Posted on Wednesday, 05.21.14
Cuban blogger's paper set to launch Wednesday
BY MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
HAVANA -- Dissident Yoani Sanchez, a blogger far better known around the
world than among her fellow Cubans, says that sometime Wednesday she
will activate the website of Cuba's first major independent
general-interest newspaper in five decades.
If the site goes live as planned, it will test both the government's
tolerance for dissent and Sanchez's ability to parlay her international
blogging success into a domestic audience on an island moving from
electronic isolation toward broader Internet access.
Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, say they have been working
for months with a staff of nine and contributors from around the island
to produce a daily updated website and a weekly PDF of a newspaper
dedicated to providing Cubans with essential information — rather than
attacking the government. The PDF version can easily be distributed by
memory stick, one of the main ways Cubans share documents and information.
Escobar, who will be the editor-in-chief, told The Associated Press the
paper will not have a paper version, seeking to avoid legal trouble by
keeping distribution solely online. Cuban law prohibits the distribution
of independent mass media that the government sees as damaging the
national interest. In addition, newspaper publishing is not on a list of
approved private businesses, so there is no way for Sanchez and Escobar
to get a license to operate and hire staff.
The government has made no official comment on Sanchez's plans, though
it considers all dissidents to be mercenaries paid by Washington to stir
Escobar and outside experts said they did not expect a swift, harsh
crackdown from the government, which has taken a softer line on dissent
in recent years, keeping Sanchez under surveillance without attacking
her in public or taking legal action against her.
But neither is there much expectation Sanchez's project will make much
of an immediate impact inside Cuba.
Sanchez has gained global renown and a string of foreign awards for her
blog "Generation Y," which offers scathing criticism of Cuba's communist
government. She has more than 600,000 followers on Twitter, but she is
far less well known at home, where Internet access is expensive and
unavailable in virtually all homes and few businesses.
Several Cubans told the AP they were unlikely to read the new newspaper
because of the lack of home Internet and the relatively high cost of
$4.50 an hour to access the Web from government Internet centers or
hotels with WiFi.
The paper will be called "14ymedio," a play on the year of the paper's
founding and the Spanish word for media.
While its columnists will be free to express dissident opinions, and
Sanchez's blog will be incorporated into the new publication, much of
the paper will be made up of the stuff of ordinary news sites, including
a cooking section and entertainment listings and reviews, Escobar said.
Dissidents already produce a handful of news sites from inside Cuba, and
the Roman Catholic Church prints two major magazines. But none are seen
as true competition for Cuba's three widely distributed state-run
newspapers or its official television or radio stations.
Escobar said 14ymedio is being funded by independent investors, both
Cubans and foreigners, although he declined to reveal their identities,
or the names of his staff, until the paper begins publishing.
Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez and Anne-Marie Garcia
contributed to this report.
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein
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