Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Coco Fusco asks and answers a good question...

By Coco Fusco
(originally published in the Huffington Post)

Yoani Sánchez's historic visit to New York last week thrust political debates about Cuba into the public arena, exposing their invariably polemical character. During the famed Cuban blogger's visits to university campuses, the only venues that offered public access to Sánchez, she encountered fans who read her blog Generation Y, Cuban exiles who admire her temerity, and a small but ardent band of protestors. As one of the organizers of the conference featuring Sánchez at The New School and New York University, the institutions that sponsored her visit to New York, I was privy to the challenges involved in bringing her to the U.S. as well as those of managing a volatile crowd. Although the disruptive tactics used by the protestors suggested that they were intent on shutting public debate down rather than engaging with Sánchez, I'd like to take a moment to consider the content of their statements, as well as their form of address.

As a moderator, I reviewed all the questions from the audience. Those coming from Sánchez's detractors were fairly consistent in content and limited in scope. Her critics asked about money they assumed she receives from the U.S. State Department; they doubted the political effectiveness of blogging; and they demanded to know why Sanchez's writings did not highlight positive aspects of the Cuban Revolution. They also drew attention to the unjust treatment of immigrant workers in the U.S., as if to suggest either that Sanchez's calls for democratization in Cuba were tantamount to an embrace of all American policies and practices, or that political change in Cuba would necessarily result in neoliberal style labor exploitation. Although Sanchez was invited to speak about digital cultures emerging in Cuba, the protestors sought repeatedly to sidetrack the discussion by exhorting Sánchez to defend the Revolution and by trying to impugn her credibility.

Sánchez described these protests in Cuban terms as "actos de repudio" -- the collective acts of public excoriation aimed at dissidents that are orchestrated by the Cuban government. To her credit, she also responded calmly to many of her opponents' questions, explaining that she recognizes the limits as well as the benefits of the internet-based movement that she leads; that she visits the U.S. Interests Section to obtain visas just as Cuban officials seeking to travel do; that the translations of her writings into multiple languages are produced by volunteers; that she makes a living from her publications and does not receive funding from the U.S. government; and that she understands her role as an independent journalist to be that of a critical conscience, rather than a promoter of official Cuban policy. Even though the conference organizers explained that Sánchez's trip to New York was paid for by The New School and NYU, and even though her English translator MJ Porter detailed how the international team of translators had been formed, the protestors continued to accuse her of being a mercenary financed by the CIA, as if repeating unsubstantiated accusations would somehow make them true.

While it is not possible to prove that Sánchez's protestors in New York took orders from Havana, it does appear that they do not perceive the contradiction involved in exercising their right to express alternative views in order to discredit Sánchez's attempts to do the same in her own country. The protestors' raucous behavior was somewhat comic, but sadly, their questions bespeak commonly held assumptions among American progressives about Cuba, Cuban dissidents and Cuban exiles. All too often, progressive Americans maintain their unflinching support of Cuba as an expression of their critical views of U.S. policy, not because of their understanding of Cuban society. Rather than renouncing their political ideals, they seek to silence the messengers who deliver a very different picture of life in Cuba as it is lived, not prescribed by a political apparatus. Unfortunately, the Cuban government makes matters worse through its hegemonic control over academic organizations that support Cuban studies abroad, and by instilling fear in Cuban studies scholars outside Cuba that public criticism of the Revolution will result in their being denied entry to the island. Recent posts from Cuba on government-sponsored blogs raised the issue of whether the presence of Sanchez and fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo on American campuses might have an adverse effect on academic exchange projects between Cuban and U.S. institutions; the very act of releasing such questions can have a chilling effect on public debate about Cuba beyond its borders.

Ardent Cuba-supporters' tirades against Cubans who publicly expresses criticism of the Cuban Revolution not only mirror the repressive tactics the Cuban government uses to discredit its internal opposition, but also deny Cubans agency as thinking subjects. As Sanchez herself put it, how could it be possible for Cuba to be the only country in the world with a citizenry that agrees with everything that its government does? Might it not be reasonable for Cuban exiles, who send billions of dollars to their island relatives and who function as de facto wholesale suppliers for Cuban small businesses, to have their views be treated with respect too? Don't Americans deserve access to the diversity of views that exist among Cubans inside and outside Cuba?

