Cubans use creativity to get info on the Internet: dissident blogger

By Colleen Slevin, AP

DENVER — Most Cubans remain cut off from the Internet but are still using creative ways to access and spread information online, a dissident blogger told journalists from around the Americas Sunday.

Yoani Sanchez gave a largely grim report of the state of the press in Cuba at a meeting of the Inter American Press Association in Denver. She said President Raul Castro’s regime has been aggressive in arresting and beating people who speak out against the government and has failed to document those actions, as his brother Fidel did. However, she said neither is better than the other.

“They play the good and the bad policeman but in the end they are two policemen,” she said to applause.

While over 200 Internet cafes opened on the island nation this year, she said the cost of using the slow and censored service is about US$5 — about a third of the average Cuban’s monthly salary.

Despite that, she said people are sharing information on thumb drives and can use their cellphones to text and post messages to Twitter blindly, which she compared to sending a message in a bottle since she doesn’t know who is reading what she wrote. She joked that when Cuba is free, the country will have to build a monument to the thumb drive, which she said has done more to help the country than many of the people now honored by statues there.

Sanchez said those and other methods of “extreme creativity” to deal with limited Internet access aren’t surprising in a nation where people were forced to come up with a way to make the spicy ground beef dish picadillo without meat.

“We do the same with information,” she said.

At 38, Sanchez is among the second generation of Cubans born under communism. She has taken advantage of a new reform ending a longtime requirement that all Cubans obtain permission to travel abroad. Under the old rules, government critics were routinely denied exit visas.

Earlier this year, she also visited more than a dozen countries in Europe and the Americas and gave speeches criticizing Cuba’s Communist-led government. Her travels have helped her pick up more Twitter followers but she remains less well known at home.