Sunday, May 1, 2011

Man starts dissident hotline

Posted on Saturday, 04.30.11

Man starts dissident hotline

A Miami man set up a communications system that lets dissidents in Cuba
air their grievances.
By Juan O. Tamayo

Think of it as a 911 service for Cuban dissidents.

Police are arresting human rights activists? A government-organized mob
is harassing the Ladies in White? Protests break out on the streets of

Cubans can now call a U.S. phone number and file a verbal report. Within
minutes, the voice recording will be posted on the blog Hablalo Sin
Miedo — Say it Without Fear — and will generate a Tweet linking back to
the post.

The little-known facility, created by a Cuban-born Florida International
University graduate who got the idea from the system that Google set up
during the anti-government riots in Egypt, has been up since April 14
and received few reports so far.

Popular blogger Yoani Sanchez called to offer her support. Havana
dissident Martha Beatriz Roque left a message that members of her group,
the Cuban Network of Community Communicators, would try to use the system.


The Miami man said his priority now is to contact as many dissidents,
bloggers and other Internet-savvy people in Cuba as possible to let them
know about the new system — reachable by calling 1-615-HABLALO

"We need help so that common people, everyday Cubans, know about us,"
said the Miami man, who asked to remain anonymous because he's never
been publicly involved in Cuba issues and is just starting his first
post-graduation job.

"Hablalo Sin Miedo is a good tool for citizen journalism, but sadly the
Cuban people are not prepared to use the new technologies in this way,"
wrote Ernesto Hernandez Busto of the blog Penultimos Dias — Penultimate Days

The FIU grad said he understands knows that.

"We're not expecting hundreds or thousands of reports, but this can be
an important alternative in certain times," he said. "At least it's good
to have it ready in case there's something like what happened in Egypt,''

When the government of President Hosni Mubarak shut down Egyptians'
access to the Internet during the revolt there earlier this year, Google
and Twitter, established a call-in system that allowed Arabs to phone in
their reports and comments.

Called Speak2Tweet, the system received hundreds of thousands of
messages and posted them on the Web, helping to disseminate news
throughout the Arab world and at times even to the foreign news media.

Sanchez tweeted that it would be good if Cubans could have a similar
facility, the Miami man said. "Hablalo Sin Miedo was born from that
Tweet, not through the power of big corporations but the personal
initiative of a Cuban exile."

It's not clear whether the system will become popular in Cuba, where a
phone call to the United States costs about one U.S. dollar per minute –
a hefty price in an island where the official average monthly wage
stands at about $20.


"Yes it would be expensive, but at least it would be an option in case
of an emergency," said the system's creator. Supporters of dissidents
could also put money into their Cuban cellphone accounts so they can
afford the calls, he said.

A caller has a maximum of three minutes to speak a report into an
answering machine.

The FIU man then checks it to make sure it's a valid call and approves
it for the blog, where it appears as a voice recording and triggers the
Tweet. With few calls so far, the Miami man also has typed up the voice
messages and posted them as text.

Hablalo Sin Miedo has received scores of calls since it opened April 14
and was mentioned in a couple of Cuba-related blogs. But most of them
have been from people outside the island, both supporting and
criticizing the project.

One pro-government blogger in Cuba described it as a part of a CIA plot
to undermine the communist system.

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