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Cuban Blogger’s News Site Hacked After Going Live

Cuba’s first major independent general-interest news outlet in five decades was hacked on Wednesday shortly after being launched by the country’s best-known dissident blogger.

A little more than an hour after its launch, the site http://www.14ymedio.com was hijacked and readers inside Cuba were directed to a page dedicated to scathing criticism of blogger Yoani Sanchez by well-known pro-government writers. Access outside Cuba appeared to be unimpeded.

Neither Yoani Sanchez nor Iroel Sanchez, an unrelated writer who is featured heavily on the critical site, immediately responded to calls or email seeking comment. The government has made no official comment on Sanchez’s plans, though it considers all dissidents to be mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble.

A man reads a copy of Cuba’s state newspaper Granma while waiting for the bus in Havana, Cuba, Monday, May 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

Before being hacked, http://www.14ymedio.com offered feature and news reporting, opinion, sports and even hair and beauty tips that Yoani Sanchez hoped would challenge the monopoly on information by the government, which controls Internet service on the island.

The site was seen as testing both government tolerance for dissent and Sanchez’s ability to parlay her international blogging success into a wider domestic audience.

The site went live just after 8 a.m. Havana time and there appeared to be no immediate government attempt to block it. Its first offerings include reporting with a critical slant toward the government, including a feature that looks at petty violence through the lens of a night in one of Havana’s main hospitals. There’s an interview with a detained dissident writer and a sports feature on the alleged official neglect of soccer in favor of baseball. It also includes more quotidian elements including a weather report, an index of the price of staple foods such as pork and tomatoes, and five tips for fixing dry and damaged hair.

Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, say they have been working for months with a staff of nine contributors from around the island to produce the daily updated website and a weekly PDF of what they say will be a newspaper dedicated to providing Cubans with essential information – rather than attacking the government. The PDF version can easily be distributed by memory stick, one of the main ways Cubans share documents and information. The PDF available Wednesday was far skimpier than the site itself, containing simply the hospital article and the editorial staff’s statement of values.

Escobar, who will be the editor-in-chief, told The Associated Press the paper will not have a paper version, seeking to avoid legal trouble by keeping distribution solely online. Cuban law prohibits the distribution of independent mass media that the government sees as damaging the national interest. In addition, newspaper publishing is not on a list of approved private businesses, so there is no way for Sanchez and Escobar to get a license to operate and hire staff.

Sanchez has gained global renown and a string of foreign awards for her blog “Generation Y,” which offers scathing criticism of Cuba’s communist government. She has more than 600,000 followers on Twitter, but she is far less well known at home, where Internet access is expensive and unavailable in virtually all homes and few businesses.

Several Cubans told the AP they were unlikely to read the new newspaper because of the lack of home Internet and the relatively high cost of $4.50 an hour to access the Web from government Internet centers or hotels with WiFi.

Sanchez’s blog is incorporated into the new publication.

Dissidents already produce a handful of news sites from inside Cuba, and the Roman Catholic Church prints two major magazines. But none are seen as true competition for Cuba’s three widely distributed state-run newspapers or its official television or radio stations.

Escobar said 14ymedio is being funded by independent investors, both Cubans and foreigners, although he declined to reveal their identities, or the names of his staff, until after the paper began publishing.

Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

On the Net: critical site: https://www.yoanislandia.com/

Sanchez news site: http://www.14ymedio.com

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

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