Born in Havana in 1980, Laritza Diversent, like all the other alternative Cuban bloggers, writes in her blog with much passion and dedication, but her specific work occupies a very special spot in the world of Cuban independent journalism. As a Law graduate from the University of Havana, Laritza incorporates her ample knowledge of the Cuban legal system to educate her fellow compatriots, the everyday Cubans, about their rights as citizens. In this manner, Laritza has become a real obstacle for the totalitarian government of the Castros, simply because of her intelligence. That is exactly how she singles out just which laws are being violated and/or ignored. She divides her time between writing for her blog, “Laritza’s Laws”, as well as for “Cubanet” and “From Havana”. She also offers legal assistance and consolations to her friends, neighbors, or anyone who needs help.
Laritza belongs to a generation that has been lied to and robbed of its civil liberties, yet she still harbors hope for the future of her island nation. With lots of sacrifice and work, she assumes the role of mother, wife, lawyer, independent journalist, and blogger. Straight from Cuba, here is her story:
When did you begin your work as an independent journalist?
I began in May 2007. I titled my first work “Is there a president in the Cuban Republic?” I had lots of questions and anxieties that I wanted to express. They were doubts that were piercing my thoughts. With my legal education I began to realize that everyday reality did not match my studies. I reflected on these differences on paper; I remember that I did so first with a portable typewriter (Royal brand). I have no idea what year it is from. I only know that it is old and that I still have it with me. My first reader was the independent journalist Odelin Alfonso, whom I was friends with. He suggested that I send my work to Cubanet and so I did. From the beginning, my writings were received well, and to this day I still collaborate with that website, due to its level of excellence within the independent Cuban press.
Why did you choose to open a blog as your means of communication? Do you think the Internet and blogs are effective tools to combat the social and political repression which exists in Cuba?
The blog gave me the opportunity to engage in a closer debate with my readers. From the beginning, I wished for my work to focus on legal affairs, all the while knowing the limiting factor that legal subjects are of little interest and are virtually unknown in Cuba. With my blog I could inform myself about which topics draw an interest in Cuba, and in that manner I could expose just how these laws are carried out in our society. It has proven to be of much use to me both as a lawyer and as a journalist.
I believe that the Internet is an effective tool to exert pressure on the government and to somewhat paralyze its repressive actions. With the Internet there are no frontiers or silences. The possibilities that it offers to Cubans are immeasurable, especially because of the fact that it can shape international opinion and create pressure which, as we have come to know, forces the government to give in. Today, those who run this country could not ignore anything that they have done if it has been published on the Internet. They may brag or go off on tangents about how they don’t accept pressure or blackmail, but sooner or later they will be obliged to respond. I think that the Internet has become the Achilles’ heel of the government. It’s something that they do not have the capacity to control.
Do you keep your identity as a blogger a secret among your friends and acquaintances? If they know that you are a blogger, what are their reactions? Do you feel that you are in danger because you are a blogger and an independent journalist?
Sadly, few Cubans know about the term “blogger”. In fact, every time I tell anyone that I have a blog I have to explain what it is. I would say that 25% of the people I know have a computer, while only 10% of those have Internet access. And when they have accessed the net it has been solely to communicate with relatives who live outside the country. That’s my reality. I live in a peripheral and marginal neighborhood of the capital, El Calvario (The Calvary), in Arroyo Naranjo, which is the poorest municipality of the province. The people who know me know that I am a dissident and commonly refer to us as the “human rights people”. I don’t have a problem with that or with them. As for now, I have not felt any sense of rejection. On the contrary, they actually approach me to ask for legal advice.
Anyone who publicly dissents in the country runs risks, though. You don’t know when they [the government] will randomly beat you or detain you for 6 hours in a dungeon, or when they will commence a penal process against you for whatever reason- an argument with your mother or your neighbor, buying something through the black market, or any reason at all is enough for them to apply the law rigorously and arbitrarily against you. Every single time you step out of your house, that fear lingers in the back of your mind. It’s a lie to say that we don’t feel fear, but that fear is what liberates you. You don’t beg for freedom, you just use it.
Which methods do you use to be able to access the Internet?
I have a fixed shift, 2 hours per week in the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which is the only place that offers free Internet access for any Cuban resident, without distinctions or ideologies. I manage to get additional access through hotels, by paying 8 CUC per hour for a Wi-Fi connection.
Would you consider your salary to be sufficient for raising your child/children?
I don’t receive any salary. I don’t work for the state, precisely because the salary which they offer is insufficient, and I would spend (on transportation and food) more than what they gave me. I also do not have any work contract with anyone. I receive some recompense for my intellectual work, just like any author does for their work. With that money, I help to keep up my house and to maintain my son (the essentials he needs in order to live and grow). My blog does not give me any sort of economic benefits, but it is my passion and a hobby which I feel I cannot stop. It’s my means of expression.
Have you always disagreed with the Cuban governmental system?
