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Cuba's Forum on Alternative Media and Social Networks Ignores Alternative Voices

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The sign reads: Alternative media and social networks. New scenarios of political communication in the digital environment.

Architecture that was once daring, a carefully tended lawn and well-guarded doors to ward off the curious. The Palace of Conventions has been the site of so very many events organized by the government that it is difficult to separate its name from the word "official." It has also served as the parliamentary hall for a National Assembly that doesn't have its own space and refuses to use the gorgeous chamber of Havana's Capitol. This, in the inner sanctum of the state and government, has been the site of this week's Forum on Alternative Media and Social Networks, called by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ragged grass of any park would have been a better site, but there the participants would have been exposed to passersby and the uninvited... and this, of course, they could not allow.

In a country where the alternative blogosphere and twittersphere are both expanding, they held a meeting on Web 2.0 without inviting a single non-institutional voice. To ignore the existence of "the other" is at the very least childish; to hold exclusive events to talk about social networks displays a strong fear of differences. Perhaps among the attendees -- from five continents -- none was warned about the ideological bias of the Forum. They probably truly believed they would find the wide range of opinions so strongly on display in the blogs and Cuban-themed sites created on and off the island. But what they discovered was a structured script, where the Internet is analyzed as a weapon, a trench, a shield. The already exhausted methods of political confrontation and extremism, now painted over with a thin mantle of kilobytes.

It's enough to read the 14 points that came out of the meeting, which lasted two days, to conclude that the participants weren't there to be heard but rather to receive instructions. I found one of the accords especially surprising for the authoritarianism it reveals: the one where daily hashtags are established for use on Twitter. As if they don't realize that putting this mandate in writing exposes the lack of spontaneity of their Web campaigns. To the organizers of this Forum, believe me: defined sets of labels, mandated articles, imposed postures, have nothing to do with social media or alternative media. The seams of the vertically ordered are obvious. Readers prefer the spontaneity of the individual who interacts horizontally with others, versus agreements reached in the office of some palace official, in the most official zone of this city.

The Declaration that came out of the event is translated below from the text in Cafe Fuerte.

Final Declaration of the International Workshop "Alternative media and social networks, new scenarios of political communication in the digital realm." Havana, November 29-30, 2011.

Delegates from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, USA, France, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Nicaragua, Palestine, Venezuela, participants in the International Workshop "Alternative media and social networks, new scenarios of political communication in the digital realm," Havana, November 29-30, 2011, present the following:

  1. Create a directory of contacts with participants of the event to allow us to connect in real time and face attacks against our countries, alert us to different topics and place our messages. This directory will be sent via email. (Ventanapolitica@yahoo.es)
  2. Articulate a collaborative network, starting with the participants in this international workshop, that allow us to socialize content, information, contacts and experiences to work on Internet platforms and tools, on the basis of a defined political strategy. Its expression on the Web will be the www.ventanapolitica.wordpress.com blog.
  3. Work together synergistically on the overall campaign.
  4. Generate actions to enhance the continuous updating and training in the effective use of new technologies in the context of hypermedia, support the creation of multidisciplinary teams and the use of online tools and services such as videoconferencing, online courses, and others.
  5. Create a multidisciplinary group, including technical experts, that allow us to assess all the proposals we articulate emanating from the network.
  6. Support the reissue of events like the World Bloggers Meeting or this Workshop on Alternative Media and Social Networking.
  7. Promote the creation of quality content, that allow us to overcome our shortcomings in technological development.
  8. Support the incorporation into the network of younger generations and transform them into active progressive forces in these new platforms.
  9. Work together to design communication projects in social networks and other media that include the variety of themes, media and channels, as well as different audiences.
  10. Intensify work and research, in order to design and create our own alternatives (such as platforms, support, and even information security services) that allow us technological independence from the empires of capitalist production.
  11. Express our solidarity and support with the newspaper La Jornada, a publication that has been maligned by the magazine Letras Libres which has accused this prestigious Mexican publication, without arguments or evidence, of being complicit in terrorism.
  12. The theme of the five Cubans unjustly sentenced in the United States must be an axis of permanent struggle. And it will be efficient if we always keep in our minds that each one of us could be in their place. Every Cuban could be one of the 5. Demand the return of the 5 Cuban heroes to their homeland. Send a daily Twitter message in favor of their release. Create and utilize the following hashtags: #FreetheFive #Liberenlos5ya, #LosCinco, #TheFive.
  13. Convert the interventions of Aylin, Rosa Aurora and Olguita into a group of tweets that are socialized at once.
  14. Explore with our respective responsible government bodies the appropriateness of the mechanisms of integration that exist or are now being born in Latin America and the Caribbean to give priority to the issue of Communication and especially to the alternative media and social networks for the dissemination of the new reality to our geographical area.

Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.
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