As a Cuban-American who has conducted research on Cuban culture for three decades, I have had to contend with intimidation from extreme right Cuban exiles, pro-Cuba leftists in the U.S. and Cuban state security because I refuse to stay inside the ideological sandbox created by the Cold War. I find it quite heartening now to witness how Cubans from across the political spectrum are beginning to open themselves to peaceful dialogue with each other thanks largely to the work of writers such as Yoani Sánchez who are creating virtual forums for a plurality of views about Cuba to be shared with the world.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Future of Freedom in Cuba: The Cato Institute

Yoani Sánchez and I, along with our host Ian Vásquez & Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo (not pictured) at The Cato Institute.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

David Garten captures Yoani Sánchez

Here is one of a fantastic series of photos taken yesterday by the photo-journalist David Garten of Yoani Sánchez delivering her keynote address at the opening of the NYU/New School symposium "The Revolution Recodofied."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

SIP Press Conference w/ Yoani Sánchez, Puebla, Mexico, March 10, 2013

Moderator: Jaime Mantilla, President of the IPA

Speaker: Yoani Sánchez, Blog Generación Y

Part #1 

Part #2

Yoani Sánchez delivers her report to the Sociedad Inter-Americana de Prensa (SIP)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Vigilia Mambisa protestará en Miami contra Yoani Sánchez | Diario de Cuba

Bienvenido sea. Que viva la democracia!

Vigilia Mambisa protestará en Miami contra Yoani Sánchez | Diario de Cuba

Será, según Miguel Saavedra, el primer acto de repudio celebrado en la capital del exilio contra un disidente que vive en la Isla.

Vigilia Mambisa protestará el 1 de abril contra la visita de Yoani Sánchez a Miami porque, en opinión de la organización ultraderechista, la bloguera "pide lo mismo que la tiranía".

"Ella siempre ha pedido lo mismo que la tiranía: el levantamiento del embargo, el turismo de norteamericanos, y tiene ventajas que en Cuba nadie tiene, como acceso a internet", afirmó el exiliado Miguel Saavedra, líder del grupo.

La protesta constituye, según Saavedra, el primer acto de repudio celebrado en Miami contra un disidente que vive en la Isla.

"Ella no representa al pueblo cubano", añadió el exiliado en declaraciones a DIARIO DE CUBA.

A la pregunta de por qué repudiaba a alguien que se enfrenta al régimen dentro de la Isla, Saavedra respondió: "Eso no me preocupa, no podemos oír cantos de sirena. Somos de ultraderecha y recalcitrantes".

Yoani Sánchez recibirá el 1 de abril la Medalla Presidencial del Miami Dade College (MDC), en reconocimiento a su defensa de los derechos humanos.

La reunión tendrá lugar en la Torre de la Libertad del MDC, que simboliza el comienzo de la emigración cubana a Estados Unidos.

Una fuente del Miami Dade College dijo a DDC que "cada cual tiene derecho a ejercer su libertad de protesta, como ciudadano de Estados Unidos", en referencia a la decisión de Vigilia Mambisa.

"Es terrible que esto suceda, pero Saavedra no tiene ninguna credibilidad. Su protesta tendrá poco efecto en Miami", dijo por su parte Marcelino Miyares, presidente del Partido Demócrata Cristiano de Cuba (PDC, en el exilio).

Miyares considera que este tipo de acciones "dan mala imagen" al exilio cubano, pero Vigilia Mambisa "está en su derecho de hacer el ridículo".

En el pasado reciente, el grupo ha organizado, con escasos resultados, protestas contra artistas como Juanes y Pablo Milanés.

La fama son los clavos de mi cruz

What follones is my favorite part of a really excellent interview of Yoani Sánchez by Juan Moreno Romero of Voice of América, Belén de Juan of ‘Muy Interesante,’ and Ignacio Uría of ‘Nuestro Tiempo’.

Periodista: ¿Cómo considera el papel que usted está jugando? Es muy conocida a nivel internacional, pero no en tu propio país.

Yoani Sánchez: Mi objetivo al escribir mi blog no es la fama, la fama es un efecto colateral.

Las personas que me conocen de cerca saben que soy una persona con mucha tendencia al intimismo, que la fama son los clavos de mi cruz.

Cuando ando por las calles hay mucha gente que me conoce, pero el hecho de que se me conozca más fuera de Cuba, es un símbolo del monopolio informativo.

Un monopolio que se está rompiendo porque la propia información que sale al exterior rebota al interior a través de exiliados o emigrantes que llaman por teléfono y mandan mensajes de texto.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Live Stream of @YoaniSanchez & @Jlori from Spain!

Social Media for Freedom:
Closing Ceremony Dialogue 

...but you've gotta get up 
pretty early in the morning...

Friday, March 8, 2013
6:45-7:30 a.m. NY Time 
(12:45–13:30 in Burgos)

· Yoani Sánchez, author of Generación Y & correspondent for El País
· José Luis Orihuela, university professor & writer

Go here for the Conference Program

Agora News ofrece en directo por streaming iRedes, III Congreso Iberoamericano de Redes Sociales, que se celebra en Burgos. Los vídeos con el streaming, que se realiza a través de YouTube Live, ya están disponibles en esta página web. Los vídeos pueden insertarse por medios de comunicación y blogs embebiendo los códigos que ofrecemos a continuación.

