Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Week with Yoani: So you say you're against the embargo...

As an addendum to my previous post, I want briefly to share part of a long, heated conversation I had this afternoon with two very good friends of mine.

Both are Cuban, both immigrated to the US as adults, both are quite critical of the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba, and both are also very critical of the US embargo - considering it not only a convenient "excusa" for the failures of the Cuban government but also an "illegal" and morally reprehensible policy that has inflicted real harm on the Cuban people.

In fact, while they expressed admiration for Yoani's valiant struggle and eloquent voice in Cuba, they were quite disappointed in what they saw as her evasions whenever asked about the reasons behind her own opposition to the embargo.  They said that whenever asked about her rejection of the US embargo, she would repeat the mantra that she opposed it mainly because the government used it as a pretext, diverting attention from the real embargo that the Cuban government holds against the Cuban people.

I wrote as much in my previous post.

They said that such reasoning was fine as far as it went, but that they expected that she would also have given a more full throated condemnation of the embargo as a violation of Cuban sovereignty and independence, and as an violation of human rights and international law - especially while visiting the United States.

I pointed out that she has indeed used some of this very same language in the past in her repeated and consistent critique of US policy, even using the word "injerencista" (meddling) when asked about the embargo while visiting the Brazilian Congress.  They shot back that while she may have used such a word in Brazil, the fact that she never used such categorical language in the US -where it most needs to be said and heard- only shows that she was being "political" and trying not to alienate the US government and the Cuban-American hard right.

I responded that her record against the embargo is both clear and well-known and that she was likely using her public exposure in the US to shine a bright light on what she sees as the more crucial issue of the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.  She has also said repeatedly that the "US embargo question" is often used as a litmus test and to cynically distract attention from what she sees as the primordial issue: that the Cuban government is the main obstacle to freedom on the island.

(Photo Credit: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo)

They responded that perhaps it was she who was being cynical, opportunistic, or at least overly "strategic" in refusing to use direct, accusatory language (the same language she is adept at using against the Cuban government) when discussing the US embargo while in Washington and Miami.  They contended that her failure to "hablar de la soga en la casa del ahorcado" (speak of the rope in the house of the condemned) - or perhaps - "del verdugo" (of the executioner), indicated a weakness and inconsistency in her otherwise powerful and even-handed message.

I responded that I too wished that she had been more direct in her condemnation of the embargo, but that there's nothing wrong with her being strategic and nuanced about her message, especially when she's attempting to build a broad-based movement of social change. Moreover, I think the main cause of her reluctance to go into greater detail about the reasons that she is against the embargo is not a "strategic" or "political" one, but because she actually believes that the bulk (perhaps 80%) of the responsibility for the Cuban "problem" lies with the Cuban government and state socialism.

Moreover, she often would say that too much focus on the US embargo is both needlessly divisive and serves as a distraction from the main issue of Cuban state repression and denial of fundamental freedoms on the island.

They insisted that the US embargo and the US's historically imperialistic approach to Cuba is equally responsible for the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba. For them, her not admitting and addressing that "undeniable fact" directly was a failure of both nerve and intelligence.

I said that honest people can disagree about where to lay the proper measure of blame for the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba and the antagonistic Cuba-US relationship.

I also said that they would be hard pressed to find another Cuban -especially one still residing on the island itself- with more demonstrated nerve and intelligence that she has shown over the past 6 years on her blog - including the two of them when they still lived in Cuba and were quite "strategic" themselves in their avoidance of anything too "political."

That last comment almost got me kicked out of their apartment.  However, we finished lunch on good terms and they even offered me dessert!

(Photo credits: Cuban 5 and March with Flags photos by OLPL, all others by El Yuma)


  1. It is interesting that your friends feel the embargo is a "violation of human rights and international law." International law dictates that a sovereign country must compensate another if it confiscates their property. This Cuba failed to do with US property in 1959 and the embargo was put in place as an incentive for them to do so. It was Cuba that broke "international law", not the US.

