by Harold Cárdenas Lema (Prologue to the book En Tiempos de Blogosfera (In Times of Blogosphere), by Alina Bárbara López Hernández)
Ever since Shakespeare wrote that what’s past is prologue, many books begin by looking back in order to explain the present. In Times of Blogosphere is not the exception; these texts are part of the brief and disorderly history of digital public debate in Cuba. Its context is that of a country about which many readers have in-depth knowledge, with the doses of national struggle and old dogmas that brought us here. Whoever seeks boring, complacent reading should abandon all hope.
Personal blogs arrived in this country with the new century, the founding fathers being precocious students and journalists on the internet. The variety of topics and tones was (and is) visible in these national platforms, but its political segment, which we discuss here, soon captured many people’s attention. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, there already was a wide rift between opposition blogs encouraged by external actors and blogs promoted by the Communist Party to ‘multiply the truth of Cuba’. The polarization was centrifugal; their leading figures often sacrificed nuances and objectivity in order to score a point for their ideological preferences.
The blog La Joven Cuba appeared in early 2010, along with other voices which were not a product of political intention, but a spontaneous civic phenomenon. Three young professors from the University of Matanzas created this space to add some color to a reality that, until then, was mostly described in black and white. Thus, we advocated for home-grown socialism which wouldn’t succumb to the same maladies of its European counterparts in the 20th century, but we ended up giving visibility to the political spectrum of the Cuban left and its various strands of thought.
As you may imagine, such a practice had its defenders and its critics from the beginning. While Raúl Castro promoted a change of mentality, we experienced the need for it. Thanks to the trust of some officials and intellectuals, we survived attempts at censorship, harassment, and demonization. And thus we reached five million online reads, always relying on the trust of our leaders remaining stronger than their fears.
It took years to convince Alina López to write a text for the web. One of our national tragedies has been that part of our solid professional and intellectual sector has remained on the sidelines of online political debate. Technological limitations and the underestimation of the medium also did their part; but when it was most necessary, she sat down to write her first post.
It was September 2017 and the blogosphere was living through its darkest hour. The response of some actors in the Cuban State to the effects of the normalization of relations with the United States was to organize a campaign, throughout the spring and the summer of 2017, against what they called ‘centrism’. Instead of turning it into a struggle against political ambiguity or against the sectors that, without defining themselves as opposition, were complicit in the regime change policy aimed at the country, they used the label at their own discretion, more concerned with obedience to the government structures than with political commitment.
La Joven Cuba was brought into the fray. When Silvio Rodríguez, Israel Rojas, Aurelio Alonso, and other members of the civil society complained, perhaps the greatest domestic political debate since the E-mail War took place. While Donald Trump started to make everything worse, the new purge seemed to be the priority that summer. Public pressure and the rains of hurricane Irma put out the campaign, which had its consequences nonetheless.
Alina is an exceptional intellectual any opinion medium would be proud to have. My years-long insistence, so she would join the digital debate, was because I knew her voice was necessary. I think she agreed to write for an internet blog reluctantly, like someone making concessions to her profession. Asking her to cut down her texts was like demanding that she choose between her daughters. I shared her joy when she began to get reactions from readers and to build up the audience that now waits to read her work every week. She won’t receive any international awards, because she understands the circumstances of the Cuban government, nor the recognition of national political authorities, who will find her too critical. Alina doesn’t write what others want to read.
The texts you will find in this book identify the problems in our reality without making concessions. They discuss historical events from which we’ve learned little or nothing. They tackle the dangerous disconnect between a part of the political discourse and everyday practice, with no fear of entering controversy with other authors.
Some readers might ask about the purpose of that criticism or will demand that the successes of the revolutionary process be mentioned more often, but the author has reasons for such emphasis. Her analysis must compensate for the silences that have prevailed in the political discourse and for the limitations of a media ecosystem that’s prevented from carrying out its social function. Alina is willing to take on that burden, even if they accuse her of being hypercritical.
Her articles deal with the contradictions of a country in revolution and the effects of a trench mentality. She appropriately calls attention to the old practice of keeping silent about our mistakes until there are suitable conditions to do so, which never arrives. In The Culture of Terrorism, Noam Chomsky does something similar when he describes how the horror of the obedient Soviet intellectuals regarding the crimes of the United States contrasted with their benevolent look at domestic sins.
This book is a blow to the wretched circumstance of having so many intellectuals on the sidelines of digital public debate, because they wrongly underestimate it, or have no way of reaching it, or are guided by a mistaken concept of political discipline which makes them remain silent. It is also a testimony to the talent of the author and to the maturity of the institutions that recognize her worth.
This is the proof that Alina López decided to accompany a blog of young people with no journalistic training, which dealt with topics ignored by the traditional media, with limited technological capacity and under the centrifugal force of political tendencies that demand obedience under penalty of ostracism or discredit. Hers is an honest contribution to the daily exchange happening in the digital public sphere; it reflects the hopes of a people who deserve more than they have, and whose intellectuals are beginning to look into the future. The past will be prologue, but the future is built by those who, like her, follow the poet’s advice: by hand and without permission.
You can download the book here: En Tiempos de Blogosfera
Translated from the original