The Catholic Church in Cuba launched a new website on Monday that aims to provide a virtual forum for the island’s faithful, “Creer en Cuba” (Believing in Cuba.) According to an announcement on the Cuban Catholic Bishops Conference Web site, it is intended to serve as a meeting place for “those who live, dream, work and hope in Cuba and the Cuban community overseas.”
Although Cuba has the lowest internet usage in the Americas, Cuba has seen a surge of dissident bloggers who use the Internet to voice their concerns about the Castro regime. One such blogger, Yoani Sanchez, was named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and recently received a reply from President Barack Obama to questions she posed in a letter.
Earlier today we spoke with Chris Sabatini — the Senior Director of Policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Editor-in-Chief of the Americas Quarterly — about the state of the blogosphere in Cuba.
WORLDFOCUS: What is the state of people’s access to the internet in Cuba today?
SABATINI: Cuba has the lowest levels of internet access in the hemisphere, around 13%–lower than Haiti’s. The reason is largely because the Cuban government maintains strict limits on the Internet on the island. Only Cubans with official or government jobs are allowed access to the Internet; and access a number of websites is blocked on the island. Regular Cuban citizens only have access through international hotels but the rate can be as high as $9 an hour–equal to roughly the weekly salary of a Cuban doctor.
President Obama on April 13th announced a change in regulations to allow U.S. companies to increase activities in Cuba to allow for greater communications from the island to the outside world. Unfortunately, the regulations that were announced continue to place strict limitations on the sale to Cuba of supplies and equipment that is necessary for establishing the necessary infrastructure for providing access on the island. As a result the levels of connectivity envisioned by the President may not happen.
WORLDFOCUS: We’ve seen a surge in dissident bloggers in Cuba, such as the case of Yoani Sanchez. Why now?
SABATINI: Younger generation Cubans are discovering the Internet as a means of communication with the outside world. It provides a powerful and modern way for them to tell their stories. But it comes at a cost. Yoani herself no longer has access to her blog. She and many others are forced to type up their blogs and then send them via e-mail from hotel computers to friends overseas who post them for her. But there is also the risk of repression. Yoani and a number of her friends were recently picked up by police and beaten in the back of the police car. Her blogs, though, remain achingly beautiful depictions of the despair and irony of modern-day Cuba and are available in English.
WORLDFOCUS: What is the significance of the Catholic Church starting a blog in Cuba?
SABATINI: The Catholic Church has been active for a long time, often through its parishes and lay members in publishing and disseminating documents related to civic culture, religious freedom, and the like. By their very nature these publications, like the now defunct Vitral, were very strong cracks and challenges to the control over society that the Cuban regime maintains. The Church’s new blog is an extension of those efforts–but of course with a modern twist. Of course for the millions of Cubans who don’t have access to the Internet, it will have little direct impact. But it will allow the Church to inform the outside world far more easily than they could through their print publications and provide a channel for the voices of those inside the island who have been held silent for so long.
– Ivette Feliciano