working at one of the
four official TV channels where the minimum wage is $20.
She wants to defend the revolution but “not like that”, and she refers
to the leaders as “dinosaurs.” She collaborates with other journalists
of the new media, which have recently emerged on the internet, passing
information that she cannot publish.
In another sense, Laura Becquer, 28, has worked for Granma for six years
and “defends the newspaper’s efforts to keep up with the digital age,”
according to Univision.
As Univision paraphrased her, “the state media are trying to seduce the
audience with stories that do not ignore the failures of the system,
like a recent story about price increases of some basic products such as
tomatoes and yucca.” Twelve million people live on the island, most
consume this daily.
“Granma is like the wolf, the whole world is afraid, but in the end,
there are many young people trying to make journalism from within, with
the technological limitations that we have,” she said. Her office, like
that of Rodolfo Romero, is one of the places on the island with better
Competition between the official press and alternative media is felt in
the air, it is a dispute over content and informational nuances. Today,
it’s not audience or market that is at stake, but discourse. The map of
Cuban media is reconfiguring in the heat of the crisis of “what to say”
and “what to talk about.”
The thawing of the revolution reheated the discussion about framing. It
is melting state control of information and polarization is being disabled.
Before, the alternative media were strictly opponents, they were “the
media from Miami,” a simple counter discourse to break up the state.
Granma said it “is humbug of the worms” and that was it, but the
majority of the new alternative media does not come from Miami, but are
promoted by young journalists who intend to democratize the Revolution.
They are those who, out of enthusiasm, gave birth to the category of
They asked an Argentine journalist for an article for Cuba Debate about
the October 2015 presidential elections in his country in the Latin
American political context. After sending it, there was a small
correction: “The note is very good (Editor’s note: the article
criticized who was elected president, the center-right Mauricio Macri)
but Maduro is a friend…we took out this little part where you say that
his political power is more complicated every day “ replied the editor.
There are prohibitions on one side (of approaches, sources, citations)
and a gymnasium on the other: the editors trained the muscle of
correction in the field of self-censorship, following the policy of
“best not to talk about certain things.”
No official media has been allowed, for reasons no one explained, to
write articles about North Korea. A journalistic culture that avoided
angering the leadership was created.
But the new breed seems tired of this: “Now more than ever we have to be
more creative and courageous, that many minds open, especially those
that stayed in the 60s,” said a photographer who still works at an
official digital site. He does not want to give his name, for fear of
having something happen to him like it did to a journalist that, like
him, worked in one of the State’s digital media. After making some
comments and publishing things on Facebook that criticized the discourse
of Raúl Castro, the journalist had his internet connection cut and was
given twice the amount of work.
The editors and directors of the media of the Revolution have no
authority to decide on anything mildly relevant. They do not create the
editorial policy or broadcast anything that has not been approved by the
During the 2015 International Human Rights Day, journalists from
14ymedio — a media outlet founded by Yoani Sánchez — were prohibited
from reporting about a protest coordinated by Todos Marchamos, a group
that periodically mobilizes against the Castro regime, and Damas de
Blanco (The Ladies in White), according to Amnesty International (AI).
Damas de Blanco is a Cuban citizens’ movement that joins wives and other
family members of Cuban prisoners generally considered political
prisoners, but considered common prisoners by the Revolution.
AI said that according to a journalist working covertly in Havana with
Damas de Blanco, agents of State Security services blocked the door of
the building where the journalists work and said: “Today you are not
In 2014, Danilo Maldonado Machado, a graffiti artist known as “El
Sexto,” planned a performance piece where he would release two live pigs
that had been painted with the names of Rául and Fidel Castro. Before
his vision was realized, he was accused of desacato and spent most of
the next year in prison even though he was never formally charged or saw
a judge, according to AI.
The new, non-opposition media said nothing about it. The opposition
media say that remnants of traditional censorship remain in this
position, “an omission of the idea that when the possibility of
criticism is opened, it is open to any criticism, but it is a fetish of
opening and not an effective reality,” according to a journalist close
to Yoani Sánchez, editor of 14ymedio.
There is a democratizing impulse but it appears to be anchored in the
expansion of “us” and is incomplete to the extent that it continues to
exclude “them.” Despite that, the cracking of the state monopoly on
information is evident. Even in the basement of the underground, or
broadcasting from Miami, there were always media opposed to the
Revolution. But media favorable to it that are critical of the Communist
Party, saying that such a thing is good and that another is bad, are
unprecedented in Cuba, where journalism had become accustomed to
Media of the thaw
The new “non opposition” Cuban media have various things in common.
Besides avoiding standing at the extremes, they tell the stories that
the official press does not, and make denunciations, but also profiles
and chronicles of daily life on the island. They are looking for a place
between Miami and Revolution Square.
When, in December 2014, Obama and Castro formalized the thawing of Cold
War-era relations between the two countries, none of the new “non
opposition” media existed. They were all born in 2015.
One of the most emblematic examples is Periodismo de Barrio
(Neighborhood Journalism), whose writers are listed in official records
as “unemployed.” A symbol that the revolutionary government has become
more flexible over time – some decades ago they had been illegal, but
now the rejection has turned into indifference, which at least enables
it to exist.
The site’s founder, 27-year-old Elaine Díaz Rodriguez, is part of the
Global Voices network that links citizen bloggers around the world. She
was one of the first Cubans to receive a scholarship to study at Harvard
University as a Nieman Fellow. After raising money and contacts, she
returned to Cuba where she began to develop Periodismo de Barrio.
