Friday, October 30, 2009

Tremenda Peluca! Tremenda Cubana!

I did not come of age in Cuba during the 1970s and 80s. Nor was I (un)lucky enough to spend part of my youth in a boarding school. I never contemplated (illegally) leaving my country by raft, nor was I christened at birth with a name like Yaniseidi, Yoandri, Yusimi, Yuniesky, or Yoani. In short, I do not carry within me any of the personal or generational frustration that marks many in what la bloguera cautiva calls Cuba's "Generacion Y."

However, I can offer up at least three "Y's" of my own. My middle name is AloYsius (really, it is!). My blog, as you can see is entitled El Yuma. And, after watching the most recent YouTube video post on Yoani's blog, I have to join her and her husband Reinaldo Escobar in asking of the ICAIC and the magazine Temas, WHY?

It seems that the leading Cuban magazine of intellectual debate, Temas, held an "open" debate yesterday (Thursday) on the issue of the Internet in Cuba. As the video shows, the debate was held in ICAIC's "Fresa y Chocolate" cafe and artistic complex located on 23rd between 10th and 12th in El Vedado. As seen in the guerrilla video made by the DesdeCuba team, a large group of leading independent bloggers and journalists (including Reinaldo Escobar, Claudia Cadelo, and Ciro Diaz) were not allowed inside to participate in the debate. You can see them arguing with the security personnel at the gate as other "invited guests" are allowed inside. It reminds one of the other "open debate" that took place at La Casa de las Americas in February, 2007, putting an artificial, bureaucratic end to the Polemica Intelectual (war of e-mails) that had spontaneously arisen among Cuban intellectuals during the previous month.

The posted video, with the ingenious title, "With Wig and Without Internet," also shows Yoani, la bloguera guerrillera, standing up inside the symposium to ask one of her usual impertinent questions about internet censorship in Cuba and the refusal to allow everyone inside to participate in the debate. It seems that she fooled the guards by doning a wig in order to gain access to the discussion. There is thunderous applause in the room after she speaks and you can make out a number of people, including the writer Yoss, smiling broadly at her show of cojones.

Over the past year, Sanchez and her team have repeatedly embarrassed the Cuban cultural commissars with the innovative strategy of posting videos of their public challenges to the typical "rules of the game," highlighting for an international audience the Cuban government's censorship and control. First, there was the March/April video of Yoani's one-minute declaration as part of Cuba's Bennial. Then, there was the May video of she and her husband Reinaldo trying to gain internet access in the Melia Cohiba. Most famously, last week saw the video and audio clip of Yoani's tearing into an immigration official after being denied permission to travel abroad for the fourth consecutive time.

Up to now the Cuban government seems to have decided to indefinitely ignore these "provocations" from such an "insignificant element." They may soon try to put a stop to her guerrilla tactics by throwing her in jail. However, she has so far wisely used her growing international reputation as a protective shield allowing her to continue to publicize government control and push the limits of debate on the island.

One thing she and her team are also succeeding at is at driving up the price of repression for the Cuba government. With each denial of permission to travel and every new guerrilla YouTube video posted on a blog, the government comes across as more ridiculously and needlessly repressive, losing another battle in its international PR war.


  1. So, your parents named you after the patron saint of students-- Did that influence your decision to become a professor?

    While the stuff of Sánchez's pieces- "veiled criticisms" of the Cuban government on various aspects, as well as its internet censorship- is taken for granted over here (as well as ubiquitous!), it reminds us of how little power we really have... and how little we care about it!

    The obvious examples are the sudden implementation of the Patriot Act and the debate over net neutrality; the public outcry was great, but tailed off pretty fast as we chose to follow more important things (such as the VMA awards). In the end, though, our short attention span allows for the powers that be to turn things that were once appalled into the status quo, and the people are too placated by shiny objects to care.

    I cannot think of something worth fighting for that does not soon become irrelevant or passé.

  2. Yoani is indeed a brave soul. Abandoning Europe to move back to Cuba - with the expressed goal of challenging the regime. No doubt, she is suceeding beyond her wildest dreams, given all the media attention in the West. But, despite the achievements, concern for the truth has harldly seemed a priority. Given her history, forgive me for looking at any accusations she makes with some skepticisim.

    Yoani was first noticed in the West when she claimed she was being blocked from accessing and updating her site. In fact, day or two later we learned it was an island-wide technical problem causing slowness and delays - and that her site could in fact be accessed. Two years and hundreds of posts later, I guess any problem has been resolved.

    Yoani really made her fame in the West "reporting" about the "free speech" (her words) trial of punk rocker Gorki last year (the Ciro Diaz mentioned above). She galvanized the world telling every US reporter that would listen that the trial was proof of Cuba's censorship. The only problem was that when the trial actually happened, the content of his (quite sexist, violent and yes, anti-revolutionary) lyrics was never mentioned. The only concern mentioned was the decibel at which he played at home, and the repeated citations to quiet down he had willfully ignored up to that point. The complaint was not from the State, but from his neighbors. He was fined 40 pesos and told to quiet down. Oops! Pesky facts got in the way of a good story. But in Yoani's telling, her reporting had single-handedly saved the day...

    But then it happened again. She posted a video from the Melia Cohiba that she claimed proved that the Cuban hotels were no longer allowing Cubans to use their internet services. The only trouble with that story was that El Pais reported the next day that the restrictions were only at the Melia Cohiba, because of a new contract signed with ECTESA, the phone/internet company (which said that the internet service was being provided for guests only). Nevermind that most US hotels have the same internet policy, Western newspapers and bloggers cited Yoani's video as the "truth" about island-wide censorship. A few days later, however even the Cohiba was allowing Yoani to post. Yoani claimed her actions were responsible for the policy change. Yet again, any reasonable view of the facts shows that there was no policy aimed at her and her friends. There was only a private contract meant to protect the hotel's guests and maintain the hotel's internet service working at a decent level.

    I could go on and on about Yoani's relationship with the truth. She delights in purposefully misquoting Cuban officials. At her latest public show (described in the post above), she claimed the Cuban internet is severely restricted. In fact Reporters Without Borders (Yoani's supporter) concluded in a 2007 study that that Cuba allowed mostly unfettered access to web sites, even those considered "subversive." The lead reporter wrote, "I was surprised I could visit all Web sites." (Miami Herald).

    As for the speculation that Yoani would have been arrested by now, if not for her "protective shield" of defenders in the US, let's get real. Plenty of well known dissidents have been arrested before (mostly in 2003), because they broke the law by working closely with US authorities and other organs (often receiving compensation). Yoani remains free because she has steered free from those relationships (as far as we know). Let us hope she continues to be truly independent. But I have my own feelings that martyrdom is in her blood. And she will not be satisfied until one of her hyperbolic stories about hyper-censorship and repression become true. Let us not forget that Yoani can be truly blocked from doing what she is doing at any momemnt.