Cuba has “the most restricted climate for the press in the Americas,” according to the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.
“Print and broadcast media are wholly controlled by the one-party Communist state… The government targets critical journalists through harassment, physical and online surveillance, short-term detentions, home raids, and equipment seizures.”
Despite such straits, Cuba’s first independent digital media outlet, 14ymedio, will mark its 6th anniversary in 2020.
Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez founded 14ymedio in May 2014 “with the financial help of a dozen friends, mainly from Spain.”
“We cover Cuban affairs and Cuban-linked international topics. We do it from a Cuban point of view and we are the only independent newsroom inside Cuba. Besides the original capital, which allowed us to support our newsroom during the first two years (2014-2015), our revenues come mainly from private donations, subscriptions (Membership) and publicity. We don’t accept any money from Governments and political parties, directly or indirectly.
“Our main Newsroom is in Habana and we have local correspondents in cities such as Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey, Holguín, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara y Pinar del Río. We have a smaller Newsroom in Madrid (Spain) which is in charge of editing and uploading all our texts to our web because in Cuba we have a very slow Internet which makes nearly impossible to upload our production. We used to have a correspondent in Miami but we had to dismiss him because we could no longer assumed the cost.”
Sánchez gained fame as the creator of Generación Y, a popular blog that chronicled the struggles of ordinary Cubans. She named her news site 14ymedio because her newsroom – and her home – is on the 14th floor of an apartment building in Havana and medio means media in Spanish.
14ymedio had 198,350 monthly views in November, according to SimilarWeb, which tracks website traffic. That was less than El Nuevo Herald, with 5.19 million monthly views; Cibercuba, with 5.04 million; CubaDebate, with 1.94 million; CubaNet, with 1.37 million; and Radio & TV Martí, with 445,390, according to SimilarWeb. Even so, press freedom advocates credit 14ymedio for paving new ground in Cuba.
The site has published some 1,000 articles and more than 1 million comments since 2014.
In November and December, 14ymedio journalist Luz Escobar complained that state security agents had prevented her from leaving her home. Escobar, the daughter of Reinaldo Escobar, Sánchez’ husband, said it amounted to house arrest.
In response to a tweet about the episode, Cuban official Johana Tablada tweeted:
…in the entire world it is illegal and sanctioned to receive funds from a foreign government that threatens a sovereign country. The United States approved in 2019 alone, $20 million, a part of which is for a salaried U.S. embassy ‘opposition.’
Camilo en #Cuba y en mundo entero es ilegal y sancionado recibir fondos de un gobierno extranjero que atenta contra un país soberano. Estados Unidos aprobó solo em 2019, 20 millones una parte de la cual se destina asalariados contrata como “oposición” embajada estadounidense.
— Johana Tablada de la Torre (@JohanaTablada) November 26, 2019
Sánchez complained that Tablada had no proof that Luz Escobar had received U.S. government funds. She demanded that Tablada apologize to Escobar and resign from her post as assistant director of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry.
It’s difficult to know if 14ymedio has received U.S. support because the outlet does not disclose details about its financial operations.
In 2015, the Bacardi Family Foundation reported paying $10,000 in “humanitarian aid” to 14ymedio and Raíces de Esperanza, or Roots of Home, records show. Records give no other details.
I have not seen any records showing that the Bacardi foundation received any U.S. government money in 2015. The U.S. Agency for International Development did give the foundation $1,553,494 in 2018. Bacardi’s latest available tax records are from the 2016 and 2017 tax years. They don’t show any contributions to 14ymedio, although they do report support for the Fundación para la Democracia Panamericana, led by Rosa Payá, daughter of activist leader Oswaldo Payá; People in Need, based in the Czech Republic; and other groups.
Even if Bacardi has passed along USAID money to 14ymedio, it may be difficult to prove because private and public funds could be intermingled in the foundation’s budget reports.
