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Interviews : Ernesto Hernandez Busto

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Ernesto Hernández Busto is an essayist, journalist and blogger and a recognized authority on technology and democracy. He was born in Havana, Cuba in 1968.

As a young man, he became active in the Paideia movement, a group of artists and writers that sought to reform cultural policy in Cuba. The response of security forces to this group of young intellectuals influenced his decision to emigrate. At the age of 21, he left Cuba “to escape the oppressive atmosphere of a totalitarian society, which was suffocating in all areas of life.”

From 1992 to 1999, he lived in Mexico, where we wrote for Vuelta magazine, edited by Octavio Paz, as well as other literary journals and publications. Since 1999, he has lived in Barcelona, Spain, where he works as an editor, translator and journalist.

His books include 'Perfiles derechos. Fisonomías del escritor reaccionario' (Barcelona, 2004; III “Casa de América” essay prize) and 'Inventario de saldos. Apuntes sobre literatura cubana' (Madrid, 2005). He has also published literary translations from Italian, Russian, French and Portuguese.

Since 2006, he has edited and published Penúltimos Días (, one of the most important websites on Cuban issues, with more than 70 contributors in 12 countries and over 10 million page views. He has participated in various forums on digital activism as "Internet at Liberty 2010" (organized by Google and the European Central University) and "Personal Democracy Forum Latin America," among others. His blog is widely recognized as among the most authoritative and comprehensive websites covering events in Cuba.

He wrote the chapters on Cuba's for Freedom House’s "Freedom on the Net" report (2010 and 2011). He is a frequent contributor to the Spanish newspaper El País, on policy and technology.

Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter: @penultimosdias 

The "ordinary" Cuban, as they say, "the common Cuban" is very suspicious of any social initiative, because he’s had enough of the official propaganda; he identifies any political idea, and even any civil movement, he automatically identifies it with the government and what the government has been doing. So many times those people just distance themselves from that discourse and they behave apathetically. So that's something important, that is a major challenge, not only winning in numbers, but convincing and persuading, rebuild that damaged tissue by years of totalitarianism, and to reconnect people. There are reasons to be optimistic in that sense. The relationship that the Cuban people have, and I’m not just talking about bloggers, I’m talking about the regular Cuban, with information has changed.

These days, very curious phenomena have been seen, like, people who have had a cell phone for only a few months use that phone to document the police brutality in a movie theater, for example. And they feel that information is valuable; it is a weapon for them. The rappers movement in Cuba is starting to generate momentum, I would not say of social commitment, but it goes against the apathy that the Cuban government had created, which is one of the main weapons, to keep people engaged in the most basic levels of survival: getting food, finding ways to "solve" as they say in Cuba, the "everyday" and not to worry about anything else on a bit deeper level, or that has a collective vision.

I think this is one of the main challenges for the people who are doing something in Cuba. Now, for us, who live outside of Cuba, let’s say that it is very difficult to make a career as an opposition figure, because on one hand, you are subject to the allegations of foreign funding, and on the other hand, the level of real action is limited by mechanisms of listening, monitoring-- then we must act almost blind, right?

It’s very difficult to communicate freely with people that want to do something in Cuba, and also, in Cuba there has always been this feeling that the legitimate change is the change that comes from within, you know, they have an idea that the exile community cannot play an important role. I believe that new technologies may contribute to undoing that myth.

I've been blogging about Cuban issues for almost four years and now I think, not only because of the level of audience that my blog has, but also due to the level of credibility that it has, it’s used as a daily source for almost all foreign journalists on the island. I know it, because I see where they are getting connected. In Cuba the connection points, or access points, because they are not telephone companies like in any other country, always show the name of the institution that is providing the Internet access, it shows in any cyber statistics. So, I see who the people connecting are. People who connect are often these reporters that are inside Cuba, but go to a blog that is outside Cuba to find out what the menu of news is. So I think that kind of pressure has been important. 

Cuba, an island nation of 11.4 million people in the northern Caribbean Sea, is a totalitarian state.

Fidel Castro led the 1959 Cuban Revolution and ruled the country for 49 years before formally relinquishing power to his younger brother Raul in 2008. Raul Castro is the current head of state and First Secretary of the Communist Party, which is recognized by the Cuban Constitution as the only legal political party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” Raul Castro has said that he will step down from power at the age of 86 in 2018.

Cuba was a territory of Spain until the Spanish-American War. The United States assumed control of the island until 1902, when the Republic of Cuba became formally independent. A fledgling democracy was established, with the U.S. continuing to play a strong role in Cuban affairs.

In 1952, facing an impending electoral loss, former president Fulgencio Batista staged a successful military coup and overthrew the existing government. While his first term as elected president in the 1940s largely honored progressive politics, universal freedoms, and the Cuban Constitution of 1940, Batista’s return to power in the 1950s was a dictatorship marked by corruption, organized crime and gambling. He held power until 1959 when he was ousted by Fidel Castro’s rebel July 26th Movement.

While promising free elections and democracy, Castro moved quickly to consolidate power. By 1961, Castro had declared Cuba to be a communist nation.

Castro’s communist government nationalized private businesses, lashed out at political opponents, and banned independent civil society. As Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Union, Cuban-American relations soured, including a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. In the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union came close to war, after the Soviets installed nuclear missiles in Cuba, prompting a U.S. naval embargo.

Since the revolution, Cuba has remained a one-party state. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the evaporation of Soviet economic support, Cuba loosened some economic policies, became more open to foreign investment, and legalized use of the U.S. dollar. By the late 1990s, Venezuela had become Cuba’s chief patron, thanks to the close relationship between the Castro brothers and Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez.

The regime continues to exercise authoritarian political control, clamping down on political dissent and mounting defamation campaigns against dissidents, portraying them as malignant U.S. agents. In a massive crackdown in 2003 known as the Black Spring, the government imprisoned 75 of Cuba’s best-known nonviolent dissidents.

The Cuban government does not respect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion. The government and the Communist Party control all news media, and the government routinely harasses and detains its critics, particularly those who advocate democracy and respect of human rights. Frequent government actions against dissidents often take the form of attacks by regime-organized mobs. Prison conditions are harsh and often life-threatening, and the courts operate as instruments of the Communist Party rather than conducting fair trials.

Cuba relaxed its travel laws in 2013, allowing some prominent dissidents to leave and return to the country. It continues to experiment with modest economic reforms but remains committed to communist economic orthodoxy.

In Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report, Cuba was designated as “not free” and is grouped near the bottom of the world’s nations, with severely restricted civil rights and political liberties.

More from Ernesto Hernandez Busto

Ernesto Hernandez Busto: Challenges and Opportunities Ernesto discusses the challenges and opportunities that come with technology. Ernesto Hernandez Busto: The Regime and the Internet “The biggest mistake of the Cuban government was not taking the Internet seriously.” Ernesto Hernandez Busto: The Cuban Blogosphere How blogs have changed the dissident movement. More + Ernesto Hernandez Busto: Tactics of Repression How the Cuban government represses dissidents. Ernesto Hernandez Busto: Technology Unites the Opposition How technology is uniting a fractured opposition. Ernesto Hernandez Busto: Background Ernesto Hernandez Busto discusses his background Ernesto Hernandez Busto: Cuba and the Green Revolution Cubans carefully followed Iran’s Green Revolution. Ernesto Hernandez Busto: The Role of the United Nations How Cuba uses the United Nations to promote its positions.