By Salim Lamrani
The priority Yoani Sánchez
U.S. diplomacy sees the blogger Yoani Sánchez a credible alternative to traditional dissent and rely on her, which explains her international fame while she is totally unknown in Cuba. “We believe it is the younger generation of “non-traditional dissidents” such as Yoani Sanchez that is likely to have a greater long term impact on post-Castro Cuba”. Farrar thus advised the State Department to focus its efforts on this dissent and to provide her more support. 36
Indeed, the unusual story of Yoani Sanchez raises some questions. After immigrating to Switzerland in 2002, she returned to Cuba two years later, in 2004. In 2007, she decided to enter the world of the opposition in Cuba to create her blog, Generation Y, and became an outspoken critic of the government of Havana. 37
Her criticisms are bitter and not very nuanced. She presents an apocalyptic view of Cuban and blames the authorities for all problems. She said Cuba is “a huge prison with ideological walls”38, “a ship taking on water about to sink”39, where “creatures of the shadows, like vampires feed on our human happiness, inoculate us with fear of beatings, threats, blackmail.”40 Yoani Sánchez’s blog describes Cuba in a terrifying manner and no positive aspect of Cuban society appears. Similarly, she carefully avoids the unique geopolitical circumstances, under which Cuba has been since 1959.
Sanchez has a very precise discourse which often parallels the U.S. position. Thus, she minimizes the impact of economic sanctions claiming they are “an excuse” for the Cuban government, which “is responsible for 80% of the current economic crisis and 20% is economic sanctions.”41 The international community, far from sharing this opinion, condemned the economic siege, in 2010 for the nineteenth consecutive time at the United Nations (187 countries to two), considering it as the main obstacle to the development of the island. She justifies the blockade with the nationalizations that occurred in 1960 and the missile crisis.42 According to Yoani, “the embargo has been the perfect argument for the Cuban government to maintain intolerance, control and internal repression. If tomorrow the sanctions were lifted, I doubt any effects would be noticeable.”43
Regarding the case of five Cuban agents convicted in 1998 to life imprisonment in the United States for infiltrating small groups responsible for terrorist attacks against Cuba, the blogger also adopts the US point of view that “the five were engaged in espionage” and that they “provided information that caused the death of several people”, something that the Miami court was unable to prove.44
Moreover, the Atlanta Court of Appeals acknowledged that this was not a case of espionage, or an attack on national security. No less than ten Nobel Prize recipients filed an Amicus Curiae petition to the U.S. Supreme Court demanding a fair trial and the release of the five Cubans. Mary Robinson, former Irish President and High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations between 1997 and 2002; the Mexican Senate unanimously, with all political parties present; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; the Cuban-American Scholars; the Ibero-American Federation of Ombudsmen, the National Jury Project, the William C. Velazquez Institute and the Mexican American Political Association; the National Lawyers Guild and the National Conference of Black Lawyers; the Civil Right Clinic at Howard University School of Law, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers-Miami Chapter, the Center for International Policy and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs have called for the release of the five Cubans.45
This court case has been reported several times. Amnesty International considers the five Cuban to be political prisoners. For his part, Coronel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for former Secretary of State Colin Powell has spoken against the trial: “But this case sort of takes the cake: to punish with life sentences men who came here to determine how and when their country was going to be attacked by people breaking U.S. law.” He called it a miscarriage of justice explaining, “These men were unarmed, not intent on any physical damage to the United States, and were motivated to protect their fellow citizens from invasion and repeated attacks by Cuban-Americans living in Florida.” He added, “We have to ask also, just how is it that we have become a safe haven for alleged terrorists? How is it that we—the United States of America—may rate a place on our own list of states that sponsor terrorism?”46
