“The connection doesn’t work,” the young man tells the employee who frowns at him for making her get out of her comfortable chair. The heat is terrible and the air conditioning hasn’t worked for weeks in a State-run “Nauta” Internet room centrally located in Havana’s Plaza municipality. The woman approaches listlessly, looks at the screen, types in a some web address and the page opens with no problems. The client returns to the fray, “And why when I type in 14ymedio.com nothing happens?” A snort is heard throughout the navigation room. “Look son, it is because you can’t enter that site, you understand me?” In a few seconds the internaut has received his first lesson in censorship.
Who in Cuba reads the digital daily 14ymedio ? This is the question for which the management of this medium has gone out into street to look for answers and suggestions to improve our work. We have surveyed different age groups, political viewpoints, and geographic situations, to try to trace a map of those Cubans who have in front of their eyes some of the content that we publish on the site.
An initial incursion along busy G Street, last Saturday night, shed light on some of those followers or detractors. “Ah, yes, I’ve had a copy for some months, but they publish almost nothing on videogames,” although, “my dad likes it because it talks about politics and that stuff,” says Juan Carlos Zamora, 19, a student at the Pedagogical Institute. “A friend told me about the newspaper, but I would recommend more topics for young people, like fashion and technology,” added this young man.
Since the day it was founded, 14ymedio has been blocked on the national servers that provide public Internet. Internet rooms, connections from hotels and other state locales show an error message on the screen when someone tries to access the portal. A PDF version published every Friday, with the best of the week’s news and an active network of friends and colleagues, is distributed within the country. The appearance in February of last year of Nauta email service has also contributed to the spread of the content, although there is much more to do in that direction.
For Marcia Sosa, a retired civil engineer living in Santiago de Cuba, “The best part is the list of prices for products in the farmers market, because you can see how expensive life is.” The lady receives the content of our site by email, because, “My son sends it to me every day from Miami, but without the images because that takes too long to load.” The retiree believes that “they should open a section saying where to find what product, because sometimes I’m like a crazy person looking all over and not knowing where to find it.” What she likes least, however, are “the opinion columns, because here everyone has an opinion, there are 11 million Cubans and 20 million opinions.”
In the city of Ciego de Avila, Ruben Rios has taken on the task of sharing with his friends copies of the 14ymedio articles that come his way. “I do it because I believe people should hear all versions, although I don’t agree with part of what you publish.” Recently released from prison, Rios has dedicated himself to getting his life back, “and informing myself is a way of feeling free, so I read everything that comes to hand and I am lucky that the newspaper comes my way.”
In the guts of 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez finds that his work on the team “Has been a liberating experience.” For this activist and reporter, writing for the digital site is not only “a democratic exercise, but also it is a very serious project.” He remarks with pride, “This is the prelude of the new press that is coming, the prelude of freedom of the press, of democracy.” However, he concedes that there is a long way to go to improve the quality and elevate the training of the press’s reporters and correspondents. “This is a school for me, now I have to publish every article with more objectivity.”
Yunier receives the articles appearing in our independent daily through the so-called “Marta’s list.” A Cuban immigrant living in Miami who participated in December 2004 in the founding of the digital magazine Consenso(Consensus), one of the first embryos of the independent press that took advantage of the new technologies. Marta Cortizas performs the true “labor of a little ant” compiling every day the best of the Cuban and international press and sending it by email to a growing number of subscribers. “If it weren’t for her, it would cost me a lot of work to read what you publish from Holguin.”
And why is it called 14ymedio, asks a resident of the Fanguito neighborhood when we inquire about our portal. With long experience standing in lines and counting every gram she receives from the ration market, the elderly lady is sure that behind a name like this, “there has to be something hidden, a warning… come on.” She doesn’t accept the explanation about the 14 th floor where our headquarters are located, the “Y” from a well-known digital blog, nor the polysemy of “ medio” in Spanish, which means both “half” and “press media.” “There is some trick here, some mathematical formula or who knows,” she concludes maliciously.
Not everyone likes it, which is evidence of the plurality of tastes and information preferences of the Cuban population. “I haven’t read it, I’m not going to read it, because I don’t have to visit this site to know that you want to destroy the country and do away with the Revolution,” says Nelson Bonne. A self-employed worker in Las Tunas, the man considers that “The [the State run newspaper] Granma is enough for me, and I don’t need any little newspaper created by the enemy.”
The director of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), Dagoberto Valdes, has a more constructive opinion. “To have a newspaper made in Cuba, by Cubans and for Cubans, is for me the best, and we are going to all push together to get access to the Internet so that we Cubans can look into this window.”