Havana Times: The First Anniversary

October 15, 2009 | Print Print |

By Circles Robinson

Havana Sunset, photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 15 – One year ago I was on vacation in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, sitting in a friend’s apartment during the second week of October editing the diary posts and features that would be the first materials to appear in Havana Times.  In Spain, our Cuban webmaster was also putting the finishing touches on the initial design.

The idea to start the site actually began years back at my former Havana translating job, where several of us felt the need to take some initiative to get out some better writing from Cuba in English.  We believed this would give a broader look at the different realities and complexities of the country, hitting on both its accomplishments and challenges.

We wanted to get away from the hell presented by the foreign mainstream press and the heaven described by the Cuban media.

That’s Fidel, photo: Caridad

That’s Fidel, photo: Caridad

We first considered a small-format print publication to be made available at hotels on the island, but starting a new publication without institutional support-plus the economic difficulties and bureaucratic controls-made that proposition appear next to impossible.  A few years later, frustration finally pushed us to give it a try, but online.

Taking part in several critical discussions between Cuban journalists about the press in their country convinced me that it was time for action.  I hoped I would have some supporters and was well aware there would be detractors.

Running a site from inside Cuba is no easy matter due to the slow dial-up phone Internet connection, if you have one.  I had that privilege through my job and as a member of the Cuban Journalists Association (UPEC).  For those fond of the figures, the connection in Cuba is between 16 and 50 kbs, depending on where you are and the state of the phone lines.

Other countries had a similar situation one to two decades ago, but most now have much-improved technology.  Cuba has lagged behind, officially due to the US blockade, but some believe a lack of desire to offer widespread Internet use is another key factor.

The vast majority of the people writing on the site are Cubans who do not have Internet access, and many could only see the site and their published materials when they dropped by my apartment.  Some have e-mail, which facilitates sending in their writing, but not Internet.

No Permission, Work Place Blues

Contrary to what some might think, I didn’t ask anyone for permission to put out HT, and have never had anyone from the Communist Party or the government directly telling me what I should or shouldn’t publish.

Nonetheless, when one of our writers was summarily fired from his job as a professor, one of the reasons given was his writing in Havana Times.  A student was close to being expelled for the same reason.

I also had problems at my work place, which I was dependent on for my residency in Cuba.

Havana Bay Tunnel, photo: Caridad

Havana Bay Tunnel, photo: Caridad

My boss had been an early advocate of taking initiative with an alternative publication and even collaborated briefly at the beginning of HT.  However, once things got off the ground, he threatened me several times, implying that by having started Havana Times without permission from the center’s director -which I never would have received- I should turn a blind eye to his unprofessional behavior at work.

Ultimately, the ugly office scene went from bad to worse, involving my refusal to go along with the nepotism, corruption and poor management practices of my boss, which led to my yearly contract not being renewed, although I was never told why.

Having worked for the Cuban media for seven years and having been a “vanguard worker” of the center didn’t even entitle me to a meeting to hear my accusers, much less defend myself.

The ex-boss is one of those “cadres” we’ve talked about previously in HT who are causing so much damage to the Cuban Revolution.  Their abuses of power discourage others – especially young people- to take an active part.

They stifle initiative from the rank-and-file while parroting “revolutionary discourse” to impress their higher ups, but gear their efforts to defending personal privileges and perks… kind of like the overly severe preacher who has a dark personal life that needs hiding.

Increased Readership, Now Spanish Too

As Havana Times celebrates its first anniversary, we continue an unabated rise in readership and I am editing the materials from Nicaragua, where I have lived since my Cuban residency ran out in June.

The Cubans who make up this publication have remained quite committed, some increasing their writing frequency considerably.  E-mail, be it their own or a friend or colleagues, continues to make it possible for the writers to get their materials to me for publishing.

For the last couple months we have been receiving between two and three thousand hits a day.  Now that we just began putting out a Spanish version, readership has immediately increased another ten to fifteen percent.  Reader comments are also up considerably.

I sincerely hope that Havana Times has filled a space for you and has contributed to a better understanding of a highly unique country with the potential to show humanity that “a better world is possible.”


What's your opinion?

  • elizabeth

    i found you only in the past few weeks, and i am so glad i did
    congrats on your first anniversary; thanks for telling the story in your column today

    as a former reporter/editor/publisher, i know all too well the challenges of producing quality work respected by readers, and peers
    you have had all those AND the challenges of cuba
    (i’m in cuba a few times a year to see, hear and experience those challenges)

    good for you for starting up and three cheers for making it to your first anniversary
    keep it up

  • Marvin Payne

    I just wanted to let you know how much I am enjoying the objective stance of your reporting. I find the articles interesting and like how they provide information about different sectors of Cuban life. Congratulations on your first year. Keep up the great work

    Respectfully yours,
    Marvin D Payne

  • Mark G

    Circles, an interesting update. So you’re not even living in Cuba anymore? I had been prepared to concede that perhaps the Castro regime was tolerating somewhat greater freedom of expression but after your revelation about not having your residency renewed, it’s really hard to know if this is the case.

