Spreading Digital Revolution In A Cuban Living Room Twice a week, Yoani Sanchez transforms the living room of her small Havana high-rise apartment into what she calls the Blogger Academy. In a country where few people have an Internet connection, Sanchez is teaching her students the tools of a digital revolution that Cuba's government views warily.
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Spreading Digital Revolution In A Cuban Living Room

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Spreading Digital Revolution In A Cuban Living Room

Spreading Digital Revolution In A Cuban Living Room

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Let's go now to Cuba, where a group of young bloggers is campaigning for greater freedom of expression and Internet access. The Cuban government says they're backed by anti-Castro forces abroad, and it treats them as a security threat. Nick Miroff reports on this virtual confrontation with real world consequences.

NICK MIROFF: Yoani Sanchez lives with her family in this small apartment in a Havana high rise, and twice a week, she transforms her living room into what she calls the blogger academy. About 30 students are crammed in here - some in their 20s, others in their 50s - all learning how to use Wordpress, Wikipedia and the tools of a digital revolution that Cuba's revolutionary leaders view warily.

Ms. YOANI SANCHEZ: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: Today's class is about Twitter. Few Cubans has an Internet connection, so Sanchez is showing these students how to send out tweets from their cell phones. There are a handful of laptops in the room, and photocopies of articles with titles like "Can Journalism be Participatory?"

Sanchez is 34, with long black hair and the weary intensity of someone who's been living on the edge for a long time.

Ms. SANCHEZ: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: Unfortunately, in Cuba, Sanchez says, the act of wanting to find out what the official media is hiding is viewed as an attack on the integrity of the state. But that's not our intention, she says. This is an educational project, not a political one.

Sanchez's blog, Generation Y, is political, but not with the kind of overheated rhetoric that has characterized the Cuba debate for so long. It's a grim chronicle of daily life under socialism, written in brief literary sketches, and it's earned her several international awards. The blog is blocked on the island by the Cuban government, but it's accessible through third-party Web sites.

Ms. SANCHEZ: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: Since she's not allowed to have an Internet connection, Sanchez says she writes her blog from home, then goes to tourist hotels and emails several postings at a time to friends abroad, who run the blog for her. They send back reader comments, which often number in the thousands.

Among Cubans abroad, Sanchez has become the island's most famous symbol of opposition to the Castro government. But her name isn't mentioned in state-run newspapers or on TV here, and she's not widely known.

When her activism has moved from the computer screen to the streets, the response from authorities has been swift. The Blogger Academy has been left alone so far, though some students say they've been harassed by police and had equipment confiscated. Orlando Luis Pardo is a 38-year-old blogger who's part of the academy.

Mr. ORLANDO LUIS PARDO: We are Cubans. We are living in the revolution - or maybe in the post-revolution - and we are good persons. We do not pretend to create chaos, social chaos. On the contrary, we pretend that the society, hope that people in Cuba regain somehow their hope in Cuba, because a lot of young people that I know would say, don't go there. You just have to find yourself, find your own money. And when you get some money, find your way out of the country.

MIROFF: Cuba's opposition bloggers have attracted the attention of President Obama, and he gave Sanchez an interview by email last fall. It's that degree of American enthusiasm for Sanchez that gives the Cuban government cause to view her and her group as a tool of U.S. foreign policy.

In another apartment building on the opposite side of Havana's Revolution Square, journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde is punching back at Cuba's critics from a Macintosh laptop in her bedroom. She's the editor of Cubadebate, the pro-government Web site best known for its most famous contributor, retired President Fidel Castro. He writes a Web feature called Fidel's Reflections.

(Soundbite of beeping)

MIROFF: Today, Elizalde is following Sanchez's tweets and countering them with her own.

Ms. ROSA MIRIAM ELIZALDE (Journalist): (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: We're not talking about some blogger in Sweden, Elizalde says. We're talking about a blogger in Cuba, which the United States has been waging economic and political warfare against for the past 50 years. And this is just the latest form of that warfare.

Just as Sanchez sees her small group standing up to the power of the Cuban state, Elizalde sees Cuba as the underdog, besieged by a hostile media and the giant to the north. She says she doesn't have a problem with the Blogger Academy, but to her, Sanchez's overnight fame and the international support for her blog seem like a coordinated campaign to attack Cuba.

Ms. ELIZALDE: (Spanish spoken)

MIROFF: I think she's a symbol that's been constructed for a specific political purpose, as part of an aggressive U.S. foreign policy, Elizalde says. She obviously gets a lot of technical support if she's running a site that's being translated into 18 languages.

Sanchez says she'll continue using the money she's made from her writing and her awards to help other Cubans launch their own blogs. The site she runs had six bloggers a few months ago. Now it has 28. And Sanchez says the waiting list for her next Blogger Academy course is nearly full.

For NPR News, I'm Nick Miroff, in Havana.

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