Archive | June, 2013

The Man Who Gives Color to Cuban Activism / Luis Felipe Rojas

11 Jun

Poster by Rolando Pulido

That poster in support of Orlando Zapata, Antonio Rodiles or Yoani Sánchez, which you are about to “Like” on Facebook and share with your friends, was designed by a man from Cienfuegos who lives in New York. Rolando Pulido came to the United States twenty years ago and since then has worked as a sign-painter and graphic artist in the Big Apple. Passionate about the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba, he has created more than 500 posters to promote various causes of Cuban civil society,  events and campaigns to gain the release of prisoners. His activism has put color and motif on many Cuban spaces on social networks.

Luis Felipe Rojas: The digital siteCapitol Hill Cubanshas just implemented a campaign for free access to internet for all Cubans, #FreeTheCuban11Million and you have made the poster. What inspired you this time?

Rolando Pulido

Rolando Pulido

Rolando Pulido: This was a campaign that my friend Mauricio Clavel, who maintains the blog Capitol Hill Cubans, gave birth to in Washington DC. He gave me the idea and I was immediately fascinated, it seemed a tremendous idea, one we could do a lot with, and I made this graphic immediately. It was released yesterday to a huge response.

It is a campaign that we’re launching more from Twitter. Is to free the 11 million Cubans who do not have Internet. It’s a campaign countering the one for the five spies, in which the Cuban government has spent a fortune, a tone of energy and immense resources. Right now in Washington DC there is a large group of people calling on the U.S. Government to release the “Cuban Five,” they have enthralled all those people. I think it’s time to turn the tables on them. So instead of Free Five Cubans, we have #FreeTheCuban11Million.

Look, what we are doing is advertising, they counter the advertising based on lies, on things that are not true. We have a pretty big media campaign, but in favor of the democratization of Cuba, on behalf of the freedom of our country. This is a tool that works well if you know how to use it, especially if you have the truth and you have so many millions of people who understand that and support you.

In this time of the digital era, graphics and other arts are part of an ever wider river, are you afraid that your art will be lost?

Not at all, I do this especially for Facebook, for a community looking for these things. I do it there, because to navigate in that sea, and to travel far, because it’s a message I want to give to you through the graphics. I have no fear, because the vast sea has many Cuban ports, and until then will offer my posters.

You have led several campaigns, which do you think has been the most successful for you?

No doubt it was the first, in 2009, with a friend I called for a virtual prayer for Orlando Zapata when he was involved in his hunger strike. We prepared, we launched it and right there I realized the number of Cubans everywhere who want to help, from every corner. Since then I have made over 500 posters because I came to the United States working as a sign painter, but new technological tools have allowed me to do other things.

Facebook has been blamed in a thousand ways. However, we have seen campaigns that have come to fruition, you are on the same path, what do you think?

I see everything as a great campaign that we are all conducting for the freedom of Cuba. There are others, I am not alone, many people in the world are doing something, we are creating events together, doing all sorts of things, but we are more united than ever thanks to the new technologies and tools like Facebook and Twitter.

And right now, what is your latest project?

In a few hours or maybe tomorrow I will release a poster because Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa want to come to the United States to promote the rights of LGBT people in Cuba. They are very active within the island and it is necessary that their voice is heard around the world, they have very interesting things to say and we have to listen. We will release the poster, to see if it can help raise funds for the trip of these two beautiful people who will say and tell us things that happen in Cuba and we must help them.

7 June 2013

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Debating Social Networks

7 Jun

“Modern Times” courtesy of Osmar Santana

I asked several cyberactivists their opinions about the social network Facebook, about its impact on the island and the relation it’s created, within the island, outside the island, with Cubans and the insults from Power.

Alexis Romay, a good man, partner and friend, sent me (after-hours) this response and was kind enough to include it on his personal blog Belascoaín y Neptuno. Many thanks to him, and to the friends who joined in the debate, thank you as well.

Totalitarianism in the times of social networks

By Alexis Romay

Cuban poet and activist Luis Felipe Rojas, author of the blog Crossing the Barbed Wire, is doing a survey on cyberactivism and, by the way, sent me a question. Here goes, followed by my response.

How do you think social networks like Facebook — with many detractors who see it as puerile — are helping the community of activists on the island?

In a totalitarian regime like Cuba, social activism beyond the margins of Power has a very high cost which started with the automatic conversion of these activists into “dissidents,” which implies a dangerous and immediate association of the term with this aberration of all nationalisms: the dissident is a traitor to the fatherland. We can’t forget that in the name of love, mother, fatherland with a capital F, the worst atrocities are committed.

