Teacher voted Cuba's most popular blogger

Claudia Cadelo

The competition was held Wednesday night in the home of blogger Yoani Sanchez, recipient of the 2008 Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism.
With the title "Una isla virtual" (A virtual island), the contest was promoted by the website Desde Cuba and Convivencia magazine, both independent outlets.
The decision regarding the winner, which was publicised via Twitter, gave the prize for greatest popularity and best blog to Cadelo's Octavo Cerco (Eighth Circle).

"We did it. This was the first contest of its kind in the history of Cuba," Sanchez told EFE, emphasising its success at having gained the participation of so many bloggers in a country where just three years ago blogs did not even exist.

"It opens up a road, and it's certain that the second one will be better, more complete and hard-fought," added Sanchez, who in July received a special citation from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism as part of the 2009 Maria Moors Cabot Prizes for outstanding reporting on Latin America and the Caribbean.

The "Una isla virtual" website received 187 nominations, but the panel of judges selected 66 finalists after excluding anonymous blogs, those created outside Cuba and those that were not updated regularly.
Journalist and blogger Reinaldo Escobar, another organiser, said blog readers acted as the seventh member of the judging panel by sending in their votes.
He said that practically half of the blogs nominated were put together at state-run institutions, while the rest are the work of so-called "alternatives bloggers", who update their Web pages using public connections or pirated Internet accounts.

"It's stimulating. This is a phenomenon that cannot be halted in any way. The only way to do it is to completely and radically eliminate the possibility of connecting to the Internet from the island, and that's not going to happen," he added.
In Cuba, restrictions exist on Internet usage. It limits the access of individuals because, according to the communist government, of the economic embargo the US has maintained against the island which supposedly limits the conditions and quality of online connections.
The official policy has been "to favour collective access" at universities, scientific and cultural centres, among others, and the development of a national network.

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