A digital newspaper launched Wednesday by Cuba’s best known blogger, Yoani Sanchez, as an attempt to break the government monopoly on the mass media has run into its first big challenge: censorship.
The publication, 14ymedio, was hacked shortly after its morning launch and its visitors from inside the island were redirected to “Yoanislandia.com,” a Web page dedicated to criticizing Sanchez, according to several island residents.
Sanchez called the hack a bad strategy by Cuba’s government. “Nothing more attractive than the prohibited,” she wrote on Twitter. In a later message, she wrote that the newspaper was accessible through a workaround known as an “anonymous proxy.”
A compact version of the newspaper made its debut with a series of news and opinion articles. Many of its staffers are bloggers whose posts appear on the Voces Cubanas portal and the magazine Voces.
Dozens of telephone calls to Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, who serves as chief editor of the publication, went unanswered.
The newspaper’s legal section said its domain and contents are owned by CLYS Comunicaciones, an enterprise registered in Madrid, Spain.
On its Twitter account, the newspaper sent greetings to opposition, independent and other news media and credited its inspiration to “the great journalists of this nation. Especially those who in this period have broken through the censorship.” With that, Sanchez and her team acknowledged that 14ymedio is not the first independent news media in Cuba, as has been reported.
Hugo Landa, director of Cubanet, a Miami-based web page that publishes reports by independent journalists, said he was happy with the launch of the Sanchez publication but wary of the government’s reaction.
“I hope it tolerates it. That would mean that the rules of the game are different and that it [realizes] that it has to make concessions.”
The newspaper’s launch came amid a debate in Cuba on the role of the news media and calls by ruler Raúl Castro and Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel for more quality reporting. But the government’s monopoly on the news media made no mention of the new publication.
Last month, Yuris Nórido, a reporter with the state-run Trabajadores newspaper, wrote in the magazine OnCuba that “journalism in Cuba is bad … The public knows it, officials know it, journalists know it. Our written press is gray, boring, schematic, repetitive, simplistic, grandiloquent in its praise, timid in its criticisms.”
He added that the digital media offers “better journalism” but recognized that few people in Cuba have access to the Internet or even the Intranet, a network available only inside the island and controlled by the government.
That’s the challenge for 14ymedio, a digital publication born in a country with the lowest connectivity in Latin America after Haiti. That has not improved with the startup of the underwater Alba-1 fiber optic cable from Venezuela in 2013.
According to Sanchez, the newspaper will try to get around the lack of connectivity by distributing its editions on portable digital memories such as USB flash drives as well as CDs and DVDs. Cubans load them with gigabytes of information and then pass them around, although they still require computers to read the material.
Dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer told El Nuevo Herald at noon Wednesday that he had not yet read the paper because it was raining in his hometown of Santiago de Cuba. He was waiting for the rain to stop, he said, so he could go to the nearest state-run internet office.
Orlando Luis Pardo, a blogger and former editor of the Voces magazine, said the limitations on the ability to circulate information in Cuba should not deter initiatives such as 14ymedio. Otherwise, he said, “there would be no independent journalism in Cuba.”
Pardo and Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York City and expert on Cuba’s blogosphere, agreed that the Sanchez publication is essentially a challenge to the government’s control over all the newspapers and radio and TV stations on the island.
“Authoritarian regimes don’t change unless they are challenged,” Henken said. “This is a test case for a more robust independent media presence in Cuba, even if it’s only on the Internet. The bloggers have clearly thrown down the gauntlet.”
Pardo said that beyond the issue of the newspaper’s quality and ability to circulate he will “have to wait for its evolution, whether it becomes a spear point for the opposition or an agent of soft version of post-castroism.”
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Juan O. Tamayo contributed to this report.