Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Blogging a Revolution from Cuba

Blogging a Revolution from Cuba
Logan Payne | May 21, 2013

Imagine a world where you couldn't get on the Internet, where you
couldn't access Facebook from your iPhone. Tweets, what are that? A
Google search? A Yelp review?

Fiction writer, photographer, journalist and revolutionary Cuban
blogger, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, also known simply as OLPL, visited UC
Irvine for a Thursday event hosted by the Literary Journalism Program,
the School of Humanities and the Latin American Studies Program as an
installment of the Conversations on Writing and Public Life Series.

Born in communist Cuba and educated as a biochemist at The University of
Havana, where he was employed as a molecular biologist, Lazo began to
pursue writing and photography and, most famously, blogging under the
gaze of the hyper-restrictive Cuban regime.

In a country where Internet access is restricted to everyone but
students, universities and state workers, ordinary citizens like Lazo
are unable to obtain Internet access, even if they are able and willing
to pay for the service.

The Cuban digital revolution began around 2007, when independent,
alternative bloggers began creating sites and publishing material about
the lives of ordinary Cuban citizens, giving international readers a
window through which they could observe this secretive state. Over 1,000
blogs have been created within the past six years, giving international
readers a wide array of voices, images and firsthand accounts of life in

Now a New York City resident, Lazo blogged from Havana hotel rooms where
Internet access was available to guests for $10-12 an hour or from
international embassies that provided free Internet access to Cubans. In
order to obtain Internet access from Sweden, the Netherlands, the Czech
Republic and the United States, Cuban citizens must put their name on a
list and wait around two weeks before they are called and granted access
to the embassy.

Equipped with his laptop inside various Havana hotels and embassies, and
the occasional post published by a friend with regular Internet access,
Lazo writes freely under his own name.

"I live with the impression that I will not be here the next day, I am
hiding nothing," he reflected.

Lazo's most well-noted blogs include "Boring Home Utopics," his
photoblog and "Lunes de Post-Revolución." Readers of "Boring Home
Utopics" are often exiled Cubans who send photo requests to the blogger,
asking him to photograph the people and places they left behind. From
photos of Regla, a town where a man grew up but left behind, to photos
of a brother-in-law in Cuba that they wanted to share with their
two-year-old daughter who would never be able to meet him in person,
"Boring Home Utopics" offers a connection to a lost world.

With just two percent of the Cuban population equipped with regular
Internet access, inhabitants of Cuba have no access to news from outlets
other than the official Cuban press, which the government manages and

The Cuban clone of Wikipedia, hosted at Ecured.cu, doesn't allow edits
to be made, so information that is posted on a profile is limited and
regulated by the Cuban government. RedSocial, the Cuban equivalent of
Facebook, recently launched to much international criticism since the
site only allows Cubans to connect with other Cubans, rather than the
entire international social media community.

While 80 percent of the United States population is equipped with
Internet access, according to the 2010 United States Census, Cubans
remain shut off from the rest of the world and what little Internet they
have, censorship is rampant.

Prior to Pope Benedict XVI's arrival in March of 2012, Lazo was
imprisoned with no explanation as to why or how long he would be there.
His mother thought he was dead. Four days later, after the pope had come
and gone, the blogger was released with no documents that proved his

Although most of his blogs are in Spanish, Lazo shared "Translating
Cuba," a website that asks users to translate popular Cuban blogs to
English, further expanding the spread of these revolutionary voices.

With an impassioned and, at times, defeated voice, Lazo spoke of the
love he had for his country, and the frustration that came along with
living in such a restricted state.

"The Internet is a revolutionary tool, a tool to defend what has already
been established," Lazo said.

Whether or not Cuba, North Korea or China will one day have free and
unrestricted Internet access remains to be seen, but for now, the voices
coming from Cuba give readers a glimpse into the vibrant but secluded
Communist country that sits less than a hundred miles from the United
States, where the world is accessible from one's keyboard.


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