I was always apathetic towards anything political. I would take part in some events because I had to, but never to the point of actually becoming motivated by it or for it. I wouldn’t go to the extent of meetings, positions, joining the Union of Young Communists, or taking part in the marches. Every single time I had the chance to get out of any of these things, I did. Though I do remember that they would actually collect the names of those who participated in order to accumulate political points for the moment of their graduation. It wasn’t until I entered the university that I started to question everything. I wouldn’t do it before; I would just give up and accept my penuries as being products of my destiny or simply bad luck.
What would you say about the Cuban youth? Would you say that they are desperate or that they truly just do not care about the situation their country is facing?
The Cuban youth are simply the reflection of our national reality. The new generations grew up under the scarcities of the Special Period. They are very incredulous (no ideology) and carry the stain of pessimism and feel that nothing can be done. They are fueled by opportunism, double morals, and egoism. Like we say here, they relate to the sayings of “my things come first” and “get out of my way to let me through”. Those are the slogans which they inherited from our predecessors. They don’t have an education of rigor and are overtaken by social and economic problems. They are at a disadvantage- although they’d like to think of the common well-being, they can’t. There is no space or opportunity available for them, and they can’t count on the communication media. Newer generations around the world have these information technologies at their disposal and manage them effectively, but the Cuban youth do not have access to the means necessary to develop themselves through these outlets. They are born out of frustration and are the new fruit, the new man. Years will pass until the Cuban youth become conscious and feel obligated to assume responsibility for their reality.
You have been detained by State Security; what were the reasons for your detention and what were your experiences like?
I’ve had multiple encounters with State Security. From the moment I decided to become an independent journalist they assigned an agent to me. That person was young, actually, and would periodically visit me. Sometimes, they would tell me that they knew everything that I was doing, which was a form of saying we have you controlled and you are being watched. Other times they would claim to be “advising” me that they would not allow me to attend an opposition event, which they supposedly knew I would be attending. The way they treat me has not been the same that they treat other dissidents. They have been very cautious with their vocabulary towards me. The warnings they sent me about their operations were actually gentle because they wanted to avoid forcing me to travel all the way to where they were. They avoided using any threats or aggressive language because they are aware that doing so would have been a violation of the Penal Code. I am certain that the difference in treatment towards me is because of my legal knowledge.
One of their strategies has been to interfere with my personal life. I am married, and on one occasion they cited my husband in order to try to evoke feelings of jealousy in him. I warned them that next time I would denounce them for violating my family intimacy. After that incident, they officially cited me, and I still have the document in my possession. The interview was scheduled to take place in a police station but they later transferred me to a guest-house in a solitary neighborhood. My experience was not pleasant- imagine arguing alone against three agents of State Security, one of them being the Chief of Section 21 (in charge of political affairs) while they were defending the revolution and I was arguing against it. They were in their domain, and I had a great fear that they were recording all of my answers to later edit them and publish them at their convenience. My level of stress increased, but I remained calm.
Would you say that you fear for yourself and your family?
Yes, the fear is constant. One can’t underestimate the repressive machine that is the government. They very well could create any sort of legal process and take you to jail, since all of the media is run by them and they do not have any qualms. I recognize my defenselessness in such a case, but not because I am afraid of another human being. My name and my face on the Internet give me a little bit of protection but that doesn’t reach my family. They could do anything to them as a way of trying to affect my work.
Why did you choose to study law in a totalitarian country? Do you feel that there is a future for your career?
When I chose my career, I was not entirely convinced that I lived under a totalitarian system. I came to grips with that concept after I began my legal studies, and it was then that I applied it. I enjoy learning about laws, but after having studied them for a while, I realized that I had chosen this profession in the wrong country. Unfortunately, I don’t have a future as a legal professional. The legal system is designed only to protect the interests of the political class, not to protect the citizens.
Would you say that there have been any changes in the legal system since Raul Castro took power?
None. On the contrary, they tend to consolidate their interests through the instrumentation of legal dispositions. One example is the creation of the operative system which is completely subordinate to the State Council. The anti-corruption control only affects those who are interested.
Is there an actual law in Cuba that prohibits the use of the Internet?
No, what happens is that the material conditions necessary to allow all Cubans to access the Internet are not present. On another hand, the State fully controls the minor access according to its interests, and the rest is a struggle for the citizens.
What does the official mass media say about the generations of Cubans prior to the revolution?
They consider them anti-Cuban terrorists who are mobsters at the service of the US. But the perception has changed among the people, although some still use the governmental terms from time to time. The government appeals to nationalistic sentiment in order to attack them: “They want to return us to colonialism or annex us to the empire”. The rhetoric is very worn out and can easily be classified as “politics”, which is not accepted by a large portion of the citizens.
Do you have any messages you’d like to share with the readers of your blog and for the Cubans residing in exile?
I’d like to tell them that here in Cuba, we count on them. We count on their experiences in a world where democracy has functioned to help reconstruct our country. The task is not easy, but together we can do it. One day Cuba will belong to all Cubans.
Do you feel optimistic about Cuba’s future?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Perhaps it’s because of the desperation which we are so familiar with as young people. I do not see any advances with guarantees for progress. I feel that we are in a vicious cycle; sometimes we take a step forward, and other times we take two steps back. I can’t help but feel pessimistic at times. But I continue onward with my struggle, because the last thing that should be lost is hope.