Upon waking up this morning but even before getting out of bed and dragging a comb across my increasingly hairless head, I checked my iPhone and saw a message there from a friend and fellow Cuban blogósfera watcher.
He asked if I had checked the latest surprising post left in BOLD and ALL CAPS at the proudly revolutionary blog, La Joven Cuba, published out of Matanzas by three young professors and grad students there, Harold, Roberto, and Osmany (pictured above).
The post is entitled: "La Joven Cuba se toma un descanso" (La Joven Cuba takes a rest).
This cryptic header is followed by an even more cryptic message that reads:
"POR MUCHOS MOTIVOS NOS ES MUY DIFÍCIL MANTENER UN BLOG TAN COMPLEJO COMO LA JOVEN CUBA. NOS TOMAREMOS UN DESCANSO. ESPERAMOS PODER CONTINUAR EN UN FUTURO."
(FOR MANY REASONS IT IS VERY DIFFICULT FOR US TO MAINTAIN SO COMPLEX A BLOG AS LA JOVEN CUBA. WE WILL TAKE A REST. WE HOPE TO CONTINUE IN THE FUTURE).
While I never agreed politically with much of what these guys posted at LJC, the open, honest way they treated me when I visited and interviewed them in Matanzas in April of 2011, convinced me that they were a genuinely spontaneous (that is grass-roots, not astro-turf) pro-revolution blogging effort of three young people who wanted to defend the revolution on-line.
here, here, here, and here, for their own comments about our meeting).
As Elaine Díaz likes to say, it is possible to be spontaneously pro-revolution out of choice, but as we are learning, that sure ain't easy.
No es fácil.
In the aftermath of my visit, and after I was told in no uncertain terms not to return to Cuba by two state security agents upon my departure at the airport last April, the folks at LJC vehemently denied being 'oficialista' and stated plainly in their blog:
"La Joven Cuba enjoys total freedom to do what it does. This is a fact and will continue. The day that this changes, we will end our existence as La Joven Cuba."
Perhaps that day has finally come.
Here is their entire statement as posted on La Joven Cuba by Roberto in May, 2011 (the translation is mine):
"La Joven Cuba is not an official blog, we defend the good things about the Revolution and criticize the things we think are negative, that go against and affect the country we dream of and want to build. The Blog was created through our own initiative and desires. We did not ask permission from anyone. We do not clear what we publish with anyone. La Joven Cuba enjoys total freedom to do what it does. This is a fact and will continue. The day that this changes, we will end our existence as La Joven Cuba.
-Roberto G. Peralo, La Joven Cuba, “Reflections on a controversial meeting,” May 5, 2011.
The Cuban regime has never been able to tolerate independently organized and operated citizen projects (even proudly and self-described "revolutionary" ones such as LJC) that it didn't eventually and totally control.
Initial toleration, eventually leads either to open repression or silent but sure co-optation. In this case, it seems that these three guys made the tough but principled decision to "temporarily" close down their project in order to preserve their independence and prevent being taken over by the "apparatus."
Some say China is an example of perfect "networked authoritarianism" (see Rebecca MacKinnon for more on this term) where the C.P. (Communist Party) has figured out how utilize the PC (personal computer) and the Internet to actually strengthen government control. I am one of those who thinks that Cuba is delaying granting greater access to broadband until it can learn how to roll it out in "locked-down" Chinese style. For now, however, perhaps such an arrangement in Cuba has proven impossible and what many had assumed was a cosy relationship between LJC and Cuba's own C.P. is not so cosy after all.
All this is even more interesting given the fact that just a few weeks ago on May 28, 2012, Roberto Peralo harshly criticized the government for its delay in granting open access to broadband. Perhaps this closure is related to that harshly worded criticism - especially since I have been unable to locate that post on their blog again (can anyone find it?).
Blogazo por Cuba" event organized by LJC in Matanzas in late April intended for a group of "blogueros en revolución." She even went so far as to say on Twitter at the time that groups like LJC have shown that the "the best journalism done in Cuba today is in the blogosphere, as Cuban as the palm trees."
@CastroEspinM - "El mejor #periodismo que se hace en #Cuba hoy está en esta blogosfera, tan cubano como las palmas, #Norelys #BlogazoxCuba @BlogazoxCuba."
Maybe Mariela should keep such praise to herself - I mean she even told U.S. audiences during her recent American tour that she would vote for Obama if she could. I'm sure Obama wasn't pleased.
What follows is my own profile of LJC, written last year for Nueva Sociedad and later updated, translated into English, and published in ASCE's Cuba in Transition:
When I visited the founders of La Joven Cuba (LJC) in Matanzas in late April, 2011, they received me with cordiality and good humor. During our very frank and respectful four-hour conversation and mutual interview on my visit to Matanzas, I noted in the founders of LJC both a curiosity and capacity for dialogue and a fervent conviction in their own identity as “young revolutionaries.” In essence, theirs is a project that defends the revolution, socialism, and Cuba’s national sovereignty, while at the same time attacking many self-described “alt-bloggers” such as Yoani Sánchez and Miriam Celaya (of Voces Cubanas) frequently and fervently. The site’s creators are three graduate students and professors at the University of Matanzas (Harold Cárdenas Lema, Roberto Peralo, and Osmany “Tatu” Sánchez—the last of whom I was not able to meet).
