Without a doubt, the blog “Octavo Cerco” is one of the most popular Cuban blogs. This is all thanks to the fact that with her direct, descriptive, and (one can say) sarcastic attitude, Claudia Cadelo informs her readers about how life really is in Cuba. She has said that she is not a political person, and anyone who gets the chance to speak to her or reads her blog could easily notice that with her sincere style, she effectively describes the absurdities that are associated with living under the castro government, just by describing her day to day life. Many times, her posts cause laughter or amusement but they never lose the focus of exposing the Cuban reality. At 27 years of age, she is one of the youngest voices within the Cuban blogosphere, inspiring many other youths to express themselves freely whether it be online or in person. She has also created quite a following among readers of all sorts of ages and nationalities, and has also been awarded various prizes for her exemplary work.
With all that said, she is an average everyday girl who lives in a humble neighborhood of Havana and is an enemy of censorship. Together with her husband, the guitarist Ciro Diaz, Claudia represents a generation of Cubans that are sick and tired of being repressed by state-sponsored silence and artistic, social, and political censorship. With her words, and overall with much dignity, Claudia adds to the cracks which grow deeper and wider each time on the large wall of absolute control that is the Cuban totalitarian government.
Although she has been victim of mob acts and violence, Claudia refuses to let fear silence her voice. On the contrary, these events have allowed her to grow as a person and have helped her re-enforce her own ideals. From the “octavo cerco”, here is her story:
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you grow up?
I was born in Havana, in the year 1983. I was a happy child until the Special Period arrived and I had to start going to school with my mom’s shoes, something that really bothered me. Years passed until I could fully accept and understand that we had jumped into the hole of poverty and hunger.
What were the events that led you to publicly dissent from the Cuban government?
It was a gradual process: I discovered two-faced morals, intransigence, and hypocrisy from those who shielded themselves behind the masks of political positions in the FEEM and the UJC. I think that at the end of my adolescence I harbored many differences from the system, and although I wouldn’t consider that I ever said anything “politically incorrect”, it seems that in some way or another I did, without even knowing it. For some time, I dreamed of leaving the country. I even signed up in the lottery for a chance to get out, but this never got to me and with time I changed my mind. Patience is not one of my virtues and the whole notion of “waiting for my exit” really just bore me.
When did you decide to join the Cuban blogosphere? Were you afraid of publishing your first post? Have you always written?
I started writing my own blog after the liberation of Gorki. During the trial, there was lots of tension, we were really worn out. Then Ismael de Diego, from the other side of the room, started to crack jokes behind me and Elizardo Sanchez. He was acting as if he was the freest man in the entire universe. I realized that this whole situation was extremely stupid and incoherent, and that they would always make fun of our fears as long as we had any. The lawyer even forgot Gorki’s name and had to actually go through all of his paperwork in order to remember it. I got the urge to just start describing everything that I was witnessing around me, of sharing this total absurdity with someone. I had written some very intimate poems which I have never shown anyone, and at one point I kept a diary, but I never imagined that I would one day actually publish posts.
Yoani Sanchez explained to me what a blog was, and she published my first post on Generation Y and helped me with everything. After that I had been translating some entries from Generation Y into French until I opened my own space.
I wasn’t afraid when I published my first post, because all of the fear that my head was capable of experiencing without going mad I had already felt in all its paranoiac, terrifying, and irrational splendor during the four days of Gorki’s arrest. When I started Octavo Cerco I was already cured of the fright, like we say here.
Would you say that new technologies like blogs, twitters, and cell phones, etc. have been effective in combating official censorship?
Without a doubt. The arrival of the digital era has shattered – within the possible framework of a society where total control of technology is part of the official political agenda – the state monopoly over information (I know it may be a small crack, but I don’t care, something is better than nothing). People have known how to take advantage of this, and today, there exists a spontaneous network of all kinds of digital information traffic, which was something unthinkable during the nineties. However, the state continues exercising total control over massive media outlets, so we are condemned to stick with the “underground” and to only reach minorities throughout society. But the network is growing and people have the desire to know and they do know.
