Free Expression: On the Wings of a Little Blue Bird

Last night I was visited by a friend who lives in Las Villas who, to reach the capital, must overcome the transportation problems as well as the circle of vigilance that surrounds him. He told me that a few weeks ago he was detained and they confiscated his mobile phone for a couple of hours, until an officer appeared, annoyed, with the small Nokia in his hands. "Now you're in trouble," said the State Security officer holding him at the station, over and over. The reason for such alarm was that his phone's address book included an entry for Twitter, accompanied by a number in the UK.*

"No one can save you from fifteen years," threatened the officer, while asserting that sending an SMS to someone with such a strange name who lived so far away was a crime of enormous proportions. He didn't know that our tweets travel to cyberspace through the rough sending of text-only messages by way of cellphones. Nor could he imagine that instead of ending up in the hands of a member of the British intelligence services, our brief texts go to this blue bird that makes them fly through cyberspace. It is true that we broadcast blindly and that we cannot read our readers' replies or references, but at least we are reporting on the Island in 140 character fragments.

Always thinking in terms of conspiracies, agents and plots, they haven't noticed that the technologies have turned every citizen into his or her own mass media. It is no longer foreign correspondents who validate a given story in the eyes of the world, but rather, increasingly, it is our own forays on Twitter that are turned into informative references. My friend recounted it in his own way, "Yoani, when we were coming to Havana we had a big operation behind us. I drafted a text message in advance to alert people if they stopped us." Maybe it was the brightness of the Nokia display or the conviction that something new would intervene between pursued and pursuer that stopped them from putting him in a patrol car. If they had intercepted him, a brief click of a key would have sent his shout across the Web, telling what the international press would have taken hours to find out.

As I saw him off at the door he had his cellphone in his hand, like a dimly lit lantern. In the folder marked "drafts" an already prepared text would protect him from the shadows that awaited him below.

* Among the services offered by Twitter, is the ability to post via SMS for those who do not have Internet access. Everything is done through a service number for sending messages that will appear immediately on the user's account.