(Adds dropped word “launched” from first paragraph)
By Daniel Trotta
HAVANA, May 21 (Reuters) - Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez launched Cuba’s first independent online newspaper on Wednesday with reports questioning the quality of Cuba’s healthcare system but access to its maiden edition was soon redirected to another site mocking the journalist.
The new site 14ymedio.com seeks to draw attention away from the communist-ruled country’s state-controlled media and challenge the government’s heavy media restrictions. Cuba has been tolerating a greater criticism in recent years but not yet from such a professional-looking website produced on the island.
Within its first 90 minutes on line, links to 14ymedio.com instead led to a site called yoani$landia.com, a reference the official Cuban critique that she is motivated by greed. The lead headline on the site was about her former Italian translator who split with Sanchez, saying she was rude and only wanted to become rich and famous.
The website called the interference a redirection, not a hack, and it seemed to mostly affect users with Cuban servers.
From her Twitter account, Sanchez called it a “bad strategy by the Cuban government to redirect our web 14ymedio.com from Cuba. Nothing more attractive than what is forbidden.”
As launched, the site had stories of a type rarely seen in official Cuban media, for example doubting the quality of Cuba’s free healthcare system, officially seen as a triumph of the 1959 revolution.
A headline asks “Does our health suffer from international missions?,” questioning Cuba’s program of exporting doctors in exchange for Venezuelan oil and to Brazil, which has helped make professional services the country’s top export.
One color piece paints a picture of some lackadaisical staff during an overnight shift at a major hospital’s waiting room, with a number of nurses asleep.
It says police brought in a handcuffed suspect with cuts on his arm and that similar cases of the wounded came in all night because “there is a war in the streets.” Official media shy away from stories on violent crime.
A third cover story further tweaks authorities by reporting that soccer is gaining on baseball in popularity, suggesting they see the rise of football as a threat “as if sports preferences were a matter of national security.”
Sanchez’s blog on daily life and politics in Cuba, Generation Y, has rattled the Cuban establishment, and she has won prestigious media awards in the United States and Europe.
Some 28 renowned journalists and intellectuals, including Peruvian author and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, signed a manifesto in support of 14ymedio for its debut.
The Cuban government in turn has tried to discredit her as well-paid propagandist doing the bidding of the U.S. government, and six of the site’s nine reporters have been called in for questioning by state security officials, Sanchez said.
Most Cubans will not be able to read the new publication. Only 2.6 million out of a population of 11.2 million have access to the Internet, and most of those who do have only been able to explore a limited, state-controlled basket of approved websites. (Editing by David Adams and W Simon)