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Transnational Dynamics of Contention in Contemporary Cuba

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2015


This article explores the example of Cuba in order to understand how a contentious politics has evolved since the 2000s and especially after the semi-liberalisation of internet access in 2008. My aim is to analyse how use of new technologies impact the fragmented arenas of contention that already existed in Cuba. My argument is that they have reinforced existing dynamics, while creating new channels of expression and linkage, between contentious spaces within Cuba and with specific segments of the Cuban diaspora. Those dynamics have in turn allowed for the emergence of a transnational Cuban public arena and a more intricate contentious space in Cuba itself.

Spanish abstract

Este artículo explora el caso cubano con el fin de entender cómo el debate político ha evolucionado desde los años 2,000 y en especial luego de la liberación parcial del acceso al internet en 2008. Mi intención es analizar cómo los usos de las nuevas tecnologías impactan en las fragmentadas arenas de disputa política que ya existían en Cuba. Mi argumento es que lo anterior ha reforzado las dinámicas existentes, mientras que han creado nuevos canales de expresión e interconexión entre dichos espacios políticos disputados al interior de Cuba junto con segmentos específicos de la diáspora cubana. Tales dinámicas a su vez han permitido la emergencia de una arena pública cubana transnacional y un espacio más intrincado del debate político en Cuba.

Portuguese abstract

Este artigo explora o caso cubano de forma a compreender como a contestação tem evoluído desde os anos 2000, especificamente após a abertura parcial do acesso à internet em 2008. Meu objetivo é analisar como os usos de novas tecnologias para fins de contestação têm impacto nas arenas de disputas que já existiam em Cuba. Meu argumento é que as novas tecnologias reforçaram as dinâmicas já existentes, enquanto criaram novos canais de expressão e ligações entre espaços de contestação dentro de Cuba e segmentos específicos da diáspora cubana. Por sua vez, estas dinâmicas têm permitido a emergência de uma arena política pública transnacional cubana e um espaço de contestação mais intrincado em Cuba.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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1 Article 72 of the Cuban penal law (own translation).

2 ‘El juicio a Gorki Águila, visto por Camilo Loret de Mola’, El Tono de la Voz, 31 August 2008, available at

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15 In 2008, Raúl Castro liberalised access to cell phones and computers, but access to the internet still remains restricted: only certain categories of professionals can have an email address ( and access the intranet (sometimes the internet) at home. Connections in hotels cost Cuban$7–10 per hour (the average monthly salary is CU$20). In 2013, internet cafés have opened and access is now much cheaper (from CU$1.5 to CU4.5$ per hour), although CU$4.5 is still about a week's average salary in Cuba, and state monitoring has increased.

16 I rely on Bourdieu's social theory of social differentiation between fields of power (economic field, political field, cultural field, etc.) in Propos sur le champ politique (Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 2000).

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19 Roussel, ‘Occupational Logics and Political Commitment’.

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22 Archives of Paideia and Tercera Opción are available online: (special issue of Cubista Magazine, Summer 2006).

23 I spent most of my research trips in Havana, therefore I am overlooking existing spaces elsewhere. Those spaces, when they exist, are often short lived because of lack of resources and strong pressure, whereas Havana is a freer place, as a capital city.

24 The 2008 Freedom House report ‘El cambio en Cuba, como en los ciudadanos el futuro de su país’, shows that most Cubans know little or nothing about Cuban dissidents. And when they do, their opinion about them is negative.

25 For an exploration of the emergence of that arena in the 1990s, see Azcuy, Hugo, ‘Estado y sociedad civil en Cuba’, Temas 4 (1995), pp. 105–11Google Scholar; Dilla, Haroldo, ‘Controversia: sociedad civil en los 90: el debate cubano’, Temas, 16/17 (1999), pp. 161–5Google Scholar; Gunn, Gillian, ‘Cuba's NGOs: Government Puppets or Seeds of Civil Society?’, Cuban Briefing Paper 7 (Washington, DC: Georgetown University, 1995)Google Scholar.

26 Yvon Grenier makes a distinction between first parameters, which are stable (criticisms against Fidel, the party and the state are always sanctioned) and secondary parameters, which are more ‘elusive’ (criticisms of social problems are tolerated as long as their political roots are not mentioned) in ‘Cultural Policy, Participation and the Gatekeeper State in Cuba’ (Miami, ASCE Conference, 2014).

27 Interviews with Manuel Desdín (technical support for Cubaencuentro until 2009 and now its main coordinator), Pablo Díaz (journalist, former chief editor of Cubaencuentro and now director of Diario de Cuba) and Antonio José Ponte (writer, co-director of journal Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana and now co-director of Diario de Cuba) in June and July 2011.

28 Tilly, Charles, From Mobilization to Revolution (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1978), pp. 62–9Google Scholar.

29 More for elaboration on this, see Grenier, ‘Cultural Policy, Participation and the Gatekeeper State’.

30 One of the main charges against him when he was jailed in 2003 was the fact that he had regularly contributed to Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana and Cubancuentro. See Eliseo Alberto, ‘En defensa de Raul Rivero’, El País, 20 April 2003.

31 Oficialista (officialist) is a negative term to describe people who support the Cuban government with no distance.

32 For instance Omni Zona Franca often invited well-known writers and poets during their Poesía sin Fin festivals to gain legitimacy and prevent them from being censored.