The project is funded through contributions from international agencies
such as the Swedish Foundation for Human Rights and the Nieman
Foundation, among others. They periodically publish “transparency
reports” where they detail all expenses. Several collaborations are paid
and the small team that works on the site daily does so full time. They
write of contamination in the Delta del Quibú, but also about how
fishermen spend hours on the high seas, or how a female judo athlete
prepares for the Olympics.
El Estornudo (translated as The Sneeze) is another of the symbols that
still stands. After seeing Kerry inaugurate the U.S. Embassy after five
decades, it felt as though things were changing and that perhaps there
was room to stop fighting the urge, like holding back a sneeze in a
formal setting. And they sneezed, are sneezing and plan to continue
There, no one receives a penny even though there are rumors in Cuban
journalism that they are financed by the renowned journalist of the The
New Yorker, John Lee Anderson, who has praised the portal on more than
one occasion. A couple of foundations have approached them (one Spanish
and another Danish) with interest of helping, but nothing has been done
and they think that they will not do anything with either “of these two
people,” as they call them.
Cubans living abroad have helped with the design of the webpage, the
domain and “most of the technical issues.” They say that is the only
cooperation they have received. And sometimes you have to stare at the
sun in order to sneeze. All collaborators have to “tough it out” to
write for official media in order to earn a living and to maintain El
Estornudo, which they define as “home,” in the sense that when they sit
down to write there, they relax and say what they want.
Abraham Jimenez, the director, divides his free time between the media
he oversees and the consumption of sports. He has waited for summer 2016
for some time: “the Euro, the Olympics, the Copa America, the NBA
finals. What more can we ask for?,” he wrote on Twitter.
Both Periodismo de Barrio and El Estornudo are concerned with
representing the interests of the coming generations, but they also look
to write well, tell good stories, create chronicles, explore the genre
of reporting, join (and join Cuban journalism) with “serious journalism”
and in the tradition of “New Journalism.”
Meanwhile, Cachivache (translated as Knickknacks) seeks to introduce
something they believe does not exist in the journalistic context of the
island: the culture of Cuban millenials (those born between 1980 and
2000), or as they call it, “the digital natives, but with USB.” They
define them as children “of an education that prioritizes the safe over
They pride themselves on being the children of the “LAN Party,”
gatherings where all young people meet to play in virtual networks
(within the borders of the island). They believe there is a kind of
nebula for the leadership of the Communist Party that is “this
complicated love triangle of culture, technology and society.” They are
called Cachivache for “the Cuban reality of today” and seek to not show
what happens outside the island, but “how what is happening in the rest
of the world is reflected in Cuba.”
The spirit here is that of a publication that goes where it should not –
not the content, but the kind of themes – as it tries to discuss
questions that many editors of state media could perceive as being too
far from the Cuban reality, like television series, skating, Youtubers
or video games. David, the director, is defined as a “workaholic.”
Javier, an editor, is a lover of videogames. Ania, the designer, chooses
instead to be defined more bluntly: “I am young in Cuba.” There are only
five people on the team between editors, social media specialists and a
designer. Ninety percent of the work is done by collaborators.
The rumors accuse them of being parastatal, of receiving money from Rene
González, one of “the five heroes” (the famous Cuban spies that were
prisoners in the United States until December 2014) close to the
leadership of the Communist Party. Colleagues of the new media point out
that Cachivache is frequently “reTweeted” by Cuba Debate and Juventud
Rebelde. There is usually no criticism of the Party, but neither fervent
defense as in the state media.
David, the director, clarifies that they are sponsored by Resumen
Latinoamericano, an Argentine media outlet directed by Carlos Aznarez, a
former member of the Argentine guerrilla group “Montoneros” that was
active in the 1970s. He said that although they have independence in
management of editorial and the team, they generally follow the
editorial guidelines of their sponsor. “For this reason, we do not
define ourselves as an independent media, we are a rare hybrid media.”
Regarding other new media, OnCuba also has a kind of “godfather.” OnCuba
is officially a foreign media, but in practice, it is produced in
Havana. Hugo Cancio, who migrated to the United States in 1980 at the
age of 15, funds the portal. Since then, he has emerged as an unofficial
ambassador of the business opportunities in Cuba, working in
collaboration with the governments of both countries. He owns a
Miami-based company called Fuego Enterprises, which finances the news site.
The site’s style follows the trend of other new media. Journalism of
criticism, chronicles of daily life and cultural developments. The
reports feature stories that take the reader to prison or into the
everyday routines of farmers in Pinar del Río or glance into the life of
singer Pablo Milanés. Unlike other media, such as CubaNet (which was
founded in 1994 from Miami by exiled journalist Hugo Landa), OnCuba is
made in Cuban territory, with Cuban journalists who came from state
media with which they are dissatisfied.
The new media are a result of a generation that argues with what has
been established and that strives to create good journalism. What will
happen with them if the island fully liberalizes and they start to be
able to receive advertising? The new media survive, on average, with
USD$20 a month, dealing with the State but without existing with the market.
They are more children of their parents’ time, a latent challenge of
transcendence faces them.
THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN KNIGHT CENTER.
Source: New Cuban journalism emerges on the internet, beyond official
and opposition media | In Cuba Today –