HAVANA TIMES — This November, Cartas desde Cuba (Letters from Cuba) is celebrating its 10th anniversary of existence. It was created under the umbrella of the BBC and with the idea to give more complete information about Cuba, touching on aspects that didn’t make the headlines but that were key in understanding this country.
The shortage of sources willing to be quoted stopped us from touching on some subjects that we already had enough data about. The obligation to back up every piece of information with the name of a source is, in Cuba’s case, a straitjacket.
Plus, the great production of news headlines left little room to write about subjects in-depth. Religion, customs, national idiosyncrasy, popular culture or people’s everyday lives didn’t find the space they deserved.
I had to wait months in order to write a feature about love and sex among the elderly, something which is special in Cuba. I only managed to get the BBC to accept it by “setting up” the story within the frame of 90-year-old Compay Segundo saying he wanted another child.
A personal blog, written from a journalist’s point of view about what is happening around him, would allow us to access this Cuba that has remained lost in the media’s shadow. I remember that one of my first subjects was Cuban “street children”.
In November 2007, we did the first trials and the number of visits had the final word. Since the beginning, Cartas desde Cuba has brought in more readers than any other blog on BBC Mundo. It overcame obstacles, silenced doubts and trampled over fears.
A few days later, I told an official who used to meet with me at the Press Center, off the record, that I would start writing a blog about Cuba. His response says a lot about what people thought about the blogosphere back then: you’re going to get mixed up in that s*** too?”.
Extremists immediately opened fire. Some accused me of being pro-Castro for saying that “street children” are protected, while others labeled me a “counter-revolutionary” when I described the helplessness a lot of old people experience.
The cross-fire hasn’t ceased, I have two “fan clubs” located on both extremes of the political spectrum. One of the points that they agree on between them is to silence “Cartas” to show that it’s impossible to have a balanced news platform.
However, Eduardo Galeano used to say that there are people in the world who are able to love Cuba “without lying or remaining quiet.” And I like to think that I’m able to love all of this country’s virtues without the need to close my eyes to its flaws.
“Cartas” is 10 years old and it has been going alone without the BBC’s umbrella for 3 years now. In 2014, a lot of people thought that the blog would disappear but the truth is that it quickly recovered the number of readers we had beforehand and the number of comments is much greater today.
These past years, Cartas has survived without any support from any media platform and without funding from any country or foreign institution and without receiving hand-outs from the Cuban government, like the “wage-earning journalists who are obedient to official ideolody”, who get “grants” from the State budget.
Cartas is funded with my personal savings and its positioning is due to friends’ intelligence who have taught me strategies, but the real value of this blog is given by the large number of readers, without you none of this effort would be of any use.
And I’m sure we will continue to grow because Internet access is becoming more widespread every day and prices are being lowered. We will also continue to grow because we are a space for respectful debate between people who think differently.
The level of exchanging opinions on Cartas is strong and direct, on the whole, but it gives us the opportunity to get to know our adversary’s arguments first-hand. I believe that debating between people who think the same is a sterile intellectual exercise.
That’s why I would like to dedicate the 10th anniversary of the beginning of this adventure to our readers, so they can tell their own experiences, how they came across Cartas, why they continue to read it? what does it give them? what leads them to comment or why don’t they comment?