33 Grenier speaks about a ‘comfort zone’ in ‘Cultural Policy, Participation and the Gatekeeper State’.

34 Most of the exchanged posts are documented here: For a thorough account of the ‘email war’, see Ponte, Antonio José, Villa Marista en Plata. Arte, política, nuevas tecnologías (Madrid: Colibri, 2010)Google Scholar; Kumaraswami, Par, ‘“El color de nuestro futuro”: Assessing the Significance of the encuentros of 2007’, Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research, 15: 2 (2009), pp. 103–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 Hoffmann, ‘Civil Society in the Digital Age’.

36 Ponte, Villa Marista en Plata, p. 100. See also ‘La política cultural de la revolución es irreversible’, statement issued by the Secretariat of UNEAC (Cuban artists and intellectuals’ union), published in Granma on 18 January, 2007.

37 This idea is also shared by some exiles who say they remain ‘revolutionaries’. See Eliseo Alberto's email about other exiles’ positions available at

38 Ponte, Villa Marista en Plata, p. 134.

39 On the process of autonomisation of the cultural sphere, see Fernandes, Cuba Represent!

40 See interview with Claudia Cadelo by Tracey Eaton on his blog (Along the Malecón), available at

41 See Carlos Alberto Montaner's post on Penúltimos Días: ‘La libertad de Gorki Águila y de todos los Cubanos’,

42 For an analysis of Raúl Castro's economic reforms, see Mesa-Lago, Carmelo, Cuba en la era de Raúl Castro. Reformas económico-sociales y sus efectos (Madrid: Colibri, 2013)Google Scholar.

43 Geoffray, Marie Laure, Contester à Cuba (Paris: Dalloz, 2012)Google Scholar.

44 The fact that singer Robertico Carcassés voiced criticisms of the Cuban political system during an open air concert on 13 September, 2013, in favour of four Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States, clearly shows that there is a shift in discursive norms as far as criticism. Moreover, the fact that Cuban authorities did not really sanction the singer (a few threats of censorship) also demonstrates that such criticism has become more tolerated (thus blurring the distinction made by Grenier between first and secondary parameters).

45 Keck, Margaret and Sikkink, Katherine, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998)Google Scholar, p. 13.

46 Cardon, Dominique and Granjon, Philippe, Médiactivistes (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2010Google Scholar), p. 132.

47 Michel Dobry, ‘Paths, Choices, Outcomes, and Uncertainty’.

48 Cardon and Granjon, Médiactivistes.

49 Farrell, Henry and Drezner, Daniel, ‘The Power and Politics of Blogs’, Public Choice, 134 (2008), pp. 1530CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Hindman, Matthew, The Myth of Digital Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009)Google Scholar.

50 For a map of the Cuban blogosphere, see Henken, Ted, ‘Una cartografia de la blogosfera cubana’, Nueva Sociedad, 235 (2011), pp. 90109Google Scholar.

51 See post ‘Se ha dicho’:

52 Interviews with exiled blogger and writer Ernesto Hernández Busto, 17, 18 and 21 June 2011.

53 For a list of these prizes, check Sánchez's post on the subject at

54 Matthew Hindman, The Myth of Digital Democracy.

55 Cardon and Granjon, Médiactivistes, pp. 130–2.

56 Mathieu, Lilian, ‘L'espace des mouvements sociaux’, Politix, 77 (2007), pp. 131–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Own translation.

57 Bourdieu, Pierre, The Field of Cultural Production. Essays on Art and Literature (Cambridge: Polity, 1993), pp. 30–2Google Scholar.

58 Mauger, Gérard, ‘Pour une politique réflexive du mouvement social’, in Cours-Salies, Pierre and Vakaloulis, Michel (eds.), Les mobilisations collective: une controverse sociologique (Paris: PUF, 2003), pp. 3342Google Scholar.

59 Crossley, Nick, ‘From Reproduction to Transformation. Social Movement Fields and the Radical Habitus’, Theory, Culture & Society, 20: 6 (2003), pp. 4368CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

60 Mathieu, ‘L'espace des mouvements sociaux’, p. 133.

61 See their website,

62 Alexis Jardines, ‘Hacia una resistencia inteligente’, published in Penúltimos Días on 30 Aug. 2011, available at

63 Mathieu, ‘L'espace des mouvements sociaux’, p. 135.

64 See text published on Observatorio Critico's website on 18 Dec. 2009,

65 Pitkin, Hanna, ‘Justice. On Relating Public and Private’, Political Theory, 9: 3 (1981), p. 347CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 Yoani Sánchez, ‘¿Que hiciste cuando vinieron buscando al inconforme?’, Generación Y, 29 Dec. 2009, available at

67 The interests section represents American interests, in the absence of formal diplomatic relations which are to be re-established in 2015.

68 ‘EEUU apuesta por la disidencia juvenil’, El País, 16 Dec. 2010.

69 See those two texts, written a few months after the US cables were made public. Darsi Ferrer, ‘Los blogueros alternativos, un mal menor para los Castro’, Cubaencuentro, 12 April 2011, available at Marta Beatriz Roque, ‘Fabrica de disidentes’, Diario de Cuba, 4 Aug. 2011, available at

70 Antonio Rodiles, ‘Espejismo y realidad. Una respuesta a Marta Beatriz Roque’, Diario de Cuba, 5 Aug. 2011, available at; Ailer González, ‘Fabrica de alas’, available at

71 Alexis Jardines, ‘Hacia una resistencia inteligente’.

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