I do not know where to begin to tell what happened in the debate about the Internet that took place yesterday, organized by the magazine Temas. Undoubtedly, the blonde wig I put on allowed me to slip through the controlled entrance of the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center. That and high heels, lipstick, shiny earrings and an enormous, painfully-bright purse, transformed me into someone sufficiently different. Some friends came to tell me that I looked better like that, with a tightly-fitted short dress, a sexy walk and square-framed glasses. My apologies to them, the person whose role I acted didn’t last long and today I’ve returned to my disheveled and boring appearance.
They didn’t allow Claudia, Reinaldo, Eugenio, Ciro and other bloggers to enter. “The institution reserves the right of admission,” and my cyberspace colleagues showed the impertinence of those who have already been excluded from other places, but didn’t want to retreat, embarrassed and in silence. Inside, I managed to find a seat next to the panel of speakers. Some adroit eyes had already detected my reedy physiognomy and a camera filmed me with the insistence of one preparing a dossier.
A young writer asked to speak and lamented that so many had been prevented from entering; then someone came and mentioned terms such as “enemy,” “dangerous,” and “defend ourselves.” When finally I was called, I took the opportunity to ask what relationship there is between the limitations in bandwidth and the many websites censored for the Cuban public. There was applause when I finished. I swear I didn’t collude with any of them. Afterward, a university professor came up and questioned why I had received the Ortega y Gasset journalism prize. I still haven’t managed to find the relationship between my question and her analysis, but the paths of defamation are so twisted. At the end, several came up to me to give me hugs, one woman gave me just a touch of her hand and said “congratulations.” The crisp October night waited for me outside.
If all those not allowed access had managed to participate, that would have been a true space for debate about the web. What happened felt withered and shackled. Only one of the speakers mentioned concepts such as Web 2.0, social networks and Wikipedia. The rest was the anticipated vaccine against the perverse web, the repeated justifications for why Cubans cannot access it en masse. I took my phone and quickly Tweeted, “I think it would be best to organize another debate about the Internet, without the burden of censorship and exclusion.” This morning, with dark circles from having slept only three hours, I was delivering technical manuals in the second session of our Blogger Academy.
Some of the images in this video were taken by friendly hands in solidarity and are from inside the room.
Transcript of Video
Note: This transcript was very generously prepared by two of the readers of the blog: Julio de la Yncera and “Cold in Chicago”
Gentleman to the left: This is an activity by ICAIC [Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry] and ICAIC invites people understood by them to be appropriate. You people are not invited and can’t come in.
Claudia Cadelo [Independent Blogger]: But entry is free to all!!
Reinaldo Escobar [Independent Journalist and Blogger and Yoani’s Husband]: Pardon me, I don’t know about her situation, but invitations were not passed out.
Man with red shirt: But there is a right of admission [that is the institution reserves the right to restrict admission].
Reinaldo: Yes, I understand, but who is on the list of the inadmissible?
Man with red shirt: No, no list is needed.
Reinaldo: She (Claudia) does not have the right to enter?
Man with red shirt: No.
Reinaldo: And I, do I have the right to enter?
Man with red shirt: No.
[Inside the room]
Man with dark sleeveless shirt (Author):
And to say as Desiderio [Navarro] said earlier, power can slow down the spread of technologies it cannot control, but itcannot prevent it. When arrows first appeared, the feudal lords tried to prohibit them. Arrows and later firearms for those unauthorized. Power, totalitarian power is based on control over information. The Internet among its many faults has a virtue.
As Desiderio pointed out, it allows for correct information, incorrect information, false information, unreal information, all divulged equally as much as the “correct and real official information.” And this, it seems to me, is something that the powers that be do not know how to deal with, and the more they try to impede it, the more they try to clench their fist around that precious stone that is their control and dominance, the more they squeeze it, the higher the risk that that stone will turn to sand, and roll down their fingers.
I believe Desiderio mentioned a word about an article by Rafael, the director of [the magazine] Temas last week: “Cyber-chancleteo” [cyber-trash-talking]. I think that cyber-trash-talking is the negative part of this debate, and when I entered this room, there were still many empty seats. There are still many people left outside who thought, wrongly, that this was a free, open debate, something that I think the editors of the magazine and organizers also thought, and did not realize that any comment about the Internet, about the broadcast of ideas, discussion of various viewpoints, is tremendously conflicted, but not because of conflict will they be able to silence us.
The Internet allows us to stand on our own. A man standing on his own achieves certain possibilities. That is, he has the Internet advantage, and this is not something all Cubans have. The man who stands can take oppositional postures against the monopoly of information currently held by government newspapers and news programs, a government that seeks to impose its point of view over reality, since it is incapable of imposing reality itself. I believe that in that regard, I don’t know how many of those who are present, expected the panel to speak about that. I believe that precisely, the panel has been very cautious in not speaking because we’ve all been waiting to say it ourselves.
[Yoani goes to the microphone]
Voice from audience: They do damage to Cuban-ness, they do damage to the fatherland, they do damage not only to our fatherland…….
Well, I’m glad my name has been mentioned, I have come incognito [in a blonde wig and glasses which she now has removed], but well, I’m happy to be here. No, no I know, but I would like to ask…. What relationship exists between bandwidth, the trumpeted bandwidth that every now and then they bring up to explain why we Cuban citizens cannot access the Internet en masse and the censored sites?
I’m talking about a variety of sites where one may find things as inoffensive as a parish in the Canary Islands where Cubans can find the birth certificates of our grandparents. A site like Cuba Encuentro, Cuba Net, Voces Cubanas, a magnificent blogger platform that is maintained from Cuba, but which was censored as of the last week of August. My own web site that has existed for more than a year and a half. This is the same ideological screening that was used to exclude from this debate people like Claudia Cadelo from the Octavo Cerco blog, a magnificent window open to the real Cuba, to the Cuba of a generation that has never spoken. Blogs like Desde Aqui, by a journalist expelled from the official media, my husband Reinaldo Escobar.
That is also why I have come here, in this way, having outflanked the police encirclement surrounding my home to come to this debate. Why in the virtual Cuba, is censorship being repeated, intimidation, stigmatization of people because they think differently? Is this “cyber-garbage”? Is writing what you call “garbage” the same as telling the truth without subterfuges? Is writing what you call “garbage” the same as not bowing before an official opinion? I was born in a tenement in Central Havana in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood. If what we say is “cyber-garbage” let it be welcomed. This society needs it.
Reinaldo Escobar: We know that the magazine Temas is characterized to an extent in the debate by a large participation in the ideological debate. But in this case they did not allow us, people who think differently, to go there. That is to say, that’s really a very bad position for the reputation of the journal Temas as a place for debate. Because there is no sense in debating with people who agree with you. No? And here we were, outside, and we came early at 3:30 we were here and the institution claimed the right of admission [of choosing who to admit]. The journal Temas says they are innocent, that the fault is the ICAIC’s. This place, “Fresa y Chocolate” center is an institution of ICAIC that is responsible for the art and industry of cinematography, and here we are in front; they did not allow us and our opinions in to a civilized debate, we would have very much loved to do it.