From the Miami Herald: Wikipedia entry on Cuba sparks controversy

Campaign News | Tuesday, 2 May 2006

Online debate reflects worldwide struggle for the truth about Cuba

WASHINGTON 2 May: One editor complained that Havana sympathizers were transforming a scholarly enterprise into "their own private Fidel Castro fan page." A user was tossed out after threatening to sue another for libel.

The fuss is over the Cuba entry in Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia created, edited and administered entirely by volunteers with the aim of becoming a web-based knowledge repository for humanity.

But the Cuba entry, like those on President Bush and abortion, has been snared in intense political divisions over everything from the impact of U.S. sanctions on the communist-ruled island to whether it should have a separate section on its human rights record. Russia and North Korea do not.

There have been so many dueling edits -- 30 entries on April 27 alone -- that the article has been placed off-limits to first-time or unregistered users. The article has notices alerting readers that the neutrality of four sections is under dispute.

A central tenet of Wikipedia is that articles must be written in a neutral point of view. But, as the debate on the talk page attached to the Cuba article demonstrates, neutrality is often in the eye of the beholder.

The debate over Cuba turned intense after Adam Carr, who identifies himself as having a PhD in history from the University of Melbourne in Australia and a gay rights activist, introduced this sentence high in the article: "Cuba is a socialist republic, in which the Communist Party of Cuba is the sole legal political party, and is the only state in the western hemisphere that is not a democracy."

This prompted responses that went from scholarly citations of political scientists with definitions of democracy, to accusations of not-so-hidden political agendas.

Bruce Hallman wrote that calling Cuba undemocratic is a "logical fallacy" because it applies "capitalistic values" in the context of a socialist society.

"Might it be possible to write the article without using the word 'democracy' at all?" he suggested.

"Sorry, comrade, no dice," answered Carr, one of the few writers who posts a description of himself. "These comments show quite clearly that you are a communist, or at least someone who actively supports the Castro dictatorship, not just ... someone who is na?ve about the realities of Cuba."

With neither side giving in, on April 15 a "mediation cabal" - an informal mediator - joined the discussion because the talk page had become "huge." The cabal suggested citing reputable sources to back the Cuba-is-not-a-democracy sentence.

"If we need a citation that Cuba is not a democracy, then maybe we need citation that Cuba is in Latin America," retorts CJK, another user.

"Cuba is a dictatorship, plain and simple," says Carr, calling Castro's foreign supporters "gullible idiots."

Failing to produce an agreement, the cabal departed after complaining that several editors were being rude.

Others argued that if the article discusses human rights in Cuba, it should also point out U.S. human rights abuses. "We will not be distracted by the well-known communist diversionary tactic of playing bogus moral equivalence games," Carr responded.

Scott Grayban, a talk page writer who identifies himself as a U.S. air force veteran, calls Carr "nothing more than a pro-Bush hate-Cuba type person" and in a separate email threatened to sue Carr for libel. An administrator promptly banned Grayban for life from editing Wikipedia.

Other users also have been banned, including "Comandante" who has changed the Cuba article more than 700 times. Another participant wrote that Comandante's internet address suggests he lives in Cuba.

"If he has a computer and free access to the internet, that makes him part of the privileged elite in Cuba," Carr wrote.

"If Congressional staffers are banned, certainly a propagandist for Castro deserves the same," wrote 172, who claims to be a history professor at a U.S. undergraduate institution.

A few years ago, online discussions of this sort would have gone unnoticed. But Wikipedia is now the 17th most visited site in the world and its traffic continues to grow at a fast pace, according to Alexa Internet, a web-ranking outfit owned by

Created by web entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, who today heads the foundation that oversees the site, Wikipedia is an example of the power of "social computing" - the ability of users to create their own content without relying on the filters of newspaper or hard-copy encyclopedia editors.

"We've got this whole movement of social computing and information of users, by users, for users," says Peter Kim, of the Internet research firm Forrester Research. "The beauty of this sort of technology is that its editable and that the community will police itself."

Type in "Cuba" or "Fidel Castro" into Yahoo! or Google and Wikipedia is one of the top hits. The encyclopedia has more than 1.1 million entries in the English language alone.

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