HAVANA – Cuba's best-known blogger has launched the country's first major independent general-interest news outlet in five decades, offering a mix of feature and news reporting, opinion, sports and even hair and beauty tips that she and her backers hope will challenge the official government monopoly on information.
The launch of the site, 14ymedio.com, will test both the government's tolerance for dissent and blogger Yoani Sanchez's ability to parlay her international blogging success into a domestic audience on an island moving from electronic isolation toward broader Internet access.
The site went live just after 8 a.m. Havana time and there appeared to be no immediate government attempt to block it. Its first offerings include reporting with a critical slant toward the government, including a feature that looks at petty violence through the lens of a night in one of Havana's main hospitals. There's an interview with a detained dissident writer and a sports feature on the alleged official neglect of soccer in favor of baseball. It also includes more quotidian elements including a weather report, an index of the price of staple foods such as pork and tomatoes, and five tips for fixing dry and damaged hair.
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 the daily updated website and a weekly PDF of what they say will be 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. The PDF available Wednesday was far skimpier than the site itself, containing simply the hospital article and the editorial staff's statement of values.
Escobar, who will be the editor-in-chief, told The Associated Press the paper 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 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 license 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.
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 few 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 centers 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.
Sanchez's blog is incorporated into the new publication.
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 14ymedio is being funded by independent investors, both Cubans and foreigners, although he declined to reveal their identities, or the names of his staff, until the paper begins publishing.
Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.
Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein