Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Savaging of Yoani Sánchez: Of Straw Men, Cocky Hens, and Lobeznas Disfrazadas (Part 2/3)

In the first part of this series, "Crying Wolf(ette)," I highlighted a series of articles appearing in the Cuban press (in print and on-line) aimed at disqualifying Yoani Sanchez. Without exception, they deploy one or more of a handful of tired tactics traditionally aimed at discrediting any critics of the Cuban revolution.

Most commonly, they attack the critic, not the criticism; the messenger, not the message.

In other words, they attack Sánchez’s person, her integrity, her motivations, her (rich and luxurious?) lifestyle, or even her choice of fashion (a blond wig in Cuba – how dare she!), choosing to ignore her arguments and analysis about Cuba’s many pressing problems:

Official corruption, collapsing infrastructure, an inefficient economic system, lack of freedom of expression, of the press, of association, of assembly, to travel freely abroad, to live where one chooses, to buy and sell one’s belongings (including one’s home or car), to work on one’s own account, not to mention the severe limits on other political, civic, economic, and human rights.

In other words, these attacks are a concerted but unsuccessful attempt to change the subject. Cuba’s real problems don’t appear on that long list above and can simply be reduced to this: the fatherland is threatened by an ungrateful, anti-Cuban, skinny computer hacker with a poison pen (ink bought and paid for by Uncle Sam, of course).

This elegant graphic comes to us courtesy of the blog of Cuban journalist Norelys Morales Aguliera - Islamia.
Luckily, Yoani hasn't taken the bait. She refuses to be dragged down into the mud with her critics, even having the class to express solidarity and understanding with them as fellow bloggers. Instead of being distracted by the noise, er, news, she has kept up her mission of expanding the space for critical dialogue by speaking truth to power, refusing to stop "kicking the darkness 'till it bleeds daylight" - verbally speaking, of course.

The second most common line of attack is the claim (without any evidence apart from insinuation and innuendo) that Sánchez is “fabricada,” “mandana,” “controlada,” and “finaciada” by the State Department, the CIA, the Miami Mafia, outsiders, enemies of “Cuba” (conveniently rolling el pueblo and el gobierno into a single unit). As a mere “peon,” a pawn supposedly doing the bidding of these stealth powers, she cannot therefore be authentically Cuban. In short, she may live in Cuba, but her blog is anything but “DesdeCuba” as it claims.

For example, in its article, "Yoani Sanchez: la hija de PRISA," from Friday, November 27, Granma Internacional (see image to the right) raises the following pregnant questions clearly aimed at character assassination (while offering no proof to support its claims other than the claims themselves): “Are the successive prizes she receives really disinterested and apolitical” (or are they given in exchange for her political posture)? “Is she really independent, lacking any links and support from Havana’s European embassies?” “Does she or does she not have a connection to the U.S. Interest Section?”

Another tactic that runs through these articles is to complain that she gets an inordinate, unfair, and therefore conspiratorial amount of international media attention vis-à-vis other independent bloggers and movements across the globe. For an example of this argument, see here and here. But how does the fact of the repression of an Egyptian youth justify the repression of Cuban youth? There is no question that the much pilloried MSM (mainstream media) as well as the U.S. administration, even under Obama, carefully chooses which governments it criticizes (and when and how) and which international dissidents it supports as heroes. Still, none of this can legitimately be used to disqualify Sanchez or question the authenticity of her struggle.

This authenticity has, perhaps, been best captured by the exiled Cuban political scientist and self-identified democratic socialist, when he wrote:
"Yoani, for her part, is a permanent construction. She constructs herself with surprising abilities and courage, one day exhibiting the humility of Mother Theresa of Calcutta, while the next day showing the mystical aggressiveness of Joan of Arc. She is also constructed by her detractors, who attack her with epithets so offensive that they end up provoking sympathy for her even from those of us who don't always agree with her. [...]

"Yoani rescues two ideas that are vital for the future of Cuba. Above all, she defends her right, as well as that of her fellow bloggers and of the many millions of Cubans (including exiles), to live in their homeland, freely express their opinions, and work to realize their goals. In the second place, she calls attention to the duty of those in positions of power to open up public spaces to all opinions..."
(see the original source in Spanish here).
Some more reasonable critics make a number of valid points about the historical context where “Cuba is expected to apologize for repeatedly hitting the United States in its fist with its face” (filmmaker Saul Landau's favorite quote), or about the embargo and its effects on Cuba’s internet connectivity, or about the technical aspects of Cuba’s internet infrastructure. (See, for example, this article by Nelson Valdes).

But none of these admittedly important issues can be blamed on Sánchez – she has indeed repeatedly stated her unequivocal opposition to the embargo, the U.S. travel restrictions, and to U.S. Treasury Department rules that limit Cubans’ access to internet services like Google Earth and MSN messenger. (For more on this, see Phil Peters recent post, "What is Treasury telling Google?" at his blog, The Cuban Triangle).

Still, these same critics commonly dismiss the independent blogger phenomenon as an epiphenomena at best or as a willing and well paid part of a coordinated “guerra mediática” (media war) hatched in the Pentagon and aimed at Cuba at worst.

Finally, there’s the regrettable element of misogyny in many of the attacks against Sánchez in this full court press. Like Mariela Castro did when she dismissed Sánchez last year as a “cocky hen” (gallita) who hides behind her “macho” husband (and you’d think Mariela would know better as a sexologist and advocate for greater freedoms for Cuba’s LGBT community), these journalists often resort to sexist language aimed at belittling the blogger.

The best example of this is in Granma Internacional’s offensive against her written by Enrique Ubieta Gomez, where she is referred to as a “lobezna disfrazada de cordero” (a wolf-ette in sheep’s clothing). Other past articles have referred to her affectionately as a “Pentagon Babe” (for a good back and forth between bloggers on this trumped up charge see here, here, here, and here). Even the Granma article itself (a reprint of an article that first came out on-line almost a year ago here and here) is entitled, “Una Hija de Prisa” (daughter of Prisa – the institution connected to the Spanish newspaper El Pais that awarded her the Ortega y Gassett prize last year).

In all these desperate attempts to “savage Sánchez” (now spreading virally on many supposedly “progressive” websites across the world), the authors ignorantly overlook or simply conveniently ignore the real reasons for her substantial success and rapid rise to international fame to date. Is it overconfidence, naivete, jealousy, or just that they don't understand this new generation and their newfangled gadgets?

The third post in this three-part "Savaging Sánchez" series, "The Reasons Why," will be up soon. It offers my own "top ten" list of the reasons why Sanchez has had such an enormous impact so quickly. Hint, talento con cojones rank higher than dollars and cents.

Note: To navegate to the other entries in thies series, "The Savaging of Yoani Sanchez," you click here on Part I, "Crying Wolf(ette)," Sanchez Responds to Critics, "Classy Lady," Part II, "Of Strawmen...," or Part III, "The Reasons Why..."


  1. A sensational follow-up analysis. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

    If I may add one interesting aside to the "Yoani attacks" it is this: The man now ostensibly at the helm in Cuba (Raul) obviously fails to understand the full ramifications of unleashing these concerted attacks upon a single young woman, who in many ways exemplifies the majority of Cubans (i.e.: young, disaffected and demanding freedom). Fidel was much craftier with regards to media, for example, he never acknowledged an enemy via criticism or otherwise, unless it suited his purpose. A perfect example was when Fidel mentioned the late Jorge Mas-Canosa by name, well aware that this authoritarian man, once labeled by him as supreme exile leader, invariably painted all exiles in the same Fascist light.

    In this instance,however, Yoani has no "genuine" record of being a dictator wannabe,gold digger or American Matahari. Cynically, the Castro minions in the free world accuse her of self-enrichment, while they continue eating caviar, slurping Dom Perignon through a straw and crying out "Viva La Revolucion y abajo Yoani." Well, in the long run, all these petty and vulgar attacks do more than merely discredit her accusers. Raul should know that they actually legitimize Yoani and her struggle; securing exposure within Cuba and abroad, which absolutely no one could pay for.

    I Optaciana

  2. Hang on a minute, this woman's blog began life in April 2007 and by the end of that year Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and el Pais had all plugged it. In April 2008 the blog was bunged, sorry awarded, €15,000 by el Pais. Does this not strike you as a bit rum, to put it mildly? All that publicity and a great wad of dosh for a brand new blog?

    Now we are not talking here about Riverbend, the Iraqi girl who risked her life to post on life under occupation, we are talking about someone whose early posts amounted to little more than three a month for the first four months of the blog's life. The notion that she is being bunged by the forces of bloody darkness doesn't seem all that fanciful, viewed in that light.

    Sanchez, I contend, has been caught out lying over the supposed kicking in November - something which the BBC and CNN did not believe. There is also some doubt about her claims to be a university graduate and even more doubts over her story as to why she returned to Cuba from Switzerland.

    Why is all this important? If it can be proven that she has a track record as a liar, then nothing that she writes can be trusted. That is why the socialist blogs are going after her.

  3. Exile, Thanx for your comments - keep 'em coming. I will respond to you in two ways:

    First, your criticisms seem to amount to yelling, "liar, liar pants on fire." No one has yet shown any evidence of all the acusations against her - innuendo and character assassination only. Nor has anyone bothered to answer any of her criticisms of the Cuban system listed in the above post.

    Second, as to the reasons behind her sudden and widespread popularity, on Wednesday, my final post in the series will go into the clear reason how and why this has happened. Stay tuned...

  4. Oh, I think that the allegations are quite specific. That she is a not a graduate is testimony of the Cuban Consulate in Berne. The supposed kicking is something that the main news media do not believe - and she refused to post photos of herself, post battering.

    As for her criticisms, who cares? If she lies about one thing she will lie about others.