Do you think that if everyday Cubans had access to the internet they would join the blogging movement? Or would you say that they are not interested about the situation which their country is facing?
Foreseeing the behavior of citizens if they had massive access to the internet is nearly impossible without conducting polls and social studies. I don’t know if the majority would open blogs, would play games online, or would become obsessed with all the sale offers. Whatever the case may be, the outcome would be positive for everyone. What you refer to as the “blogging movement” is not exactly a movement. We don’t have a common platform; we don’t function as a political party. Solidarity and the desire to be free are what unite us. The situation of the country interests all of us, since we are all victims of it. Man has the capability of abstracting but not of living in a parallel reality.
You were involved, together with other bloggers, with the blog of Pablo Pacheco, “Voices Behind Bars”. Please explain a little about how you learned about Pacheco, his situation, and why you decided to help him.
Ivan Garcia called me to open a blog for Pablo. I loved the idea, and Yoani Sanchez set up the blog on Voces Cubanas (Cuban Voices) and a blogger friend in Canada made us the banner. Pablo would dictate his texts by phone to Yoani, Eugenio, and me. Ciro would fix any audio problems (such as extra noise) and we would all type it up. I think it is very inhumane that a person is condemned to 20 years of prison just for writing. It was the only way I could help him and for me it was an honor.
What are the reactions of other youths before you, knowing that you are a dissident?
My friends have not abandoned me. For me, it has been very important to feel that I am not alone, despite the fact that those in power try to isolate me. As for the rest of my life, it’s normal: I know people, we converse, and I go out.
Some intellectuals classify the Cuban governmental system as one which provides free medicine and education and respects the rights of Cuban citizens. What would you tell these people?
I invite them to come to Cuba with their kids to live in a normal house, to give up their nationalities, and solicit permanent residence here (to travel again they will need another exit permit). I’d also ask them to look for a legal job and live off of their salaries, to consume products from the ration-book, and enroll their children in Cuban schools. When six months have passed, then I’d sit down with them and talk.
In your blog, there is an entry titled “Urban Paranoia” in which you mention that you feel paranoiac when any stranger enters your house. What have been the events which have led you to this point? (For example, have they detained you? Cited? Kidnapped?)
I’ve been cited once and detained (by “undocumented civilians”) another time. I have been kept from participating in cultural events and have been right at the center of some mob acts, right there next to the victims. But before all of these things, in fact even before I launched my blog, I was already paranoid- it’s one of the main characteristics of the “new man”.
As a young person, how would you describe the methods of entertainment and escape among the young Cuban population? In other words, what do many young people do to distract themselves from their reality?
Evasion is a weapon used by the youth. Clubs and bars are far too expensive so the majority of young people wander the streets when night falls. Many hang out in the parks, like in G for example, or along the Malecon. There are no plans for the future, because the future is a large black hole, which is why many decide to leave the country.
How would you describe Cuban education? Is there a lot of political propaganda involved? Do students really believe this propaganda or are there lots of doubts and questions?
I think that, in general, Cuban education is deteriorated on all levels and I see very little political will to try to solve this problem. One of the techniques to exercise control, which was used in the former Soviet Union as well, is to impose dogma on students from a very early age. From the moment that kids start their mandatory schooling they are bombarded with political propaganda. They learn to write with phrases about Fidel, they read political texts, and learn to obey the ideology.
Small children don’t understand the world the way we do, and I would say that the questions without answers come later on in life. Ideology is in crisis, this has been a fact since more than a decade, and we only have the will left to continue maintaining ourselves.
Do you think that the physical reappearance of Fidel Castro really has an importance?
It’s important from the very moment that he once again occupies the television screens and newspapers. It’s difficult to have hope for any sort of change as long as that man continues invading our lives with all of his hallucinations. I’m not going to deny, though, that for me it’s very amusing to see him in his current state, but I perfectly understand that for the entire nation it has a very malignant effect.
Do you have any messages for the exiled Cubans? And for the readers of your blog and those who help you manage it?
I would like to thank all of them for reading me and giving me strength. I could count with my fingers how many times I’ve felt solidarity in my own country, yet I’ve lost count how many times I’ve experienced this through the virtual world.