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Dissident Cuban blogger set to launch news site

Yoani Sanchez, a dissident Cuban blogger, will activate the website of Cuba’s first major independent general interest newspaper in five decades.

If the site goes live as planned, it will test the government’s tolerance for dissent and Sanchez’s ability to parlay her international blogging success into a domestic audience on an island moving from electronic isolation toward broader internet access.

Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, say they have been working for months with a staff of nine contributors from around the island to produce a daily updated website and a weekly PDF of a newspaper dedicated to providing Cubans with essential information rather than attacking the government.

The PDF version can easily be distributed by memory stick, one of the main ways Cubans share documents and information. Escobar, who will be the editor-in-chief, told the Associated Press the newspaper will not have a paper version, seeking to avoid legal trouble by keeping distribution solely online.

Cuban law prohibits the distribution of independent mass media that the government sees as damaging to the national interest. In addition, newspaper publishing is not on a list of approved private businesses, so there is no way for Sanchez and Escobar to get a licence to operate and hire staff.

The government has made no official comment on Sanchez’s plans, though it considers all dissidents to be mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble.

Escobar and outside experts said they did not expect a swift, harsh crackdown from the government, which has taken a softer line on dissent in recent years, keeping Sanchez under surveillance without attacking her in public or taking legal action against her. But neither is there much expectation that Sanchez’s project will make much of an immediate impact inside Cuba.

Sanchez has gained global renown and a string of foreign awards for her blog Generation Y, which offers scathing criticism of Cuba’s communist government. She has more than 600 000 followers on Twitter, but she is far less well known at home, where internet access is expensive and unavailable in virtually all homes and most businesses.

Several Cubans told the AP they were unlikely to read the new newspaper because of the lack of home internet and the relatively high cost of $4.50 an hour to access the web from government internet centres or hotels with wifi. The paper will be called 14ymedio, a play on the year of the paper’s founding and the Spanish word for media.

While its columnists will be free to express dissident opinions, and Sanchez’s blog will be incorporated into the new publication, much of the paper will be made up of the stuff of ordinary news sites, including a cooking section and entertainment listings and reviews, Escobar said.

Dissidents already produce a handful of news sites from inside Cuba and the Roman Catholic Church prints two major magazines. But none are seen as true competition for Cuba’s three widely distributed state-run newspapers or its official television or radio stations.

Escobar said Cuban and foreign independent investors are funding 14ymedio, although he declined to reveal their identities or the names of his staff until the paper begins publishing. – Sapa-AP

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Michael Weissenstein
Michael Weissenstein works from Havana, Cuba. Associated Press News Director for the Caribbean. Director de Noticias para el Caribe, The Associated Press. Michael Weissenstein has over 5157 followers on Twitter.

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