  2. What a friends you have!

  3. Ted,
    I can't agree with you better. The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) uses the Embargo to justify their totalitarian system and lack of freedom towards the citizens of Cuba which in my opinion the lack of these basic human rights is the Pink Elephant in the room here. In Cuba no official institution serves the Cuban citizens to challenge the performance of the PCC. In the contrary, all official institutions are an extension of the PCC serving as tentacles to keep dissent controlled and to spread the ideology to every man and woman on the island. This is the case of the Laws, the constitution, the judicial system, the media, the education system, the healthcare system, the workers union, the CDR in every block, and every other official body on the Island. Any non-official association is illegal by the laws and constitution written by the PCC. All this design leaves the citizens completely defenseless against this military and totalitarian PCC regimen. The PCC is not Cuba. Cuba is plural and we the citizens demand our rights and institutions to be returned back from the PCC.
    The embargo is aimed to distract the talk from the real problems.

  4. Ted,
    I can't agree with you better. The Embargo is the distraction of the lack of basic freedoms imposed by the Cuba Communist Party (PCC) towards the Cuban citizens. This totalitarian system is the pink elephant in the room.

  5. Ted,

    Thank you for posting this interesting synopsis of the discussion you had with your Cuban friends. I should say, first, that I am a huge fan of Yoani’s and what she has done.

    The difficulty I have is that I don’t know exactly what it means to lift the embargo and what the ramifications of such a thing would be. What would that look like? Has the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) done any studies analyzing the economic implications of such a unilateral act? What would the financial consequence be for the dictatorship?

    Everything I read indicates that the entire tourism industry in Cuba is owned and run by the Cuban military. Doesn’t lifting the embargo mean providing revenue to the Cuban military, the very institution that is responsible for the last 54 years of repression in Cuba? How would lifting the embargo help bring about meaningful social change in Cuba and stop the repression? I understand that Yoani says it would remove the excuse the Castros have relied upon for decades, but I don’t see how removing an excuse leads to the greater good of social change and greater freedom. I just don’t see how one leads to the other.

    I used to think that lifting the embargo was a good idea because it hasn’t worked. Now, I’m not so sure. Why should the U.S. lift the embargo, effectively turning on a spigot of revenue for the dictatorship that will only help fund their police state?

    I was struck by your friends’ statement asserting the U.S. is “equally responsible for the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.” That makes absolutely no sense to me. Who runs Cuba? The Castros run Cuba. The United States does not run Cuba.

    As for the points your friends made questioning Yoani’s motives and accusing her of being cynical, I disagree. As you point out, she has every right to be nuanced in the way she defends her positions.

    1. These are good points, Ted. Care to rebut?

  6. You have some nice friends, Ted. I would have thrown you out of my house faster than the MININT threw you out of Cuba for that smart-ass response. But your friends are right. Yoani's opposition to the embargo, which is suspect in and of itself, is based on the fact that the Cuban govt. uses it as an excuse, not from any real moral conundrum. Also her views on it seem to be the same as those of the right-wing exiles now. She says she supports lifting it, but with "conditions". Sounds no different than the views of the Radio Mambi crowd. This is why Yoani has no followers in Cuba besides her little clique, and why she will never be relevant on the island. Cubans have no tolerance for people who want to starve them.

    And to the poster who says we shouldn't lift the embargo because it would benefit the Cuban govt., i say so what? Why shouldn't the govt. of a sovereign nation benefit from trade? Not to mention the fact that the embargo harms the Cuban people and not the govt.

  7. Daniel,

    Thanx for the comment. Yoani has clearly written a number of times on her blog and elsewhere that she is against the embargo policy of the "pressure cooker" and that it - exactly as you say - makes the people suffer and not the government, is ineffective as a policy instrument, and is foreign meddling in Cuban affairs (injerencista).

    In response to your other comment, I don't think that anyone really knows for sure how many "followers" Yoani has in Cuba and I think the main reason we don't know is that there is a monopoly on the mass media in Cuba (it is private property of the Communist Party) and the very low internet penetration on the island (even after the connection of the ALBA-1 cable).

    Again, thanks for reading the blog and responding.

  8. USA needs to end their embargo
    Yoani thinks the Cuban government uses this pretext
    The embargo worked on her I guess that cause the embargo was created for that , to make people poor and hungry so they get angry and revolt against the government placed by themselves