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A Vital Initiative

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The Alternative Cuban Blogosphere Academy just held its first graduation. On Thursday April 8 in the afternoon, 32 graduates received their certificates accredited in the headquarters of that institution, based in Havana.

Unlike the traditional graduation, diplomas of cyber-journalists were handed over to each other by their own graduates, a detail that reflects the horizontality with which the course was developed during the five months between October 2009 and March 2010, during which teachers and students learned from each other in discussions and exchanges of ideas, experiences and information. Another interesting fact is that the five teachers were also students of the Academy.

In addition to the subjects taught — Project Management in Word Press, Ethics and Law Applied to Journalism, Editing and Technical Journalism, Photography, Cuban Culture and Photography — along the way several specialists delivered lectures on the Cuban economy, ethics, religion and other subjects which completed the training of students. The first result, which is also the main objective of the Academy is that all students already have a blog or have one under construction.

The group of graduates, comprising 12 females and 20 males with an age range between 16 and 70 years, along with political differences, religious and occupational diversity reflects a degree that, to paraphrase Don Fernando Ortiz, could be described as cyber-hash.

If the graduation of the Academy had taken place in Switzerland or in Haiti, the fact would not possess any importance nor would it count as news. However, the fact that is has occurred in Cuba, a country devoid of civil liberties, to promote an institution of such features, without state control, gives a different connotation.

An initiative of the young Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, the Academy is, among other things, a result of the decision to participate in the nation’s problems. Aware that civil society and the State are two sides of the same society, each has its functions, and the elimination of social spontaneity by the State means the cancellation of citizen participation. Both Yoani and the rest of the group decided to bypass the absurd decision that in Cuba everything has to be an initiative of the Government or sponsored by it. The efforts worked to change the reality that in our country we cannot continue moving in a direction opposite to social progress.

Now, for this vital initiative to become a force for change, it must address the aspirations of others, because it is a cultural action that tries, through the use of freedom of expression, to show that human dignity that is a guarantee the other freedoms. And that is precisely the small contribution made by the Alternative Cuban Blogosphere Academy.

Graduates, with the knowledge they have acquired, are in a position that they can — as indicated by the diploma — open and maintain a blog in response to their interests and leanings, and also generalize the experience, since graduation occurs in a context where the debate of ideas is ongoing. This public space is so vital that despite the restrictions, it has been impossible to ignore it. When the Communist Party convened the Fourth Congress in 1990 with a call for debate, more than three million people marched, making it necessary to backtrack on the offer. In early 2007, the controversy that began among some intellectuals generated heated discussions that demonstrated their urgent necessity. A few months later, when called to discuss the speech the President of the Council of State on July 26, 2007 in Camaguey, once a  there was a surge in public complaints. This trend was subsequently reflected in the approaches of students at UCI, at the National School of Art, in sectors of the intelligentsia, in criticism of their own supporters from the power structure, including familiar figures on the Cuba left and it was, albeit timidly, even reflected in the official press.

It was natural as it were, that on and off since the colonial period up to the Republic, at gatherings, associations, institutions and the press, the debate reached a magnitude which makes it impossible to explain any event in our history without taking it into account. Suffice it to recall that from the time of the Zanjón Pact in 1878, Spain granted Cuba the freedom of press, association and assembly, which emerged through publications and associations and generated public debate about the problems of the island in that context, Juan Gualberto Gomez started and won a process against the colonial authorities, through which the Cubans were able to sustain and discuss publicly the ideas of independence on the condition that they do not incite rebellion.

The emergence of citizen journalism, marked by the use of new technologies and social participation in the production and exchange of information without having to submit to the State, to its institutions or editorial policies, explains why what started with a weak flash is becoming an explosion of the Cuban blogosphere, because alternative journalism, independent, participatory and citizen-led, meets the requirements of traditional journalism and adds others that are only possible with new technologies in the context of a globalized world.

Breaking the monopoly of information, providing and disseminating a critical and transformative vision and new principles, recovering fundamental freedoms, shaping public opinion and promoting civic participation as a subject of change, are some of the huge challenges of today.

Categories: Dimas Castellanos
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