Cuba’s last private newspaper, Diario de la Marina, was shut down in May 1960 in the wake of the Cuban Revolution. Since that day, publishing independent journalism on the communist-run island has been an uphill battle: private mass media was officially banned in 1975.
This morning, however, a new independent newspaper was launched that is expected to directly confront that law.
The digital daily paper, called 14 y Medio, is the brainchild of internationally renowned dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez. Translated, the name means “14 and a half”, in reference to the site being launched in the middle of 2014. But the “y” doubles as a nod to Sanchez’ popular blog “Generación Y” and “medio” also doubles as the Spanish word for media.
Since the paper will only be available online, the founders hope that it will sidestep any antiquated laws concerning physical newspapers.
Sanchez’ husband and editor-in-chief Reinaldo Escobar told the Associated Press that the news agency wants to offer unbiased reporting about the country, and is not seeking to start confrontations with the government. For example, the publication will avoid using terms like “dictatorship” and “regime” and will refer to politicians by their official titles.
“[But] if the reality we reflect seems uncomfortable, that’s not us, that’s reality,” Escobar told the AP.
The site is expected to test Cuban President Raul Castro on how much public dissent he will allow. Though Cuban law prohibits distribution of independent news sources, they have recently refrain from criticizing Sanchez and her critical blog posts largely because of her international notoriety. Last year, Sanchez was permitted to leave Cuba for an 80-day, worldwide tour that included a stop in the U.S.
Early posts on the site shine light on parts of Havana that rarely get reported on, like an article that details the experience of a night spent in Havana’s Calixto Garcia Hospital.
It is a new reporting style to many Cubans who have only read state-run newspapers for most of their lives.
“I have never read something like this in Granma,” a commenter wrote on the post, referring to one of the government-sponsored outlets. “It seemed like things or people like this have never officially existed in a city as big and complex as Havana.”
Escobar, the editor, said the site will create an unofficial consumer price index. The site dubs these indexes “Our Own Dow Jones” — relevant to an island that does not have access to international markets.
The “unofficial consumer price index” on day one shows the cost of a pound of boneless pork, and a pound of pumpkin, among other things.
A PDF version of every “paper” is available to download from the site. Cubans can then transfer them onto memory sticks and share them with each other. That’s a common method of sharing information, considering the island has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world.
Influential writers from Latin America and Spain, most notably Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, have signed on to a statement urging the Cuban government to “respect the right of this publication to exist and be distributed.”
14YM is the highest profile publication to join the ranks of smaller dissident-run sites, along with the two print magazines published by the Roman Catholic Church. But as Fox News Latino notes, neither of these are seen as true competition against widely distributed state-run newspapers, radio shows and television programs.
The project is being funded by independent investors both from within Cuba and from abroad, though Sanchez or Escobar have not yet revealed their identities.