Cuba’s Princess of the Internet

by SAUL LANDAU and NELSON P. VALDES

Liberal and conservative Americans alike have celebrated Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez. She’s become the new “resistance to Cuban communism” heroine, a world-renowned troublemaker inside communist Cuba.

Yoani also acquired semi-princess status in western Europe thanks to the wide internet circulation of her weekly Gen Y blog. (Cubans of a certain era got names beginning with Y.) Her columns, descriptions of daily life in Cuba supported by unverified rumors, that she spins to badmouth the Cuban government, appear in the Huffington Post, El Pais, Die Zeit and other prestigious journals.) Inside Cuba, few read her blog; nor would most Cubans have heard her name; now would they recognize her face if they saw her.

Last week Yoani, after visiting Brazil, Argentina and Mexico stopped in New York, Washington DC, and Miami. Her highlights came in the nation’s capital, including a much publicized talk with Members of both Houses and White House staff. She had just come from presenting her case to Brazil’s legislature, where she made three important points about US relations to Cuba, points she repeated in Washington.

“My position is that the blockade should end,” she said, “because it’s an interventionist stance, in which one country wants to change the internal situation of another. Secondly, because it hasn’t worked. If the original idea was to create popular unrest so the people would take to the streets and change the totalitarian government, it has not worked; even as a pressure method it failed. It should end as quickly as possible because it’s the reason given by the Cuban government to explain its economic failure.” She had already registered her opposition to the US travel ban on its citizens travelling to Cuba.  “If restrictions on coming to Cuba are lifted,” she wrote to Congressman Howard Berman on November 19, 2009, “Americans would enjoy a right that has been infringed in recent years  — that of traveling freely to any latitude without penalty.”

When asked about her position on the US base in Guantanamo, Cuba, Yoani responded that she thought the US should withdraw from the base, because she was a “civilist, a person who respects the legal system, and I could not agree with occupying a space, which shows the occupier doesn’t respect the law.”

And, in Brazil, she also answered a question on the Cuban 5, members of the Ministry of Interior now in US prisons. The US should free them because “the amount of money my country’s government is spending in this world-wide campaign with plane trips around the world. Occupying space in the press and the hours wasted in schools talking about these five prisoners,” she explained.

She also decried the lack of internet freedom in Cuba – an exaggeration. She trivialized her explanations of desired policy changes.

Her dismissal of the task that involved the intelligence agents sent to south Florida in the early 1990s, typified her banalization of the world. The Cuban Five and their extended network of agents had as an assignment the infiltration of  violent Cuban exile groups who had bombed tourist spots in Havana.  Their job was to help prevent more bombings. Cuban intelligence re-circulated what their Florida agents learned to the FBI, who on one occasion used the agents’ data to seize a boat docked on the Miami River filled with arms and explosives and destined for Cuba.

In 1998, the FBI arrested the Cuban spy ring members. They got charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, but not with espionage. Gerardo Hernandez, their coordinator also got charged with conspiracy to commit murder, on the false assumption he had provided Havana with the flight schedules of Brothers to the Rescue planes that invaded Cuban airspace and got shot down, killing 2 pilots and 2 co-pilots. The government had no evidence to back up its charges. Indeed, Jose Basulto, leader of the Brothers group had announced the flight schedules. But a Florida jury convicted Gerardo and the judge gave him two consecutive life sentences. The others also received long prison terms. As Cuba compared the five to the worst cases of flase political imprisonment, Yoani offered a  banal pretext for freeing them.

Similarly, she reduced the political and moral significance Cuba’s government attached to the issues of Guantanamo and the embargo.

The irony of Yoani, virtually crowned by anti-Castro forces, including the US media and Congress, as the virtual Queen of Dissidents is that she made the key points the Cuban government has been making for more than a decade. But no one seemed to hear them. Neither government officials nor the press corps acknowledged them. The media focused on occasional interruptions of her speeches by angry leftists instead of reporting the contents of her talks. When she arrived in Congress and at the White House she received celebrity status, meaning the Members and White House staff celebrated the visit of an important person, paying little attention to the coincidence of her points and those of the Cuban government.

Not one mainstream story caught the irony of having Cuba’s leading dissident stating the very case the Cuban government has been presenting for years.

Yoani represents for the US media the technological age of communication, sending her weekly internet column, which she does from Cuban hotels for a small fee, and by flash drive from the US Interest Section and from other embassies. She spins each column as an attack on the communist government for failing to provide more efficient welfare state services to her and her son.

The princess of technological communication made her triumphant debut. But apparently, no one in power or belonging to mainstream media cared about what she said. The Cuban government, however, should be proud of her, nevertheless. She made their case, in different language, to the US Congress and White House and to the public. Alas, eyes saw, but ears closed.

Saul Landau’s FIDEL and WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP are available on dvd from cinemalibrestudio.com

Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico 

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