Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Savaging of Yoani Sánchez: Crying Wolf(ette) - Part 1/3

Is this the sound of the other shoe dropping? You can be forgiven for not having noticed, but while you were eating your Lechón con flan over the long Thanksgiving weekend, the Cuban government clearly changed its strategy in dealing with the independent blogger movement and especially with the most prominent member of that movement, Yoani Sánchez.

Of course, October and November were quite eventful in the Cuban blogósfera, featuring a series of audacious guerrilla video maneuvers from La Flaca (first at an immigration office and then inside the Temas internet debate). This was followed by a pair of violent, government-orchestrated crackdowns, both taking place in the streets and aimed at reminding her and her husband, Reinaldo, along with their pesky blogger friends like Claudia Caudelo and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo (pictured above with Sánchez), that “la calle es de Fidel” – even if he hasn’t been seen on it in more than three years.

This was all capped off by Sánchez’s coup of scoring a one-on-one Q&A with President Obama, published on her blog as “Siete Preguntas” on Thursday morning, November 19.

However, over the course of the following week, more articles critical and dismissive of Sánchez have appeared in the official Cuban on-line press (and, according to AFP, it seems also in the print version of the Spanish language edition of Granma Internacional) than had appeared there in all of the previous two-and-a-half-years.

The bulk of these articles can be found only in Spanish at and, both Cuban government sites.

Related “attack” articles are available on the personal blogs of a number of Cuban journalists. For a series of especially vicious attacks, replete with childish animated illustrations of Sanchez and Escobar see Norelys Morales Aguilera's blogs here, here, and especially here. Also, a few pro-government foreign journalists have mounted similar attacks, the most representative of which is the three-part series by the French journalist and professor Silam Lamrani.
Finally, the leftist/socialist websites and both feature a number of similar articles, as do LaRepú and (not to be confused with the original of the species which hosts Sánchez's Generacion Y:!)

A handful of these articles have been made available in English translations by Machetera on her own stridently pro-revolution blog here, here, here, and here. And even the normally more balanced, if aptly named site Progreso Weekly / Progreso Semanal has gotten into the act, with three dismissive articles of its own (here, here, and here).

Instead of ignoring Sánchez and her growing group of fellow bloggers as “insignificant elements” as the Cuban state media had done up to this point (in fact, to my knowledge she has never before been mentioned by name in the official Cuban press), this veritable flood of articles all attempt to link her, through a combination of insipid insinuation and innuendo ad nauseam, to a supposed “media war” deployed by the United States (together with the “Western media transnationals”) against Cuba.

And, lest we think these “media-terrorist” attacks against the Cuban government are born of conviction, ideology, or argument, we are repeatedly reminded in these stories that for Yoani, it’s a simple case of “Todo Por Dinero.”

For example, Granma Internacional makes the unsubstantiated claim that Sánchez received an unprecedentedly large cash advance for the publication of a book in Brazil “digno de un Nobel de Literatura” (worthy of a Nobel Laureate).

The French journalist Lamrani goes even further, making the fantastic and similarly unsubstantiated claim,

“It is therefore impossible that Yoani Sánchez is a simple blogger who denounces the difficulties of a system. Instead, powerful interests are hidden behind the curtain of smoke constructed by Generación Y, representing a formidable arm in the media war carried out by the United States against Cuba. Sánchez knows full well that her obedience to these powerful interests will be rewarded generously (more than $100,000 in total so far). She has chosen to join the business of dissidence and live happy days in Cuba.”

Amazingly, this final paragraph of Lamrani’s supposedly revelatory three-part series on what he calls the “Yoani Phenomenon” features a footnote that leads the reader back to her own blog where she lists her prizes. Investigative reporting at its best!

Sanchez’s Ortega y Gasset prize did indeed come with a 15,000 Euro check (the same amount awarded to each of the four prize winners each year). However, according to the coordinator of the Maria Moors Cabot prize Josh Friedman, whom I emailed, this more recent award from the Columbia University School of Journalism earned her exactly $0.00 (not $15,000 as was incorrectly reported earlier this week by the Colombian (not Columbian) journalist Hernando Calvo Ospina here and here).

Cabot recognized Sanchez with a special “citation” as a blogger, not a full “award” like the three other winners, who each received checks for $5,000. So, it seems that if there's any financial conspiracy going on here, it works against bloggers in the new media not in their favor! Oh, and she was unable to collect all this prize money that is the supposed driving force behind her blog since she was denied an exit permit to travel to New York by the Cuban government.

In fact, the only thing Lamrani’s series “reveals” is that he himself has some kind of special access to Cuba’s European ambassadors and to the embassy files on Cuba’s European emigrants. For example, in his series we get the salacious “scoop” that Sánchez supposedly married a German man in order to leave the country in 2002 (that would make her very authentically Cuban indeed!), coupled with an insinuation that she never actually graduated from the University of Havana, and that she had to “beg the Cuban immigration officials in tears that they grant her an exceptional dispensation” allowing her to return to live in her native country.

Now, Lamrani complains, she has the temerity to be “forgetful of the magnanimity of Cuban authorities” and has chosen instead to show her gratitude by joining the opposition upon returning to Cuba.

Connected to this claim of greed and ingratitude is the often repeated assumption that a blog as “extremely sophisticated,” frequently trafficked, and widely translated and read as Generación Y must be funded my some mysterious, sinister, and deep-pocketed donors. But anyone who knows even a little bit about blogs can tell you that their great advantage as a communications medium lies exactly in the fact that they allow anyone with minimal funds, few resources, and no publishing apparatus or institutional credentials the ability to tell their own story in their own way.

After that, a blog’s popularity and influence (or lack thereof) is really only a function of whether it can attract and keep its readers (building brand loyalty), and get other bloggers and media outlets to link to it (networking).

Stay tuned... Part Two in the "Savaging Sánchez" series, "Of Straw Men, Cocky Hens, and Lobeznas Disfrazadas," will be posted soon...

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. This is an excellent article which recognizes that Yoani has now ascended to new heights of political relevance and consequently faces new threats. The authoritarian leadership in Cuba now sees that this young woman can no longer be ignored. Accordingly, they've "pulled all the stops," directly unleashing their cadres of "salon communists" across Europe and Latin America in an effort to discredit her. Predictably, the other authoritarian Cuba, which responds to Castro's reverse psychology and which comprises "a Bolshevik" handful in Miami, step up to the plate to now recognize Yoani's efforts, a woman, whom up to now they've ignored as steadfastly as the Cuban leadership has. In doing so, they may just achieve what the Castros haven't: undermining her credibility. Hopefully, Yoani will recognize that wolf in sheeps clothing do lie in ambush,on both sides of the Florida straits.

    I Optaciana

  2. Hello there, mate.

    I am one of the buggers who is giving grief to old scrawny, so I hope you don't get mithered if I come along and tell you why?

    The quick answer is that I think that we socialist do things out of conviction but scabs do it just for the brass. By the way, I like the dollar note with scrawny's head on it - I'll use that!

    OK, in more detail I have blogged quite a bit about the woman this week and frankly I don't believe a word she says.

    Lamrani makes the point that she seems to be telling porkies about her degree and even CNN didn't believe her tale about being given a thumping early last month.

    Frankly if she will lie about one thing then she will lie about anything.