My guess is that Raíces de Esperanza’s connection to 14ymedio is due to specific events, not sustained financial support. The group says on its website that Sánchez had planned to travel to Coral Gables, Florida, in April 2015 to join in a conversation with Miguel “Mike” Benito Fernandez, author of a memoir called Humbled by the Journey: Lessons for My Family and Yours. I don’t know if that has anything to do with the $10,000 Bacardi contribution.
Raíces de Esperanza also organized Sánchez’ first Tweetup in 2013.
The Miami Beach organization touts a network of more than 3,000 students and young professionals in the U.S. and abroad.
The group says it does not accept U.S. government funds, however, the Associated Press reported in April 2014 that its leaders “quietly provided strategic support for the federal government’s secret ‘Cuban Twitter’ program, connecting contractors with potential investors and even serving as paid consultants.”
14ymedio is registered as CLYS Comunicaciones 3.0, at Calle Torpedero Tucumán 17 in Madrid, Spain.
Records show that CLYS Comunicaciones was formed on Jan. 15, 2014, and listed two employees in 2017. Its administrator is Rafael Mira Prieto-Moreno. His LinkedIn profile says he is an expert in collaborative intelligence and founder and CEO of Collaboratorium.
On Dec. 31, 2017, CLYS Comunicaciones reported total assets of 105,778.62 euros, then worth about $119,529.84 U.S. That was down from 111,384.06 euros, or about $125,863.98 U.S., in 2016, according to
informa.es. The company had net equity of 91,275.19 euros, or $103,140.96 U.S., up from 60,598.60 euros, or $68,476.76 U.S., in 2016. See 6-page financial report.
Listed at the same address as CLYS Comunicaciones is the Fundación 14ymedio. Records show its founders started the organization with 32,400 euros, worth roughly $35,964 at the time.
The group’s mission is:
The promotion, promotion and defense of democratic principles and values and the contribution to the development of political and individual freedoms and human rights in Cuba, as well as the social, cultural and political welfare of Cubans and the international dissemination of its inspiring principles, through any means. The promotion and drive of business entrepreneurship and the creation and development of a democratic and modern business ethics and culture, mainly in Cuba and Spain, as well as its dissemination by any means. The consolidation of the existing links between the Cuban and Spanish nations, as well as the promotion, reciprocal promotion and protection of the cultures of both nations and their dissemination abroad.
The organization’s founders are listed as:
- Reinaldo Marcial Escobar Casas
- Yoani María Sánchez Cordero
- Carlos Francisco Abad Rico
- Rafael Mira Prieto-Moreno
Officers are Yoani Sánchez, president; Rafael Mira Prieto-Moreno, vice president; Alberto Castañeda González, secretary; and board members Reinaldo Escobar, Carlos Francisco Abad Rico, Bertrand de la Grange and José María González-Garilleti Fernández.
I don’t know how many people 14ymedio employs. According to LinkedIn profiles, some of those who have worked with 14ymedio include:
Social media and public relations coordinator Valentina A. Pecoraro; marketing and social media manager Carolina González; social media intern Kenia Zelaya; development and innovation manager Alejandro D. González; research analyst Paola Pesant; senior user experience consultant Paxton Brewer; consultants Katie Yaeger and Kamila Jambulatova; digital media fellow Jasmine Ortega; investigations assistant María Gracia Naranjo Ponce; video producer Lowell Thomas; project manager Jorge Mediavilla Martínez; chief editor Bertrand de la Grange; editor Maria Font Oliver; translators Fernando Fornaris, Carly Dunn and Chavely García; correspondent Diana Ramos; advisor Javier Cabrera; and journalists Mario Pentón, Ihoeldis Michael Rodríguez, Reyes Theis, Gabriel Martínez Bucio, Tiziana Trotta, Karolina Guillen and Rosa Pascual.
LinkedIn also lists a co-founder named Gonzalo Rodríguez Marizcurrena.