Cuba

Pro-government bloggers in Cuba use the web to discredit dissidents

abfernandez@elnuevoherald.com

Facebook page of Yaima Sol.

A Spanish blog titled Comunidad del Parque de Santa Rita (Neighbors of Santa Rita Park) recently posted a series of videos of protests against the Ladies in White, a group of dissident Cuban women who march in the Havana neighborhood every Sunday after attending mass at the Santa Rita church.

The “About Us” page of the blog Comunidad del Parque de Santa Rita claims it was created by neighborhood residents who oppose “the scandals and social indiscipline” — a common government epithet for dissident activities — allegedly “provoked by the Ladies in White.” The page adds that residents want to recover “the tranquility of the neighborhood.”

Some of the videos show happy pro-government crowds dancing on the streets to music from a band, as some participants display signs mocking one of the slogans of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), #TodosMarchamos, or “#WeAllMarch.”

Others show police repeatedly arresting the women, with music added in the background. And at least one video shows group members allegedly urinating behind a tree in the park.

The blog is clearly aimed at disparaging the Ladies in White, an opposition group established in 2003 by the wives, mothers and daughters of political prisoners. The women dress in white and often carry gladiolas when they stage anti-government protests in the Santa Rita Park after Sunday mass. They are regularly arrested by police or harshly harassed by government-organized mobs in what are known in Cuba as “acts of repudiation.”

The blog is administered by a person identified as Arlyn López Mola, a physician and neighbor. Many of its posts are signed by Yaima del Sol, who also has a

Facebook page almost exclusively dedicated to publishing her posts on the Santa Rita blog.

Despite the limited internet access in Cuba — barely 5 percent of the population has access to the internet, aside from the Wifi connections offered in parks and hotels at $2 per hour, in a country where the average government salary is $20 per month — the island's blogosphere has grown in recent years as an alternative to the mass media, all controlled by the government. Government supporters also have been using the digital world to disseminate their views.

Mercedes Vigón, a journalism professor at Florida International University who has studied Cuban bloggers for several years, said that the “blogosphere is empowering a young generation and creating spaces that did not previously exist on the island.”

“But where there is freedom, there is shouting. And in the process of (achieving) freedom, everyone must be allowed to shout,” Vigón added, referring to the pro-government blogs.

Vigón, who also directs FIU's International Media Center, said blogs in Cuba “are written for the outside” because the domestic audience is so small. Pro-government blogs also “battle to persuade people abroad” but “they don't manage to confuse anyone.”

“Whoever searches for independent information about Cuba can see that these (pro-government) publications are full of fury, anger, a smear campaign,” she added. Nevertheless, a reader should be able to “discern between what has value and what does not.”

“Controversy is healthy,” Vigón said.

“Some of the most important young voices in Cuba belong to independent bloggers, and not all blogs are about politics,” she added.

One of the best known Cuban blogs, Generación Y, is written by journalist Yoani Sánchez, who has been famous since 2007. More recently, the blog La Joven Cuba by university students critical of the official media has gained an important audience.

But others, with disingenuous names like Comunidad del Parque de Santa Rita, clearly try to discredit opposition activists. Perhaps they are embracing the comments of Enrique Ubieta, author of the blog La Isla Desconocida — The Unknown Island — who declared during a government-backed conference on blogging in 2011 that the internet was “a battlefield.”

Twitter: @abelfglez

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