Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez says her digital newspaper is launching soon

04/01/2014 7:40 PM

04/01/2014 11:06 PM

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez says her planned digital newspaper is just weeks away from its debut, with a dozen staffers getting last minute training and looking for novel ways to distribute the reports with text messages, emails and digital memory devices.

The publication, which she prefers to call a “new media,” will include the usual news as well as investigative reports, sports, interviews and profiles, Sánchez told the Hispanicize conference Tuesday at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami.

She coyly declined to reveal the name of the publication — a risky endeavor in a country where the communist government controls all newspapers, radio and television outlets — but said she hopes it will launch in late April or early May.

“I am not a career journalist, but I have become a journalist on the run. That is my passion. I believe in the force for change that is information. I dream of working in a newsroom,” she told a luncheon where she was awarded the “Latinovator” prize.

Distribution will rely on cell phones and emails because Cubans have more mobile phones than computers — a meager 74 per 1,000 according to the latest official figures, she said — and easily available memory devices such USB flash drives, DVDs and CDs.

She hopes the publication will be inserted into so-called Combos, which are DVDs and other large memory formats recorded with massive amounts of information like movies and telenovelas and regularly passed around hand-to-hand in Cuba these days.

The staff is also working on several backup ways of distributing the reports and getting around government censors, Sánchez added. Other publications often send their reports to supporters abroad who then send them back to the island electronically.

Government officials will likely try to crack down on her digital newspaper, Sánchez told a news conference after the award luncheon, perhaps by blocking its distribution, slandering its staffers or feeding them false information.

Arresting the writers would be “clumsy,” added the author of the blog Generación Y, although several independent journalists have been charged under Law 88, known as the Gag Law, with “publishing false news against world peace.”

Sánchez drew laughs when she noted that since the Cuban government refuses to issue work permits for independent journalists — those who do not want to work for the state monopoly -- she obtained a license for the closest type of work, typist.

Conference organizer Manny Ruiz introduced her as “a model for using her voice as a journalist and human being through the social media.” The conference was launched in 2009 as a way to connect major companies with the Hispanic consumer market.

On Cuba’s new foreign investment law, approved by its parliament over the weekend, the blogger said she remains skeptical of a government that has seized the properties of even politically friendly investors in the past.

“This is a government that has shown it acts because of convenience and does not respect private capital,” she said. Sánchez added, however, that people abroad should support the nascent sector of private micro businesses known as “self employment.”

“Economic autonomy is political autonomy,” she declared.

Asked about Venezuela, Sánchez said President Nicolás Maduro appears to be following some of the Cuban government’s traditional ways of dealing with its critics — refusing to recognize them, throwing them in prison and blaming others abroad.

She added that some Cubans 50 years and older fear that the collapse of the Maduro government — and his subsidies to Havana estimated at up to $10 billion a year — will unleash a crisis in Cuba like the one that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Its economy shrank by 35 percent when the Soviet subsidies stopped.

Other Cubans believe that a change in Venezuela could force the Raúl Castro government to open the country’s doors further to private economic activity and perhaps even political freedoms, she said.

Sánchez added that Cuban government controls are so tight, and the social fabric of the country is so damaged after more than 50 years of Castro rule, that she does not foresee the possibility of similar anti-government protests breaking out there.

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