New Independent Digital Newspaper in Cuba Is Quickly Hacked
By Karla Zabludovsky
Filed: 5/22/14 at 3:35 PM | Updated: 5/22/14 at 5:12 PM
After years of blogging and tweeting about the hardships of daily life
in Cuba to a rapidly expanding international audience, writer Yoani
Sanchez launched a digital newspaper Wednesday, testing the limits of
freedom of speech on the Communist-run island.
It didn't take long for the website, called 14ymedio, to run into trouble.
Underscoring the challenges that lay ahead for an independent newspaper
in Cuba, 14ymedio was hacked shortly after going live, according to
Sanchez. "Bad strategy by the Cuban government to redirect our web
14ymedio.com from #Cuba nothing more attractive than what is forbidden,"
she wrote on Twitter. (@yoanisanchez)
"This censorship shows that the Cuban government continues to think that
freedom of expression is a concession that is granted by the
authorities, not a human right," wrote Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the
Inter American Press Association's Committee on Freedom of the Press and
Asked whether the government interfered with 14ymedio, Isis Perez,
director of institutional communications at Cuba's Ministry of
Communications, said she had no knowledge of the situation.
Freedom of expression advocates lauded the project as exciting but
warned that Sanchez will face legal and technical obstacles. "This is a
breath of fresh air for freedom of expression in Cuba. It's something
really unusual," said Carlos Lauria, Americas senior program coordinator
at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
Even more challenging than government tampering may be the issue of
distribution. How do you get an online journal into the hands of people
for whom Internet access is prohibitively expensive, maddeningly slow
and largely unavailable? According to data from the Cuban Ministry of
Communications, for every 1,000 inhabitants in 2011, 70 had computers
and 232 had access to the Internet.
One solution for Sanchez and her contributors was to make the first
edition of 14ymedio, which takes its name for the year of its launch and
the Spanish word for media, available in PDF format, which can easily be
distributed on memory sticks.
Sanchez has become both the international face of dissent on the
Caribbean island and a beacon of hope. For the past seven years, she has
written a scathing blog called Generacion Y, which President Barack
Obama praised for providing the world with a window on the realities of
life in Cuba in 2009.
"Little by little, information paves its way…the wall of official
censorship increasingly showing cracks," tweeted Sanchez earlier this
month as she geared for the launch of 14ymedio.
Sanchez's international star has risen even as she has faced growing
opposition in Cuba, including beatings and arrests. In 2008, she
received the Ortega y Gasset Prize, one of Spain's highest awards for
journalism. In 2010, she was named a World Press Freedom Hero by the
International Press Institute. Last year, she received the Maria Moors
Cabot Prize, the oldest international prize in journalism.
Well-known film directors from Mexico and Spain, renowned Latin American
writers (including Mario Vargas Llosa) and former Polish president Lech
Walesa have signed a statement of support on the website. "We are sure
that this initiative will contribute to the peaceful transition toward
democracy and the construction of a new country," they wrote.
For the newspaper's first feature story, reporter Victor Ariel Gonzalez
spent a night at one of Havana's hospitals. He writes about victims of
gang wars, sickly old women and the prominent presence of policemen.
Gonzalez's chronicle is peppered with digs at the country's shortages,
well-documented abroad ("People stand by the infirmary doors watching,
as privacy is a nonexistent luxury like many others, including good
manners"), and largely ignored social issues ("A government that
declared racism banished has been unable to change the fact that the
most marginalized population, and least likely to overcome overwhelming
misery, is fundamentally black. The emergency room is a reflection of
this social injustice.").
There is an interview with Angel Santiesteban, a Cuban writer and
reporter who has been incarcerated for 15 months. His was a "judicial
process which his lawyers deem to be Kafkaesque," writes Lilianne Ruiz,
who gained access to the dissident.
The website also lists the prices of certain products, such as pork,
zucchini and tomatoes, in different parts of the country. It has a
culture section that lists concerts, movie times and art exhibits. There
is a section for online debates, which largely takes place in a comment
section but also includes several polls. A tip sheet—this week's topic
is how to maintain healthy hair—adds some levity.
In the opinion section, Miriam Celaya gives an analysis of recent
reforms. In recent years, Cuba has been inching its way toward
capitalism. In 2011, the government passed a law allowing residents to
buy and sell real estate. In December, the government announced that
citizens would be allowed to purchase modern cars without requiring
permits (though with the average monthly salary at less than $20, the
$30,000 price tag ensures that they will remain little more than a
dream). And in March, Cuba approved a foreign investment law that
slashed taxes on profits from 30 percent to 15 percent for foreign and
That Sanchez was allowed to travel to Mexico, Europe and the United
States, where she met with Vice President Joseph Biden, also signals a
But, Celaya writes, "certain foreign media magnify the process,
multiplying the fable of the effects of these government measures as
though there was an effective socioeconomic change. Unfortunately for
Cubans, such changes are more nominal than they are real."
While there are changing forces slowly propelling Cuba forward,
connectivity remains a problem. Experts say authorities both at home and
abroad have held back progress.
"Our commercial embargo really limits the ability for Cubans to
communicate among themselves," said Marc Hanson, a senior associate for
Cuba at the Washington Office on Latin America. In 2009, the Obama
administration began allowing U.S. telecommunication firms to enter into
roaming service agreements with Cuban providers. It is Venezuela,
however, that has made the biggest strides, installing a high-speed
fiber-optic cable on the island. Still, Internet connection prices
remain sky-high: An hour at a government-owned Internet-access center
costs $4.50, the one-time home installation fee is $20.
If, as is expected, only a small sector of Cubans are able to access
14ymedio, the real impact of the online journal will be felt most among
large communities of expatriates in the United States, with what may be
"It would force some Cuban-Americans in Miami and New Jersey to confront
a reality that the government in Cuba is not as brutal on free speech if
she is permitted to do this without too much antagonism," said Hanson.
Source: New Independent Digital Newspaper in Cuba Is Quickly Hacked -