By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Lacking the means to publish their work on the island, the independent journalists have had to rely on the international press to transmit their dispatches. Within the past few weeks, however, their work has become available to tens of millions of Internet users worldwide, thanks largely to the efforts of Miami resident Omar Galloso and Reginaldo Blanco (a Cuban exile living in Spain), and a group of volunteers who constructed the CubaPress Website.
A marine biologist who left Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift, Galloso now works for a Coral Gables security firm. His particular cadre of Internet pioneers came together two years ago. "A few people got together and decided that we had to do something serious," he recalls, referring to their desire to create a place on the Inter-net for all things Cuban. They began building a Website that they call CubaNet (http://www.netpoint.net/~cubanet/), dedicated to cultural and political news about Cuba. Last year they incorporated as a nonprofit organization. Their site now contains a comprehensive guide to Cuban music produced both on the island and in exile, a collection of photos of contemporary Cuba, electronic art galleries that feature paintings by exiles as well as dissident artists living on the island, an archive of reports by CubaPress and other media outlets relating to Cuba, and dozens of hotlinks (automatic transfers to other sites on the Internet, including other home pages devoted to Santeria, Cuban music, Cuban cigars, and sites with more political content).
The CubaPress home page is the most recent cyber creation of the CubaNet volunteers, and Galloso is still refining it. Last week, for example, he added photos and the street addresses of four of CubaPress's journalists, hoping that such global publicity will immunize them from government reprisals.
The Cuban journalists, who, like most Cubans, lack access to the Internet within Cuba, file their dispatches by telephone. The articles are transcribed by CubaNet volunteers, who then post them on the Internet. New material is added every few days.
One such posting in Spanish A a March 2 article by Jose Rivero Garcia titled "The Naked Truth" A is a novelistic account of the mood in Havana following the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes. Rivero's essay begins: "Bored, sunken in the lethargy of dying, the inhabitants of Havana pay no attention to government communiques, which like other anti-American tirades seek to rekindle the flames of conflict. Everyone knows that on February 24 two civilian planes that were piloted by young people of Cuban origin were shot down by Cuban MiGs. They have heard the official harangue that the pilots were pirates who had come to kill who knows how many people. The same old story. The same sophisticated lie."
The main drawback to publishing on the Internet, as Galloso concedes, is that ordinary Cubans on the island have little or no access to the worldwide computer network. To date the island lacks its own direct connection to the Internet, though Cuban technicians predict that will change by November. The National Website of the Republic of Cuba is actually transmitted from Canada, where the bulk of Cuban e-mail is routed via a grassroots organization called "the Web."
Since 1990 the Web has been transferring messages between internal Cuban computer networks and the Internet and on-line services such as Compuserve or America Online, which do not exist on the island. Neither do Internet providers, companies that can link individual users to the Internet for a monthly fee.
Oscar Visiedo, former director of the Cuban Center for Electronic Information Exchange, which originally set up the island's internal computer networks and linked them to the outside world, attributes Cuba's reluctance to enter the information superhighway to the poor quality of the island's telephone infrastructure and to trepidation that unfettered access to information could undermine the government's stability. Visiedo, who left his job in 1993 and requested political asylum in the United States, now lives in Miami.
He also speculates that the government feared the networks would be penetrated by foreign intelligence services. Although there are as yet no reports of electronic sabotage such as that suffered by the Pentagon in 1988, when a Cornell graduate student wrote a program that shut down 6000 terminals along a nationwide network, Cuba has suffered low-tech assaults by computer-savvy enemies.
In 1994, for example, someone bombarded Cuban e-mail addresses with anti-Castro messages. The missives originated from an address on America Online (firstname.lastname@example.org). According to a Cuban network administrator, the bothersome messages have since ceased.
The island lacks a direct connection to the Internet, though Cuban technicians predict that will change by November.