Agora News es la primera agencia de video online en español y streaming de eventos. Fundada en 2008 por Jaime Estévez, colabora con iRedes desde la primera edición del congreso. Página web:

Canal en Youtube:
Twitter: @agoranews.
#iRedes en directo, 7 y 8 de marzo

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Prepárense, Here comes Orlando! aka @OLPL

What follows is the bio of Cuban photographer, writer, magazine editor, and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.  A close associate of Yoani Sánchez, Orlando will be arriving in the U.S. later this week New York City this afternoon! and visiting universities all across the eastern seaboard.  He will also participate at the New School/NYU symposium on digital culture and the public sphere in Cuba "The Revolution Recodified" from March 15-17 in NYC.

You can read an interview that Claudia Cadelo did with him a few years ago here, and watch a three-part video interview that the journalist Tracey Eaton did with him here (same videos with English subtitles here).

Let me know if you want him to blow your student's minds (or hire him to do a photo shoot or recite his bilingual updated version of Allen Ginsburg's Howl)!

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was born in Havana, Cuba, in December 1971. He resides in Cuba. He is a self-taught photographer, writer, and social/cyber activist.

He graduated in Biochemistry from the School of Biology, University of Havana, in 1994 and worked as a molecular biologist in DNA-recombinant techniques in the Human Vaccines Division, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), Havana, from 1994 to 1999. (That's no lie!)

He was the editor of the cultural magazine EXTRAMUROS, for the Book and Literature Center (CPLLCH), Havana (2001-2005). He has also edited several independent Cuban digital magazines including Cacharro(s) (2003-2005), The Revolution Evening Post (2006-2008), and Voces (2010- ). 

He blogs at LUNES DE POST-REVOLUCIÓN, an opinion webpage, and on the photoblog BORING HOME UTOPICS. He also organized PAÍS DE PÍXELES, the first free-lance photodocumentary contest in Cuba in 2011 and 2012.

In Cuba he has won several national literary prizes including the Pinos Nuevos Prize 2000, the Luis Felipe Rodríguez Prize (2004), the Calendario Prize (2005), and La Gaceta de Cuba Prize (2005). 

He is the author of 5 short-story collections: COLLAGE KARAOKE (Letras Cubanas, La Habana 2001); EMPEZAR DE CERO (Extramuros, La Habana 2001); IPATRÍAS (Unicornio, La Habana 2005); MI NOMBRE ES WILLIAM SAROYAN (Abril, La Habana 2006); and BORING HOME (Garamond, Praga 2009).

As a fiction writer and columnist he has collaborated on multiple editorial projects including PENÚLTIMOS DÍAS (2008 - ongoing); CUBAENCUENTRO (2009); REVISTA ENCUENTRO DE LA CULTURA CUBANA (2008-2010); IN THESE TIMES; ALL VOICES (2009-2010); DIARIO DE CUBA (2010-ongoing ); AMERICAS SOCIETY REVIEW 82/2010; SAMPSONIA WAY (2012-ongoing); CRONOPIO (2011).

His photographs have appeared in many national and international media: ESQUIFE (Cuba); EL CAIMÁN BARBUDO (Cuba); LETRAS LIBRES; articles and blog posts of Yoani Sánchez (ongoing) and of José Manuel Prieto (2011); THE ROOT (and here) in a dossier about racism in Cuba by Achy Obejas (2010); COURRIER INTERNATIONAL; and VEJA (Brasil, 2010).

Monday, March 4, 2013

¿De dónde salió Yoani Sánchez?

Given all the international attention that the global trek of Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez has been generating over the past few weeks and is likely to continue to generate as she makes her way back and forth across the Atlantic and north and south traversing the Western Hemisphere with stops planed in Argentina, Peru, Mexico, the United States, and Canada, I thought I'd share with my readers the following essay (PDF in English or in Spanish) that I wrote in 2010 trying to answer the question:

¿De dónde salió Yoani Sánchez?

It is an effort to search for the origins of the emergent Cuban blogosphere, focusing specifically on the backstory and birth of Sánchez's blog, Generación Y, and its development and growth over time.

This paragraph, extracted from the second page of the long essay (53 pp. in the English version and 42 in the Spanish) summarizes its main argument:
This essay will chronicle of the origins and ongoing development of Sanchez’s blog, Generación Y, focusing on these two important transformations that have grown out of its evolution: A gradual change from a limited project of individual exorcism to one of growing citizen solidarity, together with an increasingly audacious effort to convert virtual spaces for dialogue and debate so far restricted to e-mail and blogs into real, public spaces - be they in Cuba’s conference rooms, movie houses, and art galleries, or in its cafés, calles, and solares.
The essay was first published under the title, "En busca de la 'Generación Y': Yoani Sánchez, la blogósfera emergente y el periodismo ciudadano de la Cuba de hoy," in the book Buena Vista Social Blog: Internet y libertad de expresión in Cuba, edited by Beatriz Calvo Peña.  You can consult the entire table of contents here and order your own copy of the book for  €18.90 here. (I don't get a cut).