Founded in April 2010 with the conscious purpose of not only “defending the Revolution but also [of facilitating] an internal debate about its present and future,” the site aimed to give a different take on what its creators saw as the “unjust manipulation of the facts about the Internet in Cuba” both in the international press and on popular dissident blogs. Still, in a post from April 4, 2011, commemorating the blog’s first anniversary, Cárdenas, Peralo, and Sánchez admit that they have been at a clear disadvantage in trying to defend the revolution when: “Each time something new appears that could be seen as a potential threat (in this case the Internet), the response is prohibition and limitation instead of its utilization in our favor. Recently, this view has changed for the good and La Joven Cuba is proof of this.”
Apart from these three administrators, the site often incorporates posts by some of their undergraduate students at the University and by a handful of foreign collaborators including the Spaniard Josep Calvet and the Cuban-American Max Lesnik. To its detriment, LJC’s blogroll long referenced only the most staunchly official, pro-regime blogs and news sources. In response to their request for suggestions about improvements to their site that would help them be taken more seriously as independent bloggers, I advised them that they could be more diverse in their links to other blogs and not simply highlight the most pro-regime sites with which they sympathize. In the six months since our meeting, their set of links has expanded only very slightly to include a few more moderate voices, but none that could be classified as “outside” the revolution (or much less “against” it). The irony inherent in the fact that this section of their site is labeled “alternative blogs” seems to be lost on them. However, they would likely argue that their blog, as well as the many fiercely pro-regime blogs referenced on their site, are indeed “alternatives” to highly popular and deeply critical blogs such as Generación Y, which to them highlight only the most negative aspects of Cuban reality and purport to speak for an entire “generation,” their generation.
In contrast to their blogroll, one of the richest sections of LJC is the normally diverse, respectful, and extensive chain of comments which quickly appear after each of their posts. Often growing to more than 50 entries, these exchanges sometimes become real debates that extend far beyond the content of the original post and include a group of quite faithful and tenacious visitors. In my interview with Cárdenas and Peralo, I learned that a majority of their visitors are Cuban exiles, some of whom even claim to be former “freedom fighting” members of hard-line exile groups like Alpha-66 (Cárdenas and Peralo would likely call them former “terrorists”). In fact, statistics published on the portal indicate that of the 107,000 total unique visitors to the site in its 18 months of existence, the largest number are from the United States (23,533 or 22% of the total), followed by Mexico (15,288 or 14%), and Spain (9,975 or 9%). Thus, while Generación Y and Voces Cubanas are often criticized for having no following in Cuba and catering to an exclusively international audience, LJC — like Havana Times and Bloggers Cuba — also has far more international than domestic readers. LJC has only received 5,078 unique visitors from within Cuba, ranking seventh and comprising just 5% of the total.
The majority of visitors clearly do not share the pro-government orientation of the blog’s administrators, often openly and eloquently critiquing their arguments. However, they leave comments on a regular basis engaging with the authors of each post in a respectful tone and a spirit of free debate. “It is with this spirit,” argue the administrators, “that we will continue promoting debate (not arguments) and we will accept here all who are interested in the future of Cuba regardless of their ideology.” As with the other bloggers described above, the administrators of LJC say that they do not censor comments but do moderate them in order to screen out intolerant, aggressive, and insulting language. They have even blocked some frequent early visitors from leaving new comments with the justification that they did not stay on topic or take seriously others’ point of view.
While there was only very limited dialogue among these four blogging enterprises between 2007 and 2010, since my late-April 2011 visit to Cuba and the publication of my interview about the Cuban blogosphere with Luis Manuel García at CubaEncuentro in late-May 2011, there has been quite an explosion of debate between them. This “bloggers’ polemic” has often been quite heated but just as often has exposed clear signs of solidarity among some of these independent “internauts.” In either case, this ongoing polemic has revealed a hunger and capacity for serious debate, as well as a variety of competing arguments and positions vis-à-vis the role of the Internet and blogs in Cuba.
One such fascinating and unprecedented debate began in March 2011, prior to my visit, and continues today. It is between LJC and Regina Coyula, a former state security agent who is now the author of the blog La Mala Letra (which is linked to the Voces Cubanas portal). On her own blog, Coyula labels each new post in this exchange “LML en LJC,” with the latest entry (the 18th) on October 19, 2011 [NB: this number reached 28 in February, 2012] focusing on the proper role of the intellectual within a revolutionary society. Soon after the exchange began, Coyula described her approach with these words:
“Not too long ago I began visiting a blog run out of the University of Matanzas. I was drawn to it because even though we see reality from different angles, I thought we could build a space for a respectful and sound debate, [something] sorely needed in Cuban society. [...] Someone asked me why would I want to draw attention to a blog that would not do the same for me.
‘You have a good point,’ I said, ‘but that difference is very important to me. I can talk about them without having to consult with anyone else first.’”