Similarly, Yoani Sánchez minimizes the social gains of the Cuban system and claims that “they already existed”47 in Cuba in the years preceding the Revolution. According to her, under the dictatorship of Batista, there “was a freedom of open and plural press, radio programs of all political tendencies”.48 In addition, she defends the Cuban Adjustment Act- unique in the world- approved by the U.S. Congress in 1966, which states that any Cuban who legally or illegally migrates to the U.S. after January 1, 1959 automatically gets permanent resident status after one year, as well as diverse socio-economic assistance.49 Even more unusual, she thinks that Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez does not deserved his Nobel Prize for Literature due to his friendship with Fidel Castro: “Many Latin American writers deserved the Nobel Prize for literature more than Gabriel García Márquez”.50 Recognizing that the objective of the United States government is to overthrow the Cuban government, she plainly admits that she shares the same goal: “The US wants a change of government in Cuba, but I want it too”.51 Sánchez also reaffirms her will to impose “a sui generis capitalism” in Cuba.52
Thus, in just one year of existence, while there are dozens of longer established blogs that are no less interesting than hers, Sanchez won the Journalism Award Ortega & Gasset, worth 15,000 Euros, on 4 April 2008 granted by the Spanish newspaper El País. Usually, this prestigious award is given to journalists or writers who have a long literary career. This is the first time a person with the Sanchez profile received it. 53 Similarly, she was selected among the 100 most influential people by Time magazine (2008), along with George W. Bush, Hu Jintao and the Dalai Lama.54 Her blog was included in the list of top 25 blogs in the world by CNN and Time magazine (2008) and also won the Spanish Bitacoras.com and The Bob’s awards (2008 ).55 On November 30, 2008, the Spanish newspaper El País included her in its list of 100 most influential Hispanic personalities of the year (list which features neither Fidel Castro or Raul Castro).56 Foreign Policy magazine out did that by including her among the 10 leading intellectuals of the year in December 2008.57 The Mexican magazine Gato Pardo followed suit in 2008.58 The prestigious American University of Columbia granted her the Maria Moors Cabot prize.59 And the list goes on.60
Moreover, the Generation Y site of Yoani Sánchez receives 14 million hits a month and is the only one available in at least 18 languages (English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Lithuanian, Czech, Bulgarian, Dutch, Finnish, Hungarian, Korean, Greek). No other site in the world, including those of major international institutions such as UN, World Bank, IMF, OECD and the European Union, has as many language versions. Not even the sites of the US Department of State United States or the CIA have such variety.61 Another unique fact, U.S. President Barack Obama granted an interview to Yoani Sánchez.62
Never has any dissent in Cuba, perhaps in the world, achieved so many international awards in such a short period of time, which have provided Yoani Sánchez enough money to live well in Cuba the rest of her life. In fact, the blogger has been paid up to 250,000 Euros in total – an amount equivalent to more than twenty years of minimum wage salary in a country like France, the world’s fifth power. The minimum monthly wage in Cuba is 420 pesos, or 18 dollars or 14 Euros, so Yoani Sanchez has achieved the equivalent of 1,488 years of the Cuban minimum wage for her opposition activities.63
Yoani Sanchez has close relations with U.S. diplomats in Cuba, as has been pointed out by a cable emanating from the USIS classified “secret” due to its sensitive content. The Obama Administration greatly values the Cuban blogger as evidenced by the secret meeting held in her apartment with the U.S. Secretary of State Bisa Williams during her visit to Cuba in September 2010. During her meeting with Williams, Sanchez announced her desire to benefit from the money transfer services of the U.S. company Paypal, which the Cubans cannot use because of economic sanctions, in order that she might more effectively fight for regime change in Cuba: “Do you know what all we could do if we could use Paypal?” This service allows you to receive money from around the world. The dissident has been heard and now the only site in Cuba that can use Paypal services is Generation Y. Although she regularly reports on her daily life, there is no trace of mention on her blog regarding this meeting with Williams, thus demonstrating its clandestine nature. But the diplomatic note revealed the link between the Cuban blogger and U.S. officials in Havana and the importance that Washington gives her.64
Another memorandum also recalls the importance of the interview with President Barack Obama to Sanchez, which contributed to her international press coverage.65
Lack of prospects for the Cuban opposition
