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Blogs from the underground show an uncensored Cuba

(Javier Galeano/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Andrea Rodriguez
Associated Press / April 28, 2008

HAVANA - Only a month has passed since ordinary Cubans won the right to own computers, and the government still keeps a rigid grip on Internet access.

But that hasn't stopped thousands from finding their way into cyberspace. And a daring few post candid blogs about life in the communist-run country that have garnered international audiences.

Yoani Sanchez writes the "Generacion Y" blog and gets more than a million hits a month, mostly from abroad - though she has begun to strike a chord in Cuba. On her site and others, anonymous Cubans offer stinging criticisms of their government.

But it isn't simple. To post her blog, Sanchez dresses like a tourist and slips into Havana hotels with Web access for foreigners. It costs about $6 an hour and she can't afford to stay long given the price and the possibility that someone might catch her connecting without permission.

It's a testament to the ingenuity and black-market prowess that Cubans have developed living on salaries averaging $20 a month, with constant restrictions and shortages.

The connections Cuban bloggers are making with the outside world via the Internet are irreversible, said Sanchez, who this month won the Ortega y Gasset Prize for digital journalism, a top Spanish media award. "With each step we take in that direction, it's harder for the government to push us back," she said.

On an island where many censor themselves to avoid trouble, Sanchez says, "Generacion Y" holds nothing back.

"It's about how I live," she said. "I think that technically, there are no limits. I have talked about things like Fidel Castro, and you know how taboo that can be."

But she added that "there are some ethical limits. I would never call for violence, for instance."

Since taking over from his ailing brother Fidel in February, Raul Castro has lifted bans on Cubans buying consumer electronics, having cellphones and staying in luxury tourist hotels. While the changes have bolstered the new president's popularity, most simply legalized what was common practice. In a typically frank recent posting, Sanchez noted that many Cubans already had PCs, cellphones, and DVD players bought on the black market.

"Legally recognizing what were already facts prospering in the shadows is not the same as allowing or approving something," she wrote. Cuba's leaders are responding to the inevitable, "but they won't soothe our hunger for change."

Authorities have made no sustained effort to stop Sanchez's year-old blog, though progovernment sites accuse her of taking money from opposition groups.

Only foreigners and some government employees and academics are allowed Internet accounts and these are administered by the state.

Ordinary Cubans can join an islandwide network that allows them to send and receive international e-mail. Lines are long at youth clubs, post offices, and the few Internet cafes that provide access, but the rest of the Web is blocked - a control far stricter than China's or Saudi Arabia's.

Still, thousands of Cubans pay about $40 a month for black market dial-up Internet accounts bought through third parties overseas or stolen from foreign providers. Or they use passwords from authorized Cuban government accounts that hackers swipe or buy from corrupt officials.

Sanchez said so many Cubans read her blog that fans stop her on the street.

"Generacion Y" takes its title from a Cuban passion for names beginning in Y. It offers witty and biting accounts of Cubans' everyday struggles against government restrictions at every turn.

Some of the bloggers hew to the belief that openness is the best answer to official surveillance.

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