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Dissident's new digital newspaper blocked in Cuba

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez launched a new digital newspaper Wednesday, with hopes of making it Cuba's first independent news outlet in 50 years, but it was blocked in the communist-ruled island almost immediately.

Curious Cubans trying to link to Sanchez's "14ymedio" site were redirected to another page, Yoanislandia.com, filled with attacks on the prize-winning writer and pieces by pro-government bloggers.

"This is a site of people sick of Yoani Sanchez presenting herself as the Mother Teresa of the Cuban dissidents," the replacement site said in its "about us" tab.

Sanchez launched her new site at 8:05 am (1205 GMT), promising to offer Cubans "a complete spectrum of news, opinion pieces and information" about life on the island.

But by 11 am (1500 GMT) it had been blocked inside Cuba, where the state has controlled all media since the early days of the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Noted figures from around the world, including Nobel prize-winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa and Polish Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa, urged the government to "respect the right" of the newspaper to exist, in a letter posted on the site.

Sanchez assembled a newsroom of 11 journalists, including herself, in Havana to produce the news site. Her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, is editor-in-chief.

14ymedio was seen as a potential game changer in the media landscape here, since Cubans for decades have had just one official source of news -- the Havana government.

The dozens of media outlets include Granma, the newspaper of the Communist party, Juventud Rebelde, published by the Union of Young Communists and broadcaster Telerebelde -- all emitting a similar pro-Communist message, and rarely offering even mild criticism of the government.

But the government of President Raul Castro has embarked on a raft of incremental reforms that is cautiously opening up the island, a trend which raised hopes for the new venture.

Sanchez has said that the newspaper would also be distributed via cellphone and email, as well as through digital memory devices like USB flash drives, DVDs and CDs.

"14ymedio stems from of the evolution of a personal journey, but it has turned into a collective venture," Sanchez wrote on the site Wednesday.

"14ymedio.com has been my obsession for more than four years," she added.

"Today I've achieved a dream... a journalistic space where I will be joined by many of my colleagues."

The reporting on its first day ranged from the mundane -- tips on restoring lost luster to damaged hair -- to an article on a Catholic conclave currently meeting on the island. An analysis piece, meanwhile, discussed the impact so far of Castro's reforms.

There was also a cultural calendar, listing events in music, film and dance that Cubans might want to attend.

The newspaper's name, which means 14 and a half, is a mixture of references.

The 14 refers to both the year of its founding and the 14th floor apartment where Sanchez lives and works. The "y" alludes to her Generacion Y blog, and "medio" is a play on the Spanish word for media.

Despite the block on Cuban users, Sanchez's site quickly boasted a feature that Cubans are unaccustomed to in the official media -- lively debate between supporters and detractors of the Revolution.

In its comments section, 14ymedio displayed a range of opinions posted by early readers about the importance of the new venture, and discussion about the role of Communism in present-day Cuba.

One poster, under the name "Fernando," slammed the fledgling publication, which he said had been "financed by the CIA and the US, through its network of NGOs spread throughout the world."

But someone writing under the name "Siempre Adelante," -- Always Forward -- rejected what he dismissed as Fernando's "retrograde" conspiracy theories.

"I wish there were millions of Yoanis who would disseminate the real TRUTH!!" Siempre Adelante wrote.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140521/dissidents-new-digital-newspaper-blocked-cuba