However, Farrar is realistic: “From our standpoint, however, there are few if any dissidents who have a political vision that could be applied to future governance. Though the dissidents will not acknowledge it, they are not widely known in Cuba outside the foreign diplomatic and press corps […].it is unlikely that they will play any significant role in whatever government succeeds the Castro brothers”.66
The U.S. diplomat says the goal is “to support the good work of the dissident movement” in her campaign against the government in Havana, focusing the work on the theme of “human rights” and “political prisoners”– the two weapons Washington wields to maintain economic sanctions against Cuba. This campaign primarily targets international public opinion because, according to Farrar, it “does not address the interests of Cubans who are more concerned about having greater opportunities to travel freely and live comfortably.”67
In another cable, USIS also admits being isolated on the issue of human rights in Cuba: “The Cuba overwhelming majority of the 100 foreign missions in Havana do not face a human rights dilemma in their dealings with the Cubans. These countries wouldn’t raise the issue anyway. The rest, a group that includes most of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and the United States, claim to employ different approaches to address their human rights concerns in Cuba — but the truth is that most of these countries do not press the issue at all in Cuba.”68
The USIS also notes that some U.S. allies, including Canada, do not share the same opinion on the issue of “political prisoners”, and recalls a discussion with their Canadian counterparts: “our Canadian counterparts claimed, if someone takes money from the U.S., does that make him a political prisoner?” Canadian diplomacy thereby recognized that all Western nations sanction individuals who are funded by a foreign power with the aim of overthrowing the established order.69
U.S. diplomacy has no illusions about the effectiveness of U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba, which have beget a serious economic crisis in the country. According to the USIS, “The Cuban people have grown accustomed to tough times and will respond to future government belt tightening with similar endurance”70 The USIS dismisses the possibility of a serious crisis and notes that “Cuba and Cubans are not as vulnerable as they were in 1989 before the end of Soviet subsidies.” Moreover, “the standard of living for Cubans, while still not as high as twenty years ago before the end of Soviet subsidies, remains much better than the darkest days of the 1990 to 1993 period when GDP fell more than 35 percent”. Furthermore, “today’s Cuban economy is less vulnerable […] thanks to more diversified sources of income and credits, a more resourceful Cuban population.” 71
However, despite economic sanctions imposed by Washington, U.S. diplomacy claims that Cubans do not feel a particular animosity toward its citizens, because Cubans do not consider the public responsible for the government’s policy. The USIS emphasizes the Cuban’s “positive feelings toward the American people.” 72
Nearly half a century after its elaboration, the U.S. policy, that consists in creating and supporting an internal opposition in Cuba, remains in place. This strategy, underground for nearly thirty years, is now publically claimed, although it is against international law. Thus, the US spends several million dollars a year on the Cuban dissidence. Faced with the erosion of the traditional opposition represented by Oswaldo Payá, Elizardo Sánchez, Vladimiro Roca, Marta Beatriz Roque, Guillermo Fariñas and the Ladies in White, Washington is now looking for the new generation of opponents whose figurehead is the Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez.
The dissident’s diplomatic contacts allow her access to the White House and regular meetings with senior U.S. officials such as Bisa Williams. To avoid criticism, United States has diversified its manner of support for the Cuban opposition. In addition to direct financial assistance, a “legal” funding mechanism has been devised to compensate the opposition to the government of Havana through prizes in the tens of thousands of dollars as illustrated by the spate of honors bestowed upon Sanchez, the new ninfa Egeria of Washington ,in the space of a few months.
Washington’s aim is not to federate the Cuban people around those who advocate a system change in Cuba, since we know their speech is not audible to the island’s inhabitants, most of whom remain faithful to the revolutionary process despite the difficulties and vicissitudes of daily life. The opposition allied with the US, in the best case, fuels indifference among Cubans, and often rejection. It is more of a media war. Maintaining the presence of an internal opposition, even without a popular base, helps the US to justify its policy of isolation and sanctions against the Havana government in the name of the struggle for “human rights and democracy.”