This isolation of the activists, converted by state decree into dissidents, passes through dehumanization (they are then transformed into “worms” by similar abracadabra), slides down the scale to social stoning and may end in physical death.

In other words, the “worm,” before being one, was a dissident, social activist, citizen, and in the beginning, a person. I put the steps in order to illustrate the precipitous drop on this scale in which the nonconformist Cuban — or person in any other totalitarianism — begins his journey as a human being and ends it in the order of invertebrates.

I give this preamble to highlight the pariah status that opposition in Cuba leads to. In the face of this forced isolation to which Cuban activists are subjected, social networks, not just Facebook, become the human tissue that envelops them. To feel the support of a virtual community has a specific weight for anyone who has been separated, by imperial edicts, from the society to which they belong. But in addition to filling this gap, social networks also serve as a protective shield for activists; they make the impunity of the regime ever more costly for it at the international level; they remind the Castros that the vast dungeon they have made of Cuba has glass walls and it is already impossible for them to hide their repressive methods.

If the political police evict a family of opponents, deal out a beating, or effect an arbitrary arrest at eleven in the morning, five minutes later the information will be circulating on the networks with hashtags that tarnish this great achievement of the regime of the island which is projecting an image of itself that does not correspond with its totalitarian reality.

In fact, Castro has a huge presence in the networks, the budget allocated for this purpose must be incalculable. As Cuban Democrats we can and should establish a presence on the networks with an infinitely more appealing discourse, creating and disseminating our own spaces. This will be the testing and projection in the digital world of that democratic country we dream of.

5 June 2013

Cubans Prefer Shortcuts to Get on the Web

1 Jun

Cuba’s Ministry of Communications has announced the opening of a hundred Internet cybercafes throughout the whole country for June 4. The official press informs us there will be a doubling of the navigation capacity and a reduction of 1.50 CUC in the price per hour (to 4.50 CUC, or a little more than $4.50 US), if we compare it to the previous 6 CUC per hour it cost for an access card.

With the implementation of the 118 centers, government officials announced an increase to more than 334 computers with internet access. This is a ridiculous figure when taking into account that about 68,000 specialists  from the Ministry of Health use email and the Internet, who in turn sell it “under the table” at prices ranging between 30 and 60 CUC per month. The same applies to journalists, intellectuals and other employees of ministries and state enterprises that have access to the Internet from their homes and who, with this practice, earn extra money while helping to scale up access to the network among Cubans.

For the small business owner in Cuba is still more profitable to rent email accounts and Internet service “under the table” in the interstices of the black market. At the distance of a click or a discreet phone call it’s possible to have sixty or ninety hours a month, according to their needs. Use of public Internet sites for businesses such as real estate, sales of various items, and rooms rentals is infrequent. A domestic connection remains the ideal way.

Illegal Internet cafes, which operate at rates between 1 and 2 CUC per hour, will not be affected by this measure that is announced as one more reform of the Revolution, because payment rates, although they have fallen by a third, will still be prohibitive for most people, if we consider that the minimum wage is about 220 Cuban pesos per month and a connection card cost 112 Cuban pesos for an hour.

Email service is commonly used for messaging with family and friends abroad, in these rooms you can see the long lines of girls waiting for their turn to communicate with their foreign boyfriends or suitors. Those who want to have a more secure communication, rarely use the email service sold by the State.

Another innovation is the implementation of the e-mail “@nauta” with international reach with storage capacity of up to 50MB.

In the flood of information coming from the main official newspapers, nothing appears about about the restrictions on sites opposing government policies. Magazines and newspapers showing the daily life of the Cuban reality are sometimes censored by the controllers of the national servers.

The famous “Operation Truth,” where restless kids from Computer Science University launch daily attacks on the social networks in search of new dreamers with the revolutionary project, has sharpened its weapons.

For over five years the “Hermanos Saiz” Association offered young artists and writers the possibility of a fixed line, computer, and a fee to pay the telephone bill in exchange for “combatting” inconvenient intellectuals, wandering daily through the social forums to convince Internet users around the world of the revolutionary benefits and to submit a monthly report of their cybernetic fidelity.

With proceeds from one 11-hour session, the 118 Internet rooms should report an average of half a million CUC at least, assuming a massive influx to the connection spots, but with the rising cost of everyday life, connecting to the Web is still a luxury that few can afford if they use only the services the State provides.

30 May 2013