(Photo by Ted Henken).
Just over a month ago at 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, March 14 Hurricane Yoani Sánchez blew into New York and Washington, D.C. from Mexico. Since I had the distinct honor of helping to set up her itinerary, accompanying her, and interpreting for her during that week (Mar. 14 - Mar. 21), I was unable to update the blog with any of my own observations of the various events we undertook together. However, I did try to catalogue things as they happened with fairly constant Twitter updates and links to photos, videos, and some of the many articles that came out about her visit.
On an emotional, human level, the most powerful thing for me (as someone who had met with and interviewed her in Havana before) was witnessing her meet many close friends and long-time collaborators on her blogging adventure for the very first time in New York. These emotional encounters really brought home to me the power of social media to convene like-minded people with different talents, from different places, with different amounts of free time to work on projects of creative collaboration (Net guru Clay Shirky has called this "cognitive surplus" or "crowd-sourcing") that would be impossible without the Internet.
Carlos Alberto Montaner when he wrote, "In more than half a century of tyranny, nobody has been more effective in the task of dismantling the regime’s myths and exposing Cubans’ miserable living conditions. [...] Yoani’s weapons have been sincerity, a crushing logic, an innate ability to communicate, and her own attractive personality." (Photo courtesy of David Garten).
All this was often combined with her expert use of incisive vignettes, powerful stories, and apt metaphors to make her convincing points. Her favorite metaphor of all was the birdcage: when asked about Revolutionary Cuba's free and universal health care and education, she wold invoke the image of a bird imprisoned in a gilded cage - always expected to be grateful for the free feed and water but never allowed to escape through the bars of the cage and fly free. And by the way, the alpiste y agua ain't what they used to be!
At the same time, however, she often insisted when pressed that the embargo hasn't worked and it was time to try something new. For her, it only serves as a convenient scapegoat for the Castro regime to blame everything on - "from the lack of tomatoes and potatoes on our dinner tables, to the lack of the right of assembly and association, to the absence of Internet... I'd love to see how they explain these problems when they no longer have the embargo as a whipping boy."
She also suggested that the Obama administration surprise Cuba by offering to sit down and discuss their differences, but that any such discussion should rightly include the voices of Cuban civil society and the Cuban diaspora.
Just before she met with US Senator Marco Rubio, I reminded her of his criticism of US visitors to the island who - in his words - "visit Cuba as if it were a zoo." When she met with him, she told him that she actually liked his metaphor but that he should imagine himself inside the cage with the other animals. Wouldn't he prefer that someone on the outside come and help unlock the cage, instead of abandoning him inside?