Translated by Dawn Gable
36 Jonathan D. Farrar, « The U.S. and the Role of the Opposition in Cuba », United States Interests Section, April 9, 2009, cable 09HAVANA221. http://126.96.36.199/cable/2009/04/09HAVANA221.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
37 Yoaní Sánchez, «Mi perfil», Generación Y.
38 France 24, « Ce pays est une immense prison avec des murs idéologiques », October 22, 2009.
39 Yoaní Sánchez, « Siete preguntas », Generación Y, November 18, 2009.
40 Yoaní Sánchez, « Seres de la sombra », Generación Y, November 12, 2009.
41 Salim Lamrani, « Conversaciones con la bloguera cubana Yoani Sánchez », April 15, 2010, Rebelión,
http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=104205 (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
45 Supreme Court of the United States, « Brief of Amici Curiae of José Ramos-Horta, Wole Soyinka, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nadine Gordimer, Rigoberta Menchú, José Saramago, Zhores Alferov, Dario Fo, Gunter Grass, and Máeread Corrigan Maguire in support of the petition for writ of certiorari », N° 08-987, http://www.freethefive.org/legalFront/amicusnobel.pdf (website consulted on December 18, 2010). See also http://www.freethefive.org/resourceslegal.htm (website consulted on December 18, 2010)
46 Granma, « Ex ayudante de Colin Powell denuncia arbitrariedades contra los Cinco », November 24, 2007. http://www.granma.cubaweb.cu/miami5/enjuiciamiento/justicia/0093.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
47 Salim Lamrani, « Conversaciones con la bloguera cubana Yoani Sánchez », op.cit.
52 Mauricio Vicent, « “Los cambios llegarán a Cuba, pero no a través del guión del Gobierno” », El País, May 7, 2008.
53 El País, « EL PAÍS convoca los Premios Ortega y Gasset de periodismo 2009 », January 12, 2009.
54 Time, « The 2008 Time 100 », 2008. http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/0,28757,1733748,00.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010)
55 Yoani Sánchez, « Premios », Generación Y.
56 Miriam Leiva, « La ‘Generación Y’cubana », El País, November 30, 2008.
57 Yoani Sánchez, « Premios », op. cit.
60 El País, « Una de las voces críticas del régimen cubano, mejor blog del año », November 28, 2008.
61 Yoani Sánchez, Generación Y.
62 Yoani Sánchez, « Respuestas de Barack Obama a Yoani Sánchez », Generación Y, November 20, 2009.
63 Yoani Sánchez, « Premios », op. cit.
64 Joaquín F. Monserrate, « GOC Signals ‘Readiness to Move Forward’ », United States Interests Section, September 25, 2009, cable 09HAVANA592, http://188.8.131.52/cable/2009/09/09HAVANA592.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010) ; Yoani Sánchez, « Donar », Generación Y. http://www.desdecuba.com/generaciony/?page_id=2222 (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
65 Joaquín F. Monserrate, « U.S.-Cuba Chill Exaggerated, But Old Ways », United States Interests Section, January 10, 2010, cable 10HAVANA9, http://184.108.40.206/cable/2010/01/10HAVANA9.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
66 Jonathan D. Farrar, « The U.S. and the Role of the Opposition in Cuba », United States Interests Section, April 9, 2009, op. cit.
68 Joaquín F. Monserrate, « Feisty Little Missions Dent Cuba’s Record of Bullying Others to Silence on Human Rights », United States Interests Section, November 9, 2009, cable 09HAVANA706, http://220.127.116.11/cable/2009/11/09HAVANA706.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
70 Jonathan D. Farrar, « Key Trading Parters See No Big Economic Reforms », United States Interests Section, February 9, 2010, op. cit.
71 Jonathan D. Farrar, « How Might Cuba Enter Another Special Period? », United States Interests Section, June 4, 2009. http://18.104.22.168/cable/2009/06/09HAVANA322.html (website consulted on December 18, 2010).
72 Michael E. Parmly, « Comsec Discusses Freedom and Democracy With Cubain Youth », United States Interests Section, January 18, 2008, op. cit.
Doctor in Iberian and Latin American Studies from the University of Paris-Sorbonne-Paris IV, Salim Lamrani is a lecturer at the University of Paris-Sorbonne-Paris IV and University of Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, specializing in relations between Cuba and the United States. Salim.Lamrani@univ-mlv.fr