  • Alberto N Jones

    Congratulations to everyone who have made HT what it is in such a short lifespan. Congratulations for expressing in a Revolutionary manner, the ills, shortcoming, failures, achievements and suggestions, that our beloved country needs. Congratulations for creating a space for positive, critical, analytical thoughts or denounciations in a constructive spirit. Cuba’s responsibility in the world, especially for the have nots, goes far beyond its border, its geographical raum or economical power, which should make all of us less compromising, less apologetic, less willing to sing loas to our glorious past or successes, but rather honestly, openly and without hypocresy, share with every authority what and why something is wrong. Triumphalysm, willingness to discuss the failures of others on La Mesa Redonda, while refusing to discuss ours in similar depth, openess, courageously, helps no one except our enemies. That’s why we were much stronger in the 60′s than we are today!!

  • Michael N. Landis

    Dear Circles,
    Thank you for having the vision to start HT! It has become, and continues to become, what you had desired: presenting Cuba, its Revolution, its People and its Culture as it is, neither a heaven nor hell, but something in between, which is to say, a mixture of the two. Since Cuba is (one of) my obsession(s), I find HT essential reading, and have it amongst my favorites. It has become a real symposium, a real round table, where each participant, be they diarist, feature writer, or audience, feel they are welcomed and a part of the HT family. Thank you for acting on your dreams. It the Cuban Revolution is to survive and evolve, rather than degenerate like so many revolutions before it, then it will be through efforts such as those you have initiated and others like it. Thank you!

  • Ron

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU! I am so happy to find this site. My boyfriend and I are going to Cuba in December. I’ve read as much as I can get my hands on — but as we all know, most of it is either vehemently anti-Castro, written from the perspective of wealthy Cuban exiles, or totally Revolution-apologetic. It’s rare to find what appears to be a genuine balanced report — and especially nice to read current news and perspective on it. Keep it up!! Again, thank you.

  • BJ Mack

    Great site and congrats for your tremendous efforts! The people of Cuba are some of the best in the
    world and you’re extolling the virtues, charm and most of all love of these great fellow brothers and sisters!

  • John Richmond

    Congratulations on one amazing year – everyone who writes for this site and Circles Robinson should be justly proud. I hope the Cuban government can see the wisdom of allowing Circles Robinson to return to Cuba…and allowing Cubans to openly express themselves in the national media…keep up the good work….

  • Arthur Baalim

    Congratulations on your one year anniversary of HT. The publishing of HT is of critical importance to we in Canada that absolutely cherish the opportunity to visit Cuba. HT provides us with a sane and intelligent view of a country which is often portrayed by many other media in such a way that it is often impossible to obtain a balanced picture of this fine country and its people. Thank you again, we love being well informed.

  • Marcia Morrison

    Thank you for this interesting website. It is good to hear people’s voices and experiences, and not just propaganda from one side or the other. Keep up the good work!

  • Milagros Garcia Villamil

    KUDOS HT, FORWARD EVER BACK WARDS NEVER

  • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

    Hi, I didn’t say it before, but I’m sayin’ it now: HT, I love ya, and I’m proud of you guys and gals. Circles, you’re tops! May the wind always be at your back. Cheers!

  • mary

    Please someone let me know how Mavis is? She has not written in so long, and I had to miss an opportunity to meet her… is she well? Mary

  • Helen

    I only found you recently. The snapshot I got during my visit to Cuba is now expanding into a growing and extraordinary panorama partly due to HT. I marvel at the diarists who so love the system from the perspective of community and its benefits and a firm belief that it is the right way, and yet the authorities (and spying waiters) make things difficult, disorganised and potentially dangerous for their own citizens to enjoy their love of country. Yet you do love it, and you do live to the full.

    I’ll be back as soon as possible to learn more, Cuba.

  • Milagros Garcia Villamil

    HELLO CIRCLES:

    Once again it is a pleasure to read these articles over the last yr or so….i am well and now able to ret to Cuba mnthly. Affter my plans fell through to relocate i decided upon a teaching position after i returned from haiti..
    However i am still spking out albeit, with less agression and a bit more political correctness YA Right .!! darn it what happened..LOL.
    Basically i read much teach and talk less..and overstand that our struggles are not going to be easy..
    I also love seeing u at Facebook..Thanks for the friending

    Milagros in Ya face Villamil

  • Tim

    Well done Circles, a great initiative. But sorry to hear you have left your little Miramar apartment, with that beautiful view!

  • Ron Rosenberg

    Hello, Circles,
    I thought your presentation at Central School on Friday was superb. More importantly, I see you as an honest, down to earth person with a great deal to contribute. You might well qualify among my “heroes,” along with Peter Chartrand and Michael Gregory. If I can find ways to participate, I will.
    The organization I work with in Bisbee/Naco has a terrific website which is long delayed in posting. I will send you a link when it’s ready.
    Adelante hasta la Victoria

    Ron Rosenberg
    Bisbee

  • Jonathan

    Well done, it is really interesting to read about Cuba and its issues from the perspectives of your contributors.
    I am sure that Cuba will evolve rapidly over the next few years. I hope that as it does so it keeps some of the values which now make it unique.

    I look forward to visiting Cuba next year and seeing for myself you country