D-All Things Digital
by Erik Silk
April 26, 2011
Cuban blogger Claudia Cadelo will not tell you about her Web posting habits, at least not via phone or email. And, even though she is someone who writes and tweets regularly, the way she gets online is a closely guarded secret.
That’s because Cadelo–better known by the title of her blog, Octavo Cerco–is one of the best-known members of the Cuban blogging community.
Made of up just a handful of writers–a tightly networked community of Cuban “blogeras”–they walk the fine line of being public figures, while also knowing that their every post is monitored by a watchful government.
Still, calling herself the “Queen of Incredulity,” she writes with a candor that no visitor to Cuba should expect to hear in any but the most private places, airing grievances to her online audience with no hesitation.
“Having access to free information is a human right,” Cadelo said in a phone interview recently. “I, personally, want to be heard, and I want the right to know what is going on outside of the borders of this island.”
Of course, that’s no easy thing in Cuba, one of the most closed countries in the world, where typical Internet blogging free-for-alls are not tolerated.
Which is why Cadelo writes that her country denies its citizens access to mass media, while offering low Internet connectivity, with “arbitrary laws against freedom of expression and with the impunity to defame, distort, lie and lay waste on national television to those who think differently.”
And while President Raul Castro started allowing Cuban citizens to use the Internet offered to guests in hotels in 2008, Cadelo was quick to point out that the average cost of such services is $10.00 per hour.
That makes one hour of Web access cost between one and two weeks of work under the average Cuban wage.
Cadelo, who was born in 1983, had a comfortable upbringing in Cuba, rife with Communist indoctrination, until the collapse of the Soviet Union when she was six years old, which resulted in a severe economic crisis in Cuba and increased repression by the government.
“By 13, I already knew what I could and could not say,” she said in an essay detailing her background. “By 18, I was completely disillusioned with the system and couldn’t even really pretend to myself any more, although I was careful not to externalize it.”
It all started for her three years ago, when the lead singer of Cuban punk rock band Porno para Ricardo, a group known for its anti-establishment message, was arrested on the charge of “pre-criminal dangerousness.” That translates to the potential that one might commit a crime.
Cadelo went into action, along with several friends, and began a campaign to have the singer, Gorki Aguila, released.
“For a novice in the uses of freedom of expression it had everything: Beatings, a police operation and arrests,” she wrote of the experience.
Following Aguila’s eventual release, Cadelo’s disillusionment and activism continued to grow, and her career as a blogger was nurtured by another long-time Cuban voice of dissent, Yoani Sanchez. Cadelo began writing that same year, and now has thousands of followers and readers.
Her involvement with Porno para Ricardo continues as well: she is married to Ciro Díaz, the band’s lead guitarist.
While Cadelo writes on contemporary events in Cuba, much of her musings consist of her feelings on daily life in a country she hopes to someday leave. Although she would not speak at length about her political opinions and feelings on what was almost certainly a monitored phone conversation, she has no qualms about broadcasting them to the world on her blog.
“I get up in the morning and get my bath of unreality watching the morning news on TV,” she began a recent post. In fact, arguing with the television was a method of the teenaged Cadelo’s for venting her dissatisfaction with the government, years before having access to an online platform.
But vent she does.
“It’s a fact: This island is governed by madmen,” she wrote in reference to the country’s effective shutdown to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. “We Cubans say we are paranoid, and, honestly, if we weren’t we’d be really sick, because there is nothing more chilling than to stand on the balcony and see a squad of soldiers screaming obscenities and stomping the ground.”
Feelings of frustration and hopelessness are central themes in her writing. Even the title of her blog, translated to “Eighth Circle,” refers to a poem by a Polish dissident who likens living in a satellite country of Soviet Russia to being in one of the deepest parts of hell.
At times, Cadelo, who seems to be speaking for her generation, clearly feels the same way about Cuba. Although her writing is often informative, she frequently waxes poetic.
“Havana has been asleep since I was born. I like to stand at the end of Calle 12 and look at the line the sea draws in the distance,” Cadelo wrote in March. “Almost all my friends live, or intend to live, on the other side of that line. Where my eyes cannot go.”
(While many blogeras do not know enough of English or any other foreign language to write in them, there are resources to ensure that their work is translated to reach a much wider audience. Hemos Oido, meaning “We Have Heard,” is an online initiative to translate Cuban blogs into English, French, German, Danish and others, and is the means by which Octavo Cerco reaches as many readers as it does. You can visit the English version of Cadelo’s blog here.)
by Erik Silk