Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Yoani Sanchez, Cuban Blogger, Plans Independent Newspaper Online

Yoani Sanchez, Cuban Blogger, Plans Independent Newspaper Online
Posted: 03/15/2013 6:06 pm EDT | Updated: 03/18/2013 3:11 pm EDT
Yoani Sanchez Newspaper

Communist Cuba may soon see a non-government newspaper produced on the

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez said she plans to launch an independent
digital newspaper this year, and may follow with a paper edition -- an
unprecedented step in a country where the Communist government has
controlled the media for decades.

"I'm very excited," the author of the blog Generation Y told The
Huffington Post in an interview on Thursday. "We've got a well developed
web design, mock-ups in PDF, a small editorial team."

An independent digital newspaper, if it moves forward, would mark a
major political change for Cuba.

"Legally, the government has a monopoly on media," Cuba scholar Arturo
Lopez-Levy told The Huffington Post, noting that the country's
constitution mandates media centralization. "However, I think there is a
crack, because so many people have access to digital media now."

Sánchez is a controversial blogger known internationally for "Generation
Y," a blog of vignettes depicting what she views as a stifling and
unjust atmosphere in Revolutionary Cuba. (The blog is republished in
English and Spanish on The Huffington Post.) Sánchez said the new site
will cover hard news and publish criticisms of the government she's
famous for, as well as more practical issues.

"For example, there's no information on real estate in Cuba," Sánchez
said. "They legalized the sale of homes, but you can't find a place to
read what tendencies are, what prices are, what the pros and cons of
different neighborhoods are."

Sánchez spoke after a talk at Columbia University, where she was invited
four years ago to receive a Maria Moors Cabot Prize. The Cuban
government did not allow her to leave the island then, with a
restrictive policy aimed at combating brain drain that required Cuban
citizens to seek exit visas to leave.

Sánchez received permission to leave this year, after the Cuban
government discontinued the policy. Traveling for the first time in the
U.S. this week, New York is her latest stop on a romp around the
Americas and Europe.

"Yoani is a pioneer digital journalist," Columbia journalism professor
Josh Friedman said when introducing her. "Yoani seems to me to be devoid
of ideology. She's an observer."

Not everyone agrees.

The Castro government regards Sánchez -- and many other government
opponents -- as a foreign-financed invention of Washington, whose goal
is to undermine Communist rule. Cuban state media accused her of taking
money from the CIA to finance her trip, via a National Endowment for
Democracy grant to the non-government organization People in Need.

When Sánchez arrived in Brazil, she was greeted by about 20 protesters
who shouted "Viva Fidel" and "Yoani sold to the Yankees," according to
ABC News. Protests have erupted at several events she attended while abroad.

The controversy followed her to New York. Sánchez's appearance at
Columbia University finished with a small outburst, as a young woman in
the crowd rose to her feet and unfurled a sign reading "the press is not
free, just cheap" and accused Sánchez of taking millions of dollars from
the U.S. government. A Columbia student yelled at the woman holding the
banner to "shut up" from across the room, while a disgruntled reporter
repeatedly shouted an unanswered question about the ethics of using

But the blogger took the criticism in stride.

"The first reaction I had was, 'Wow, I'm in a democracy,'" Sánchez said
during her presentation at Columbia when recalling the protest in Brazil.

She denied receiving financial support directly from foreign governments
and shrugged off criticism of taking money from foreign groups.

"Fidel Castro's government received a lot of support from the Kremlin,"
she said. "I don't think they have the moral authority to judge civil
society for receiving support from outside."

And Sánchez may need money from outside Cuba to realize her dream of
starting a digital newspaper, though she said she plans to finance the
project for the first three years with money she's received from
journalism awards.

Just running her blog has been extremely expensive, by Cuban standards.
Sánchez built her reputation in part with Twitter, firing off a steady
stream of tweets that might include personal observations, on-the-ground
news tips, or the phone numbers of activists she hopes the international
press will interview.

But without consistent and rapid access to the Internet, Sánchez and
bloggers like her use cell phones to send text messages to Twitter. That
costs a whopping $1.10 per tweet, she said. The 15,550 tweets she's
pumped out amount to small fortune for the vast majority of Cubans, most
of whom live on around $30 a month, though the Communist system offsets
many fixed costs, like housing, health care and education.

Many of the people who will read the online newspaper more than likely
won't be surfing the Web. Instead, Sánchez said, readers likely will
share the publication the way they often share Web pages now -- on CDs,
memory sticks and portable hard drives. Such distribution methods avoid
the problem of unreliable or slow Internet connections.

The online news site would add diversity to a news cycle dominated by
state outlets like Granma and Juventud Rebelde, according to Lopez-Levy.
"This will add to the pluralism in coverage of Cuba," Lopez-Levy said.

It also may mean running afoul of the law or inviting the ire of Cuban
authorities. But Sánchez said she's not worried.

"Cuba's a subject that stirs passions," Sánchez said. "But like all
journalists, I'm used to getting in trouble."


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