You heard me! Miami-based journalist and cubaphile Dave Appell and his Cuban-born partner Jose Alberto Balido have launched CubaEnLinea.net , a brand-new social-networking site that aims to be a Facebook equivalent for Cubans both on the island and throughout the world.
The idea grew from the couple's collaborative effort with a previous site, created in 2000, that focused on preserving the heritage and history of Balido's hometone, Santiago de las Vegas. The blog they started soon attracted santigueros from all over the world. Even residents still living in Cuba started posting photos and blog entries. "Then we started noticing that many were using the site to reconnect with old friends and realized that people really wanted to reach out to each other," notes Appell. "Since there's no site specifically where Cubans and those interested in Cuban culture can make connections, we thought this would be a wonderful way of bringing together Cubans from all over the world."
Members can post photos, videos, applications, links, etc. And participate in groups dedicated to various topics, just as on Facebook. "One thing we want to make clear," Dave stresses, " is that CubaEnLinea focuses on culture and personal connection, not on politics."
At the moment, CubaEnLinea is largely Spanish-speaking. Understandably, so far most members are Cuban-Americans or other Cubans living in the diaspora, not least because very few Cubans within Cuba are permitted (or can afford) access to the Internet. The site is also in Spanish only, so cubaphiles who don't speak Spanish might be at a loss, even though there's an English-speaking group. However, Dave tells me that he and Balido are working to make the site more fully bilingual.
The site is new, too, so expect teething problems. And as I prepared this blog, Dave wrote to inform me that fanatical Cuban-Americans had hacked the site and disrupted it because "we discourage politics." So if the site is down when you visit, it's probably because Dave and Jose are retrenching to outwit the anti-Castro extremists. "We just want to bridge gaps," says Jose. "The only sensible way to move forward is through communication and sharing ideas."