Liberal and conservative Americans alike have celebrated Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez. She's become the new "resistance to communism" heroine, a world-renowned troublemaker inside Cuba. Yoani also acquired semi-princess status in Western Europe thanks to the wide Internet circulation of her weekly Generation Y blog. (Cubans of a certain era got names beginning with Y.) She spins her columns, descriptions of daily life in Cuba, supported by unverified rumors, to badmouth the Cuban government. They appear in the Huffington Post, El País, Die Zeit and other prestigious journals. Inside Cuba, few read her blog; nor would most Cubans have heard her name. Very few would recognize her face if they saw her.
Last week, Yoani, after visiting Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, she stopped in New York, Washington DC. Her highlights came in the nation's capital, including a much-publicized talk with Members of both Houses and White House staff. She had just come from presenting her case to the legislatures of Brazil and Mexico where she made important points about U.S.-Cuba relations, points she repeated in Washington.
"My position is that the blockade should end," she said, "because it's an interventionist stance, in which one country wants to change the internal situation of another." She added: "it hasn't worked. If the original idea was to create popular unrest so the people would take to the streets and change the totalitarian government, it has not worked; even as a pressure method it failed. It should end as quickly as possible because it's the reason given by the Cuban government to explain its economic failure." She had already registered her opposition to the U.S. travel ban on its citizens traveling to Cuba. "If restrictions on coming to Cuba are lifted," she wrote to Congressman Howard Berman on November 19, 2009, "Americans would enjoy a right that has been infringed in recent years – that of traveling freely to any latitude without penalty."
When asked about her position on the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, Yoani responded: the U.S. should withdraw from the base, because "I am a `civilist,' a person who respects the legal system, and I could not agree with occupying a space, which shows the occupier doesn't respect the law." Which law or whose law? She didn't clarify.
In Brazil, she answered a question on the Cuban 5, members of the Ministry of Interior now in U.S. prisons. The U.S. should free them because of "the amount of money my country's government is spending in this world-wide campaign with plane trips around the world. Occupying space in the press and the hours wasted in schools talking about these five prisoners," she explained.
She trivialized her explanations of desired policy changes. In discussing the Cuban Five, Yoani banalized the nature of the Cuban agents' task. Cuba sent agents to south Florida in the early 1990s to help prevent bombings. The agents infiltrated violent Cuban exile groups who had targeted Havana tourist spots. Cuban Intelligence then re-circulated their agents' data to the FBI, who on one occasion used the information to seize a boat docked on the Miami River filled with arms and explosives and destined for Cuba.
In 1998, the FBI arrested the Cuban spy ring members. They got charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, but not with espionage. Gerardo Hernandez, their coordinator, also got charged with conspiracy to commit murder on the false assumption he had provided Havana with the flight schedules of Brothers to the Rescue planes that invaded Cuban airspace and got shot down killing two pilots and two co-pilots. The government had no evidence to back up its charges. Indeed, Jose Basulto, leader of the Brothers group, had announced the flight schedules. But a Miami jury convicted Gerardo, and the judge sentenced him to two consecutive life terms. The other four also received long prison terms. As Cuba decried the five's false political imprisonment, Yoani offered a trite pretext for freeing them.
The irony of Yoani's U.S. appearance, getting crowned by the U.S. media and Congress as the virtual Queen of Dissidents, is that she made the very points the Cuban government has reiterated for a decade plus. But neither government officials nor the press corps acknowledged them. The media focused on occasional interruptions of her speeches by angry leftists instead of reporting the contents of her talks. Members of Congress and the White House staff celebrated the visit of an important person, paying scant attention to the coincidence of her policy points and those of the Cuban government.
Not one mainstream story caught the irony of Cuba's leading dissident stating the case the Cuban government has been presenting: End the embargo, release the Five, allow Americans to travel to Cuba, and withdraw from Guantanamo. The media also missed points Yoani did not acknowledge. Cuba allowed her to travel abroad and meet with sworn enemies of the Cuban regime. She also failed to acknowledge reforms that have recently taken place in Cuba like political spaces granted to religious institutions to publish openly critical magazines and journals. Moreover, Cubans prohibited from returning to visit Cuba can now do so.
The U.S. media has positioned her the dissident representative of technology's age of communication. She sends her weekly Internet column from Cuban hotels, or by flash drive from the U.S. Interests Section and other embassies. She spins each column as an attack on the Cuban government.
The princess of digital communication made her triumphant debut. But apparently no one in power or in mainstream media cared about what she said. The Cuban government should, nevertheless, be proud of her. She used different language to state their case, to Congress, the White House and the public. Alas, eyes saw, but ears closed. Did anyone hear that besides the critiques of the Cuban government she asked Washington to change its Cuba policy?
Saul Landau's FIDEL and WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP are available on DVD from cinemalibrestudio.com. Nelson Valdes is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico.
National Network on Cuba